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Sunrise policy: Early babus catch news

New Delhi, June 23: Breaking news at 6am: while peace reigns in a capital yet to shake itself fully awake, a gang of groggy babus are at Shastri Bhavan sifting through newspapers and listening to… um, breaking news on TV.

The new government has asked Indian Information Service officers to wake up with the sun and start collating both “positive” and “negative” media feedback on the Prime Minister and his colleagues so he can go through it all before 9.30am.

Under Manmohan Singh’s watch, 9 to 9.30 was when the information officials arrived at their offices. After a day’s honest work issuing media releases, they would leave by 6pm.

The workday’s end has already been pushed back for both civil servant and minister under a Prime Minister who expects all to follow his 5.30am-to-midnight routine. The latest trend is of government meetings to be called after 6pm.

But the information babus seem doubly unlucky: they have to wake at ungodly hours to be in office by 6. Mercifully, they need to do it by rotation but are still feeling the strain, especially with the arrangement looking like becoming a permanent one.

“We have to report at 6am and work till 8.30-9pm; our days are never-ending,” rued an information officer. “The government has no sympathy for us flesh-and-blood humans.”

Members of the Indian Information Service principally man the information and broadcasting ministry, especially its media arm Press Information Bureau. Some of its members are deputed as information officers to one or more of the other ministries.

“We anyway do a similar job for our respective ministries, collecting news related to the ministries for the ministers to read. Most of us have two to three ministries to look after,” said an information babu.

“Since this government’s focus is on the dissemination of information, we have our hands full issuing multiple releases, guiding the minister through media briefings, posting info on social networking sites. Then we stay on till the end of the review meetings late in the evenings.”

The Press Information Bureau has for decades had a “PM Unit” that culls the day’s information for the Prime Minister. It functions 24x7, with a dedicated team of information service officers working in shifts.

What has happened now is that every information service officer has been told to additionally man the PM Unit by rotation. At 6am sharp. Fortunately, none of the babus has had to do it more than twice in the first three-and-a-half weeks since the new government took guard.

Narendra Modi, who rises around 5.30 every morning, expects a round-up of all the information from all the national dailies and many of the regional-language newspapers before starting his day around 9.30. Manmohan received it around 10.30, sources said.

“Under UPA rule, we used to collate the news items under different heads: political, security, finance and others. Now we group them under ‘positive’ and ‘negative’,” an official said.

One grouse with the information babus is that they have to rise so early to collate news from the morning papers in the Internet age. They are also unhappy about having to go to office for this at a time they can do it all from their mobiles, which even receive regular updates from most media organisations.

“While the government is increasing its social media interactions, it refuses to junk the dated practice of officials spending hours watching TV and reading the papers to cull news,” an information babu grumbled.

He cited how the Press Information Bureau had grown from a small cell in 1919 into a nationwide network of eight regional offices and 34 branch offices, all of which send feedback to the Centre.

“Yet we continue with the same routines at our headquarters,” the babu shook his head.