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PM lifts ban on UPA ‘lower staff’

New Delhi, July 8: Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have given in partially to his ministers on selection of personal staff.

Modi today relaxed rules to allow ministers to retain the “lower personal staff”, such as drivers, attendants and peons, who had served UPA ministers. However, the bar on employing as private secretaries officials who had been attached to UPA ministers stays.

An office memorandum issued by the department of personnel and training, which reports to the PMO, and signed by a deputy secretary said that the “competent authority has approved” the “relaxations”.

On June 19, Modi had decreed that “any officer/official/private person” who worked as personal staff of a UPA minister in any capacity for any duration may not be appointed in the personal staff of ministers in the present government.

That order, also issued by the department of personnel and training and signed by an under-secretary, had put the ministers in a fix as many had retained staff from the previous government and would have had to look for new drivers, telephone operators and attendants besides private secretaries and officers on special duty (OSD).

Some ministers are believed to have written to the Prime Minister against the blanket ban.

Today’s order restates that ministers cannot appoint private secretaries who have worked with ministers for any duration in the past 10 years. It clarifies that anyone who has been private secretary to the leader of the Opposition either in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha during the UPA years can be selected as private secretary to a minister in the Modi government.

The order is, however, silent on officers on special duty — usually individuals known to the respective ministers. The ministers are hoping the silence means they can appoint experienced officials as OSD even if these officials have worked under UPA ministers.

Sources said the Prime Minister’s decision to control the appointments — possibly the first time Union ministers were told they couldn’t choose their personal staff — had met with some resistance.

For instance, home minister Rajnath Singh was not happy after the Prime Minister’s order forced him to remove his private secretary, Alok Singh, and bring in another IAS officer. Alok had to go because he had worked with former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid.

Similarly, had it not been for today’s “relaxation”, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju would have had to replace his entire personal staff. He had retained the staff of his predecessor, Mullappally Ramachandran. Rijiju has already dropped Abhinav Kumar as his private secretary because Kumar had worked with former minister of state for home Shashi Tharoor.

Officials, especially those in the middle and lower ranks, were also upset with the order and felt that the bureaucracy, the permanent government, has lost the faith of the Prime Minister.