The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi wields the scissors to cut to size
Bureaucracy on crash diet

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The government is cutting the flab in babudom.

Recruitment of junior clerks and section officers, the lowest rung of gazetted officers, is being frozen as part of efforts to reduce the size of the bureaucracy. The cabinet cleared the decision some time ago under pressure from finance minister Jaswant Singh, but it was kept under wraps because of the Assembly elections.

Every year, nearly a million boys and girls sit for examinations conducted by the staff selection commission for the post of clerks in the central secretariat.

It has been decided that peons will be promoted to the rank of junior clerks, also designated as lower division clerks, whose job is to push files. Recruitment of peons has already been stopped and those that are left will be retrained to perform the tasks of clerks.

Not all junior clerks’ posts that fall vacant after the incumbents are either promoted or retire will be filled up. Many will be declared surplus and scrapped.

No new section officers will be recruited through the civil service examination. Junior executives known by the colonial title of assistants will instead be promoted to the rank of section officer, either on the basis of seniority or through an internal examination.

With fewer clerks and peons to manage, the number of section officers will be trimmed. The combined effect of these decisions is expected to reduce the number of jobs by a lakh over the next few years and save roughly Rs 2,000 crore from the total annual wage bill of Rs 20,000 crore.

The government has also decided that no officer at the Centre will be promoted to the next higher grade just because they have completed a certain number of years in the job. Promotion will be only against vacancies.

Currently, half the section officers are directly hired through the civil service examination conducted to select IAS, IFS and IPS officers. Those who clear the examination but with marks which do not allow them a berth in these three services are taken as section officers.

Section officers are the junior-most managers in the government with the function of managing the two-million-strong army of assistants, senior and junior clerks and peons. Each section officer is supposed to manage about 10 to a dozen minions.

To keep the existing section officers happy and to differentiate them from those who would now be promoted to this rank, all section officers with four years experience are being redesignated as assistant directors and given a substantial pay increase.

Senior clerks with technical skills (such as handling basic software programs), junior auditors and accountants, who are clubbed in one grade, will continue to be hired for the time being.

Hand in hand with the downsizing, the government is creating 110 new directors in the central secretariat. Directors have powers to take policy decisions and can be posted as managing directors of small public sector units or as board members in larger state-run firms.

A finance ministry official involved in the exercise said: “The whole plan is to move away from the colonial-era management style of having huge paraphernalia... unfortunately, in the process we are also trying to become top heavy. We had just 16 secretary-level officers at the Centre in the early 1970s. Now, we have 82. We even have secretaries to handle such mundane subjects as animal husbandry, drinking water, Indian system of medicines and homeopathy, statistics and urban employment.”

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