| Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being greeted by Union minister of state Suresh Pachouri at the cabinet secretaries meeting. (PTI)
New Delhi, Oct. 13: The Prime Minister today revived a decades-old practice and threw open his doors to bureaucrats to ensure a 'proactive and creative' administration.
'Whenever you feel that certain issues need to be discussed further and certain matters need to be brought to my notice, you are free to see me,' Manmohan Singh told 137 secretaries in the Union government at an hour-long meeting.
He said he has instructed his office to give priority to such requests.
Singh's immediate predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had reportedly directed that no secretary or other official could meet him without going through the minister concerned and only if it was strictly necessary.
The dialogue with bureaucrats was a practice followed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi but was discarded by P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Singh was trying to facilitate a 'two-way process' so that the bureaucracy felt like a direct stakeholder in the governing system instead of a 'passive' executor of orders issued by political masters, sources in the Prime Minister's Office said.
The main objective, they said, was to signal to the secretaries that here was a Prime Minister who would be 'accessible', hear out their problems, share ideas with them and respond to theirs, including out-of-the-box ones.
'The initiatives will have to come from you. You will have my full support. We need to move from expenditures to outcome,' Singh said.
The main subjects discussed were legislative practices, health, education and internal security in the Northeast.
The first meeting was billed as an 'ice-breaker' but sources hoped that by the next, the secretaries would have formulated some ideas.
'Over the years, their style of functioning has become straitjacketed to such an extent that most have virtually stopped thinking creatively and merely carry out the orders of their ministers for fear of antagonising them and getting victimised. This is not the PM's idea of what governance ought to be,' a PMO source said.
Another objective was to make the bureaucracy 'more responsive and sensitive' to the social sector-related agenda set out by the UPA's common minimum programme. 'It's the bureaucracy which has to implement the CMP so their mindset has to get suitably attuned,' a source said. The other aim was to facilitate sector-wise meetings between the Prime Minister and the designated secretary so that Singh would have a closer idea of each ministry.
'If a certain minister wants to do more of politics and less of governance, he would be free to do so without impairing his ministry's working,' a source said.
'Presently, the tendency is if the minister is frequently away on political work, things come to a standstill in his department. The bureaucrats do not feel accountable. The PM doesn't want it to happen,' the source added.
This practice had enabled Nehru to spot talent, sources said. Among those he handpicked were P.. Haksar, who went on to become the principal secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and K.R. Narayanan, later President.