Power battle looms large

IAS officers fear 'interference' of Vikas Mission experts

By Piyush Kumar Tripathi in Patna
  • Published 6.03.16
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Nitish Kumar

Patna, March 5: Bureaucrats versus technocrats - the power corridors in the state are set to witness an unprecedented virtual battle in the near future.

The hiring process of young technical experts under Bihar Vikas Mission designed by political strategist Prashant Kishor has already started with hefty salaries on the offer.

The bureaucrats, however, perceive the recruitment of these professionals as a move to raise a "parallel secretariat of young experts", which would be on a par with bureaucracy or at times superseding their authority.

While the mission aims at roping in 1,500 and odd policy and tech experts from the market, around 100 technical experts are being hired in the first flush.

Several bureaucrats are already feeling insecure with the involvement of these professionals in the government's functioning. "These professionals with very little knowledge of public administration and functioning of government would now set targets for us and monitor our performance. They would work directly with the offices of the chief minister and chief secretary, and give instructions to us. Bureaucrats are jack of all trades while these professionals have knowledge of one particular field. Thus, many bureaucrats are not comfortable in reporting to them," said a secretary-rank IAS officer.

However, a Bihar Vikas Mission member, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said: "It would not be correct to say that a parallel secretariat is being created through Bihar Vikas Mission. The executive powers in the government machinery would always rest with the officials and the experts being hired under the mission would act only as facilitators and as a supportive framework to pursue the objectives of the government."

The mission has been set up under the Society Registration Act, 1860, and given an approval by the cabinet in the third week of January this year.

The basic target of this quasi-government body is to facilitate the state government in achieving the set targets of chief minister Nitish Kumar's pre-poll promise of "seven resolves". Kishor, who steered Nitish's campaign before the Assembly polls, heads the mission's steering committee. Bihar Vikas Mission would report directly to Nitish.

Another IAS officer cited one of the objectives in Bihar Vikas Mission, which states that it would work to help in providing solutions to policy issues cropping up during implementation of programmes and ensure their approval from appropriate authority.

"Another objective of the mission states that it would work to ensure coordination and removal of difficulties among departments in implementation of programmes. This would mean that the professionals hired to pursue these objectives would interfere in policy decisions of the government and even give instructions to officials. They would also interference in the functioning of the various departments. If they would do all work, then what would be our use?" said another IAS officer.

Prashant Kishor

Brajesh Mehrotra, member-secretary, Bihar Vikas Mission, and principal secretary, cabinet secretariat department, said the experts are being hired under the mission would be mere facilitators to the government machinery.

"It is a wrong conception that these experts would be above the government. The byelaws and rules of the mission clearly state that these experts would be in the role of facilitators. There are certain areas in which we need external expertise. Quite often, the state government has been taking the support of external agencies such as Unicef, DFID and World Bank among others in utilising their expertise for pursuing the government's objectives. The experts under the mission would also perform the same job. They would help different departments and agencies of the state government as per their requirement and they would never supersede the government machinery," Mehrotra told The Telegraph this evening.

As per an advertisement recently issued regarding recruitment under Bihar Vikas Mission by the cabinet secretariat department, hiring of team leaders and associates is being done in six domains - programme management, business analytics, data and technology, costing and finance, qualitative and quantitative research, and communications and advocacy.

The associates in each category will get a remuneration of Rs 1 lakh per month, besides house rent allowance of Rs 15,000 per month, an additional monthly transport allowance of Rs 10,000 and access to group medical insurance.

Two project leads (team leader) in each domain would get Rs 1.25 lakh per month and other incentives.

Sources claimed that Kishor came up with the idea of hiring professionals under Bihar Vikas Mission based on a similar proposal mooted by him shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's stunning electoral victory in 2014. Working as poll strategist with Modi, Kishor had explored the idea of setting up of a parallel policy advisory unit attached to the PMO.

The idea was to convert the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), which crafted the Modi campaign, into a specialist policy outfit called the Indian People's Action Committee (IPAC) to counsel the Prime Minister on development. The abortion of Kishor's proposal eventually led him to break with Modi and set up camp on the Nitish precincts. Over the following few months, Kishor recast IPAC as an electioneering agency and set out the campaign and alliance strategies that saw the Grand Alliance trounce the BJP in the race for power in Bihar.