Housing and Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s sudden step-in to the early in the morning to the corridors of power at Nirman Bhavan which houses his ministry has rattled babudom no-end. To make the prospectus more scary for bureaucrats, the minister has assured them sufficiently that such ‘punctuality tests’ would continue
When the BJP held court on achhe din, babus in Government offices could never have imagined the kind of scenario unfolding as it did the other day at Nirman Bhawan when Housing and Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu strode in one fine morning on July 28 only to find about 70-80 employees of his ministries’ officials playing truant at work or even walking in at their own sweet time.
What greeted the minister were rows of empty desks and desolate workstations as he went about checking office rooms at various floors just 1 0 minutes past 9 AM.The results of his ‘punctuality test’: At least 70-80 of the staffers had yet yet reached their office seats and among the absentees included several section officers, lower divisional clerks and undersecretaries.
What possibly could have led to large-scale absenteeism was that an extended holiday may have been availed of by some of the employees as the minister’s ‘raid’ was conducted on a day that fell between Sunday and the Eid-ul-Fitr official holiday.
An angry Naidu is learnt to have taken a strong view of the absenteeism, telling US Secretary Shankar Aggarwal, who was also accompanying him, to take action against all those on the “missing list”.
Reports also spoke of how the minister got even the washrooms checked after being informed that some officials had gone to the washrooms. It was another matter that the “washroom search” did not yield any babus.
This was the second surprise check by Naidu, who has been focusing on the need for punctuality. His first check on the punctuality aspect of his officials was on June 12.
An innocuous press release issued by the ministry, however, focused on how Naidu was happy with the “perceptible improvement” in the cleanliness and maintenance of Nirman Bhawan since his last such inspection. Later in the release, it was mentioned that the minister “noted that personnel at lower rungs like section heads and supporting staff in large number did not report for work in time and took a serious view of the same.”
The release concluded with a list of directives issued by Naidu after “discussing the state of affairs later with the senior officials of the ministries”. According to the directives, all joint secretaries of the two ministries will visit their respective establishments every day for a week to monitor attendance and identify chronic offenders. The ministries were told to take “necessary and immediate action” against those who report late for work.
The minister also directed that attendance registers should be withdrawn 15 minutes after ‘due time of reporting’ and latecomers be marked absent for the day and not to be paid for the same. In what could be a major step in enforcing strict office discipline, Naidu also directed that a biometric attendance system will soon be employed at the ministries.
According to reports that appeared prominently in a section of the media a day after Naidu’s surprise action, the minister was heard telling his officials during checking: “Change your mindset and come out of the decade-old office culture manifesting in apathy towards public and lack of complete transparency and accountability in service delivery.”
He was also reported to have told a prominent daily: “Sarkar badly hai, sanskriti badli hai, ravaiya bhi badalna hoga, yeh Modi zamana hai (The Government has changed, the culture has changed, and the manner of working must also change. This is the Modi era).