Smriti seeks PM's intervention in private secretary hiring row

Smriti seeks PM's intervention in private secretary hiring row

Modi, however, is said to have turned down her request

 The row over retaining UPA ministers’ private secretaries reached the Prime Minister’s door with Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday seeking Narendra Modi’s intervention to hold onto an officer of her choice.

Vinita Srivastava, a 1994 cadre Indian Railway Service officer who had worked as an OSD to former steel minister Beni Prasad Verma during UPA II regime, was laterally taken as private secretary by Irani.

 She is one among the 22 PS or OSD of previous UPA II regime put on “compulsory hold” by the personnel ministry through a June 10 circular till their relocation are cleared by the appointments committee of cabinet (ACC), chaired by the prime minister. Other Central government officers having served as the personal staff of UPA ministers were taken in the same capacity by the new NDA ministers.    

Government sources said Irani requested Narendra Modi during a meeting this morning that she be allowed to keep Srivastava, given the fact that she was comfortable working with the officer. 

Besides, the minister felt that Srivastava was competent and knew the Central government functioning. 

The prime minister, however, is believed to have turned down her request on the ground that uniform decision would be taken in all the cases. 

Government sources said that Modi’s refusal indicated that it would be difficult for some of his ministers to retain the officers who have been assisting them since they occupied office post-May 26 swearing-in ceremony.

Other than Irani, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad and Ministers of State in PMO Jitendra Singh, MoS Home Kiren Rijiju and MoS for External Affairs V K Singh had appointed private secretaries drawn from the previous regime.

Hangs in the balance

The fate of these officers hangs in the balance and the move has sparked off resentment among a large section of bureaucracy. Some of the babus are questioning what they term as the double standards of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office in the selection of bureaucrats. Modi, they said, took the rare route of promulgating an ordinance to appoint Nripendra Mishra as his principal secretary and also gave six months extension to Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, who too had served for long during the UPA regime. But, senior ministers are not being allowed to keep bureaucrats of their choice.

The decision to put on hold fresh postings is equally embarrassing to these officials who believe that it is tantamount to politicising the bureaucracy and is contrary to Modi’s mantra of encouraging babus to work without fear or favour. 

A senior officer said, if the government finds evidence that they were partisan during their previous assignments, then by all means accountability should be fixed. 

But when no rules bar NDA ministers from taking them on board, they should not be sacrificed. Most civil servants do similar stints either in states or at the centre during their career under different political regimes  and it does not mean that all of them are ideologically inclined, argued another officer.