Modi scouts for new Cabinet secretary

Modi scouts for new Cabinet secretary

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun the hunt for the next Cabinet Secretary, who is likely to take over by the middle of next month, replacing incumbent Ajit Seth.

Modi is looking for an ace bureaucrat, who will serve as the country’s top civil servant to motivate other  government officials to put in their best performance and meet deadlines.

According to government sources, three bureaucrats have been “shortlisted” for the post, who will be now interviewed by Modi. Leading the pack is Rajiv Mehrishi, a 1978 batch IAS officer who is currently chief secretary of Rajasthan. His choice is stated to be favoured by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is frequently consulted by Modi on official postings.

 Others  in the race are Union Power Secretary P K Sinha (1977 batch), Union Petroleum Secretary Saurabh Chandra (1978 batch) and Shipping Secretary Vishwapati Trivedi (1977 batch).

The name of former health secretary K N Desiraju, who was suddenly transferred to consumer affairs ministry after he crossed swords with then Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad a few months before the Lok Sabha polls, is also doing the rounds. Incumbent Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth has been tipped to become the Vice Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDRMA). The post entails a Union Cabinet minister’s status.

Seth, a 1974 batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer, was scheduled to retire on June 13. But Modi granted him a six- month extension after the new government took office. It was the second extension for Seth (62), whose term was extended by the UPA government by a year in 2013.

Seth was not disturbed as the PM did not want the bureaucratic system to be destabilised before he got a better grip of the huge “mess” left behind by the UPA government and got to know the officials. 

Though he wanted Seth, who served former prime minister Manmohan Singh, to do his best, Modi has been on the search for a suitable replacement who will serve as the main drive for the system.

Since he took over as PM, Modi has held three rounds of discussions with the secretaries of all ministries on the progress of his pet plan of “minimum government and maximum governance.”

Exasperated by the poor quality of “inputs”, Modi had Seth send a missive to all secretaries asking them to ensure that “personal attention is given to preparation and finalisation” of Cabinet notes “so as to ensure that defect-free notes only are forwarded” to the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Soon after he held the first round of interaction with the officials, Modi also wanted the Cabinet secretary to ask all government departments to become more efficient in decision making — by reducing the number of layers that a file passes through to four at the most and referring disputes to the PMO or the Cabinet Secretariat.

So far, Modi has depended on his Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra and Additional Principal Secretary P K Misra for “goading” the bureaucracy into action to deliver on his action plan and promises, the sources said. Mishra (1967 batch) is a former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman, who has had a rich administrative experience in Uttar Pradesh. 

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