Saturday, May 23, 2009

Home braces for taskmaster PC

NISHIT DHOLABHAI
New Delhi, May 23: Home ministry bureaucrats are bracing for a tough time when P. Chidambaram returns as their boss.

“He knows his subject, one cannot bluff to him,” a senior official said.

Chidambaram, who replaced Shivraj Patil following the Mumbai attacks, had ushered in a new work culture at the ministry, forcing senior bureaucrats to rush in by 9am for his first briefing of the day. PC rarely left before 7pm and worked on deadlines.

The pressure has been the heaviest on the secretaries, the chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and spy agency RAW, and the additional secretaries and joint secretaries.

Chidambaram revived the multi-agency centre, which co-ordinates among the various intelligence agencies, so inputs from across the country and abroad got analysed regularly. That will continue, ensuring long hours in the intelligence establishment.

The senior officials may wince a bit, but from their juniors down to the sweepers and peons, the lower rungs are enthused by the new culture. Sources said that even if a Grade IV employee complained about a senior’s behaviour, the minister summoned the accused official directly.

“This happened several times in the past few months. Juniors sent a letter to the minister personally and he took action,” a source said.

Even those who find Chidambaram “arrogant” concede, however grudgingly, his efficiency.

Officials had earlier said that if Chidambaram returned as home minister, his priority would be streamlining the anti-terror mechanism and going hammer and tongs at the Maoists. The first step in that direction would be the choice of the next home secretary.

Madhukar Gupta retires next month and is likely to be replaced by either commerce secretary G.K. Pillai, a 1972-batch officer from the Kerala cadre, or revenue secretary P.V. Bhide, an Andhra cadre officer from the 1973 batch. Both have had stints in the home ministry and are known to be hard taskmasters like PC.

Chidambaram, buoyed by a terrorism-free election (although there was Maoist violence), would like to focus his attention on the promises in the Congress manifesto.

The party has guaranteed “maximum possible security to each and every citizen” and zero tolerance for terrorism “from whatever source it originates”, and pledged to “take forward vigorously” the modernisation of the security forces and capacity-building for special forces to tackle terror and Maoism.

Whatever of that is achieved, one thing that is expected is a change in attitude in the ministry. Just like the fresh paint on the walls of the North Block lobbies, and the new colours on the blinds, that will welcome the new government in.

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