World | India

Capital’s golfing civil servants under scrutiny

Modi has offered top officials greater autonomy in decision-making but HAS warned that he expects them to share his tough work ethic

  • By Dean Nelson
  • Published: 19:12 June 6, 2014
  • Gulf News

New Delhi

Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, has spread fear among the country’s elite civil servants that their short working days and long hours on the golf course may come to an end.

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Since his landslide general election victory last month, Modi has sought to impose his own austere style on a government that had been frozen in “policy paralysis” for years under his predecessor Dr. Manmohan Singh.

After arriving in the capital last week to take up office, Modi has offered top babus, or officials, greater autonomy in decision-making, but warned that he expects them to share his tough work ethic.

A memorandum has been issued demanding all civil servants be at their desks by 9am and work until 5.30pm with only half an hour for lunch. He has scrapped dozens of committees whose endless deliberations are blamed for the slow pace of life in the civil service, which left the country’s top bureaucrats free to play four hours of golf in the mornings, arrive in the office at 11am and leave an hour or so later for a long lunch.

Panic at clubs

Rumours that his staff are compiling lists of bureaucrats who play golf have caused panic at the elite Delhi Golf Club and other clubs in the capital, where top civil servants receive preferential treatment.

The Delhi Golf Club reserves memberships for the top 50 officials who can afford its entry fee of £3,000 (Dh18,525) — more than six months’ salary for even the most elite officials. “He wants to bring discipline into the government and he thinks solving India’s problems requires 25-hour days. He’s not anti-golf or anti-anything, but just pro-work”, said M.J Akbar, a national spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

One senior Delhi Golf Club official told The Daily Telegraph that while many of their members welcomed Modi’s empowerment of civil servants, they were fearful their lifestyles might be under scrutiny. “They’re all talking about it,” he said. “In the previous government they were just passing files, not taking decisions. They had more time for themselves and got away for more golf.”

More than 250 senior departmental secretaries are believed to be members of elite golf clubs in the capital.

Mohan Guruswamy, an analyst on government affairs, said Modi’s action could end “crony capitalist” relationships between civil servants and businessmen.

“I hope he cracks down on the receiving of gifts too at Diwali and other festivals. They all have Mont Blanc pens, suit fabrics, cases of Glenfiddich whisky and golf clubs... we have a bureaucracy which is undisciplined, corrupt and venal to its core,” he said.

— The Telegraph Group 
Limited, London 2014

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