Missing steel frame: Key bureaucratic positions vacant in new central government

With the government finalizing its budget document for FY25, which may also serve as the vision document for Modi 3.0, departments without a permanent head may face issues in policy formulation.
With the government finalizing its budget document for FY25, which may also serve as the vision document for Modi 3.0, departments without a permanent head may face issues in policy formulation.

Summary

  • Secretaries play a vital role in policymaking and administration as the main point persons between a minister and the ministry.

Several key ministries are without their secretaries —the top civil servant attached to each ministry—raising concerns about policymaking and administrative efficiency.

These includes critical ministries such as agriculture, housing and urban affairs, and the department of personnel and training (DoPT).

Secretaries play a vital role in policymaking as the main point persons between a minister and the ministry. Placed at the top of the bureaucratic pecking order they are also key to ensuring policy continuity and smoothen the transition to a new government.

Other vacant posts

Besides, there are some positions—also influential—of additional secretary and joint secretary level that are vacant in the ministries of health, consumer affairs and agriculture, and the department of post, among others, as per the portals of the respective ministries.

The absence of secretaries and joint secretaries in these key departments is significantly affecting their ability to function effectively, said a retired bureaucrat, who wished not to be named.

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Experts caution that without leaders of the so-called ‘steel frame’, these ministries may struggle with direction, decision-making, and policy implementation.

“At this time, the government is finalizing its budget document for FY25, which may also serve as the vision document for Modi 3.0, departments without a permanent head will certainly face issues in policy formulation," two other retired bureaucrats, who served in previous Modi governments as secretaries, said on the condition of anonymity.

“Ministries like agriculture and urban affairs play a crucial role in policy formulation, serving the needs of a large population. While officers handling these departments as part of their additional assignments are well-trained, having a secretary would significantly impact the effectiveness of subordinate officers," the first retired officer, who recently retired from a secretary-level position, said.

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The agriculture ministry, which plays a crucial role in ensuring food security and supporting farmers, has been running without a full-time secretary since Manoj Ahuja was transferred to his parent cadre in Odisha to be the chief secretary—the main coordinator between a state and the Central government—following the formation of a new government in the state.

Following Ahuja's repatriation on 25 June, food secretary Sanjeev Chopra was appointed acting agriculture secretary on 29 June, according to a DoPT notification.

Similarly, the housing and urban affairs ministry, responsible for urban development and housing policies, has been without a full-time secretary since 5 March, when the then-secretary Manoj Joshi was transferred to the rural development ministry as secretary of the department of land resources.

The charge of urban affairs was assigned to Anurag Jain, secretary of road Transport and highways.

“The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which oversees the bureaucracy and plays a pivotal role in administrative reforms, is also grappling with the absence of a permanent secretary, as it is running without a full-time secretary," the second retired bureaucrat said.

“The government should fill all these important positions at earliest. There are officers already waiting for postings after their empanelment for secretary-level positions," this person said.

In a part-time arrangement, Ajay Kumar Bhalla, the current home secretary, has been given additional responsibility as the DoPT Secretary after R. Radha Chauhan, a 1988-batch IAS officer, retired.

Bhalla, on his fourth extension as home secretary until August next year, will serve as the DoPT secretary until a permanent replacement is found.

In the ministries of consumer Affairs and agriculture, some positions of joint secretaries are vacant. In consumer affairs, the JS position has been vacant since March this year, after the previous JS Vineet Mathur was promoted to chief postmaster general in his parent cadre.

In agriculture, among the two vacant JS-level positions, the JS (seeds) plays a crucial role, especially as the government focuses on introducing quality seeds to improve crop yields. Also, the position of director (credit) in the agriculture ministry has been vacant for a few months.

The department of posts, currently undergoing revival, lacks a permanent member for banking and direct benefit transfer (DBT) since senior bureaucrat Vandita Kaul was appointed as Secretary Post from July 1.

Queries emailed to the spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Secretariat remained unanswered until press time.

 

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