New Delhi: The second Covid-19 wave has hit the Indian civil service hard, with many top policymakers in the central government out of action after getting infected by the virus.
Many of these officers, especially in the health ministry, had been at the forefront of handling the pandemic.
In the last fortnight, over two dozen secretaries, additional secretaries and joint secretaries across central government ministries, including the health ministry, have tested positive for the coronavirus, government sources told ThePrint.
They include the department for promotion of industry and internal trade secretary, Guruprasad Mahapatra, social justice and empowerment secretary R. Subrahmanyam, tribal affairs secretary Anil Kumar Jha, youth affairs secretary Usha Sharma, additional secretary in the department of drinking water and sanitation, Bharat Lal, among others. Both Lok Sabha secretary general Utpal Kumar Singh and Rajya Sabha secretary general Desh Deepak Verma have also tested positive.
In the health ministry, over two dozen officials at different levels have tested positive, which has impacted work.
Among the officers, joint secretary Padmaja Singh who looks after information, education and communication (IEC) is positive, along with another half a dozen people in that division.
Assistant commissioner, adolescent health, Dr Zoya Ali Rizvi; director Vidushi Chaturvedi and about a dozen people in the office of the Minister of State Ashwini Choubey have also tested positive. Dr L. Swasthicharan, a director in the tobacco division, who has been part of multiple central teams to Covid-hit states, is also positive.
Similarly in the Information & Broadcasting ministry, which is handling Covid awareness and communications, many officers including Satyendra Prakash, director general DAVP; Chaitanya Prasad, ADG Doordarshan; Vikram Sahay, joint secretary, and several press information bureau officers have tested positive.
“With so many officials out of action across ministries, work is bound to get affected. We are trying to restructure our work schedule again like last year, organising virtual meetings to avoid physical contact and ensuring staggered attendance of staff,” said a senior official in the Jal Shakti ministry, who did not want to be named.
Government sources said several senior officials are also isolating at home after coming in contact with an infected person. These include road secretary Girdhar Armane, whose son tested positive.
Besides senior IAS officers, about 100-150 government staff posted across ministries have also been infected with the novel coronavirus, the second official added.
“In many ministries, drivers and multi-tasking staff (MTS) have tested positive and are on leave,” an official in the road transport ministry said. “Many others are showing symptoms but have not been able to get themselves tested because of the huge rush at testing centres.”
Two senior retired civil servants have also died due to Covid-related complications in the last two days — former CBI director Ranjit Sinha died in Delhi Friday while former secretary, department of land resources, Ruolkhumlien Buhril, passed away Saturday.
Ministries restrict visitors, virtual meetings replace physical ones
After letting its guard down following a dip in Covid-19 cases in Delhi, the government is once again putting in place stringent protocols across ministries.
Entry of visitors have been restricted again. “We are discouraging visitors to come. Virtual meetings have once again replaced physical meetings,” a official in the housing and urban affairs ministry said.
Thermal scanners and sanitisers are also back.
A senior official in Shastri Bhawan that houses several ministries including education, social justice, coal, women and child development, tribal affairs said that though thermal scanners are there, the security staff at the entry points in government offices had completely stopped checking the temperature of visitors entering government buildings.
“People were also not sanitising frequently despite sanitiser dispenser machines being installed in each and every government offices,” the official said. “Everybody just let their guard down thinking Covid is gone. And then the deluge started.”
Work from home back in vogue in govt offices
With a spike in Covid cases, ministries have started enforcing work from home for junior and MTS staff.
The Department of Personnel and Training has directed all ministries to issue guidelines for work from home depending on their requirement.
Majority of the ministries have restricted attendance of junior officials — only 50 per cent of them can be in office.
“Officials of the level of under secretary and below have been allowed to work from home,” an official in the labour ministry said. “Only officers of the rank of deputy secretary and above have to come to work daily.”
A circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 15 April stated that all officers who attend office can stagger timings, with entry into office spread between 9 am and 10 am, with corresponding office exit timings.