Lucknow: The freshly sworn-in ministers in the Yogi Adityanath 2.0 government in Uttar Pradesh are losing one of the usual perks of the job: the liberty to pick and choose their personal staff. Instead, they will be assigned officials through a digital randomised allocation system.
The only exception is that if a minister is assigned a woman as his personal secretary, he — and they are mostly ‘he’s, except for five — may give a pass to her services for ‘practical’ reasons like odd hours and travel requirements.
The new system, government officials told ThePrint, was intended to prevent ministers from selecting their personal favourites or exercising caste and gender bias, and to ensure that “20 to 25 per cent” of the administrative structure consisted of women.
However, hours after the announcement Tuesday, some ministers raised the concern that women may have certain constraints if asked to serve as personal secretaries and the directive was duly diluted. Some women employees, too, reportedly had reservations about being assigned as personal secretaries to ministers.
Beyond turning down women personal secretaries, ministers will no longer get a say on who will be on their staff, which the Opposition sees as an attempt by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to exert his grip on ministries.
The new ‘bias-free’ system
The new system of digitised and randomised staff selection from a pool of 2,500 officials was initiated after directions from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, government sources said. Out of this pool, 250 names were picked as the staff of ministers.
Speaking to ThePrint, Principal Secretary (secretariat administration) Amrit Abhijat said that the process used was the same as the one used for selection of officials on election duty, which was devised by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). In that case too, officials are selected from a pool of names randomly sorted through a computer system.
The 250 officials in UP are now being randomly assigned to the 52 departments headed by various ministers in the Yogi government. The CM himself has retained 34 portfolios, including home, general administration, and personnel.
Government sources confirmed that, after approval from the CM’s Office, the names of the officials were coded to ensure that “there is no bias” in the selection process for the posts, including personal secretaries (PS), assistant personal secretaries, review officers (ROs), and assistant ROs.
Asked about the reason for the move, a government official said that the goal was to discourage casteism and favouritism in the choice of personal staff.
“It is a well-known fact that ministers like to choose their own personal staff. There is a lot of casteism involved. A Brahmin minister would prefer a Brahmin secretary, a Rajput would prefer a Rajput, and an OBC would prefer someone from their own caste. The process was aimed at removing this,” the official said.
Explaining how selection would earlier take place, political analyst Brajesh Shukla, who has observed Lucknow politics for years, said: “The selection of personal staff generally happened after a long process of several interviews and was the prerogative of ministers themselves. Usually, a minister’s men would form his personal staff. This leads to allegations of favouritism and corruption.”
‘More women in governance machinery’
On Tuesday morning, officials said that around 20-25 per cent of these 250 officers were going to be women to ensure better gender representation in administration.
“It is to ensure that they get accommodated suitably as their numbers have to be increased. In some departments, they were not there at all. Women are as efficient as anybody,” an official had said.
However, by afternoon on the same day, some ministers conveyed to the secretariat administration that it was not practical and feasible for a female personal secretary to accompany a male minister all the time.
The directive was subsequently diluted and ministers were reassured that male ministers could keep a male personal secretary.
“It is impractical for a female personal secretary to accompany a male minister always, especially during the rounds at odd hours,” a UP minister of state said.
Corrective measures had already been taken in one case, the minister added.
“In the randomisation process, one male minister was allotted a female personal secretary and a female assistant personal secretary. This was conveyed to the secretariat and they are now making changes,” he said.
Officials, however, said that while the direction had been adjusted keeping in mind the objections of ministers, women officials would be accommodated as ROs and AROs.
“Women officials will be deployed as ROs and AROs. Some laxity is being given to ministers since some of them raised the issue that they have to be on the ground at times and a female personal secretary accompanying the minister may not be practical,” Abhijat said.
Scope for loopholes
The random selection of personal staff is a first in the UP government, but Shukla noted that ministers could still find ways to exert their autonomy despite the initial staff allocation being out of their hands.
“If they don’t like the staff, the ministers are most likely to write letters to the department of secretariat administration complaining about specific officers. This can lead to back-and-forth and exchange of letters and finally removal of such officers too,” he said.
A former Samajwadi Party (SP) minister who served in the Akhilesh Yadav government said that, in his time, ministers could select their own staff and that the new process was a means to exert control.
“This is like centralisation of power. It is clear that Yogi ji wants to send a message that he retains a hold on his ministers through the selection of the personal staff,” the former minister said.
“You would remember that in his previous regime, Yogi ji had started the appointment of OSDs (officers on special duty) for ministers. Largely, these [OSDs] were people from the RSS and were accommodated in the government as personal staff,” he said. This reference was to a 2017 order by the Yogi government to appoint OSDs for all ministers, reportedly to “accommodate” workers of the RSS and its functionaries.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)