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Out on short leaves, tours? ‘Work from anywhere’ is new mantra for health ministry officials

Senior officials will have to access e-mails & e-files even when on leave, tour or training. Union health ministry issues order dispensing with system of link officers.

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New Delhi: The Union health ministry wants its officers to ‘work from anywhere’ even on tour, training or leave, in a decision seemingly taken to infuse a new work culture at government offices where jobs are perceived to be secure and comfortable.

In an office memorandum issued on 6 March, the health ministry has said it is dispensing with the system of link officers in the ministry.

“Considering online accessibility of e-mail and e-files through VPN, it has been decided to dispense with the present Link Officer system in the ministry with immediate effect. Officers who proceed on short term tour/training/leave are required to handle e-mails and dispose e-files as per their convenience during their period of physical absence from office,” the office memorandum accessed by ThePrint states.

As of now, no other ministries or the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the nodal agency of the Government of India that looks after service, policy and administrative matters related to central service officers, has issued such an order dispensing with the system of link officer.

Besides handling e-mails and e-files during the period of absences, officers should also “endeavour” to join virtual meetings as closely as possible, the order says.

It’s a standard government practice to have link officers. In every central ministry and department, senior officers above the rank of deputy secretary and up to the level of additional secretary have a link officer, who can take charge when an officer is on tour/training or leave.

For officers of the rank of secretary, the DoPT issues orders giving additional charge to secretary of some other ministry/department when the former is on leave.

It’s not just short-term tour/training or leave when officers will be required to work. The memorandum adds that even when an officer is on long-term tour/training /leave, the officer should “endeavour” to handle e-mail  and e-files to the “extent possible.”

“Whenever a situation arises wherein any officer is proceeding on long-term tour/training/leave, even in such cases the endeavour should be that the officer continues to handle e-mail and e-files to the extent possible,” it says, adding that the officers may also ensure that their immediate subordinate officers who report to them are available in office for smooth functioning of the office.

“The officers should also instruct their personal staff to scan physical receipts if any and send them either through e-office portal (WAW) or through e-mail for directions. In case of any exigency, the subordinate officers should be alert to the necessity to bye-pass the reporting authority who may be away on leave/training/tour and send e-files for approval promptly to the next higher authority for appropriate decisions on such pressing matters. During the period of absence, officers should also endeavour to join virtual meetings to the extent feasible,” the order says.

The memorandum does mention that any exception will be dealt with “on a case-to-case basis” and that the health secretary can issue a specific order permitting handling of e-files by another designated officer in respect of any officer, who is away on leave, tour, training, etc.

The order has created a lot of heartburn among health ministry officials, who are terming it as “cruel.”

“What does it even mean? When employers everywhere are talking about bringing work-life balance, the health ministry of all the ministries want their employees to work even when they are on leave? Why should I access email and e-file when I am on leave? This is so unjust,” a senior ministry official told ThePrint.

A second ministry official said that they have been getting calls from their colleagues in other ministries inquiring about the order. “They are dreading that soon other ministries will also follow suit,” the official said.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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