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What the rare second extension to UP chief secretary signifies about Yogi-Modi relations

The ‘unusually long’ tenure of DS Mishra signals a change in the Yogi govt’s approach towards the Modi govt, say former bureaucrats. It also comes at a crucial time for UP.

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Lucknow:  Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to give a rare second one-year extension to chief secretary D.S. Mishra, considered the Modi government’s point person in Lucknow, signals a change in chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s approach, bureaucrats in Delhi and Lucknow have told ThePrint. 

Ahead of Uttar Pradesh’s Global Investors Summit 2023 (GIS-2023) in February, seen to be crucial for Yogi’s $ 1 trillion dollar economy goal, the CM didn’t want to send any wrong signals by letting go of the “Centre’s man” in Lucknow, ThePrint has learnt.

A senior bureaucrat in Lucknow told ThePrint that the Yogi government had sent two names — including Mishra’s — to the Modi government for consideration. The central government cleared Mishra’s extension Friday— a day before his previous extension was set to end. 

Bureaucrats see it as a rare and “one-of-its-kind” case that a chief secretary has been given two extensions — that, too, for a year each.

In December 2021,  the Narendra Modi government’s sudden decision to repatriate then Union Housing Secretary Mishra to his home cadre “for his proposed appointment as (UP) Chief Secretary” had the political and bureaucratic circles abuzz. The move was seen as the Modi government foisting its points person on top of the administration in UP. It was also seen as the central government’s attempt to keep a leash on the UP government. 

Then CS R.K. Tiwari, who was close to the CM, had two years left but Yogi had to accept the Modi government’s choice then.

Mishra’s tenure as CS has been largely uneventful as the CM chose to function through a set of bureaucrats close to him.

With the decision-making centred on the CMO and the CM getting things done through his trusted bureaucrats, the CS’s office in Lucknow has been left to look after routine administrative jobs, say bureaucrats in UP. 

“It doesn’t matter if he gets another extension. The role Cabinet Secretary plays in Delhi, the CS plays in Lucknow too. Basically, it’s about the PMO and the CMO,”  a senior bureaucrat from UP cadre told ThePrint. “CM Yogi has shown political maturity by continuing with Mishra. Contrary to the perception about Mishra being the Modi government’s eyes and ears in Lucknow, he is happy doing what he is asked to. He hasn’t given Yogi any reason to feel alarmed.”

Before his repatriation, Mishra had been housing and urban affairs secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development — a post he held for more than three years. 

He was also appointed as the chief resident commissioner of UP earlier this year.

Mishra, who shared the news of his extension on Twitter on Saturday, told ThePrint that the order from the Department of Personnel & Training came Friday evening. 

“My priority will be to ensure four-sided development of the state and the implementation of welfare schemes on the ground following the vision of the PM to ensure the welfare of people,” he said.  

The development also comes at a time when the extension given to a bureaucrat in Manipur, another BJP-ruled state, has come under scrutiny. The six-month extension given to Manipur Chief Secretary Rajesh Kumar for the second time has drawn criticism from Opposition Congress.

Also Read: Yogi’s point man on law & order, IAS Awanish Awasthi made ‘advisor to CM’ 15 days after retirement

‘Unusually long, unheard of’

Former bureaucrats ThePrint spoke to called the development “unprecedented” and “unusually long”, especially in the light of All India Service rules.

Rule number 16 (1) of the All India Services (Death-Cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958, says that “A member of the service holding the post of chief secretary to a state government may be given extension of service for a period not exceeding six months on the recommendations made by the concerned state government with full justification and in public interest, with the prior approval of the central government”.

Former bureaucrat E.A.S Sarma told ThePrint that although extensions are not good “in principle”, they are usually given for a short duration — for six months to even a year. 

“An extension for one year has been given in many instances but I don’t think it’s ever been given for two years. Two years is far too long,” Sarma, a former secretary at the Ministry of Finance, told ThePrint.

The idea behind the six-month rule is to avoid long extensions, he said.

“What the government does is that they give multiple six-month extensions to overcome the rule. Look at the post of the Enforcement Directorate chief. It’s a very sensitive post but they are giving extensions just like that,” he said.

Jawhar Sircar, a retired IAS officer who served as the Chief Executive Officer of India’s state-owned broadcaster Prasar Bharati, told ThePrint that while giving Mishra a second one-year extension didn’t go against service rules, it could lead to “finishing off the All India Civil services.”

“The services follow a very strict circulatory system so that an officer doesn’t have any vested interests cropping up except during the short tenure he or she is there. Usually, governments ensure that bureaucrats don’t get very long tenures,” Sircar, now a Rajya Sabha MP from the Trinamool Congress, told ThePrint. 

The latest development highlights Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “nervousness” and shows how he goes “only for the people he knows”, he said.

“Secondly, it demoralises the services because the queue (of officials) stops there,” he added. 

A UP government official also told ThePrint that Mishra’s extension of service is “a one-of-a-kind instance in the history of Indian bureaucracy.”

“As far as I can recall, this has not happened before,” the official said.

Also Read: Why Allahabad HC quashed UP govt order on OBC quota in civic polls — ‘state on wrong side of law’

‘PMO stamp’

During his tenure at the central government, Mishra has overseen several key schemes, including the Modi government’s ambitious and controversial Central Vista redevelopment project. 

Among the several flagship projects that were implemented under Mishra’s tenure were the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Smart Cities Mission, as well as the launch of metro rail systems in several Indian cities — including Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, and Kanpur.

Mishra’s extension as chief secretary comes at a significant time for Uttar Pradesh — not only is the state gearing up for the investors’ summit, but it is also preparing to hold municipal elections early this year.

It also comes with the 2024 general elections a little over a year away.

Mishra met UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Friday — soon after rumours of his extension began doing the rounds. At that time, the CMO called it a  “courtesy meeting”. 

Another UP official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that the Yogi government has grown increasingly accepting of Mishra.

“His acceptance has grown lately, not only because he has the PMO stamp but also because he’s seen as a delivery-oriented man whose interference in the working of the CMO is limited,” the official said.  “Plus, holding the GIS-2023 smoothly is one of their main priorities right now.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: ‘Bhagirath-like effort needed’ as Yogi 2.0 revives trillion-dollar economy dream for UP

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