I & B Secy’s plainspeak to DPOs – much ado about nothing!

Union Secretary Apurva Chandra, Ministry of I&B, took departmental publicity officials in the Press Information Bureau (PIB) to task for their failure to publicise good work by govt. However Chandra’s tirade against Bureau officials was uncalled for, as he had not done his homework., writes MY SIDDIQUI

Union Secretary Apurva Chandra, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, who assumed office on August 23, 2021, took a review meeting recently of departmental publicity officials (DPOs) in the Press Information Bureau (PIB), attached to Ministries/Departments, charged them with poor performances in publicizing achievements of the government in comparison with the private media professionals telling them that PIB officials did not know their job.

PIB is the centralized medium for release of all official information and publicity. He took them  to task for their failure to publicise good work by government compared to private mediapersons. Chandra asked PIB officials bizarre questions like who do they interact with in Ministries/Departments, how often do they interact with Ministers, Secretaries and others. Chandra’s tirade against Bureau officials was uncalled for and is unacceptable, as he had not done his homework. He should know that DPOs have foremost and unhindered access to Ministers, Secretaries and others who matter, unlike any other functionaries who cannot meet them without prior appointment.

There is a plethora of policy decisions in the form of various Office Memoranda (OMs) issued by Ministry of I&B from time to time about publicizing government performances and achievements and the levels of officials right from Ministers, Secretaries and other senior officials that DPOs are required to interact on day-to-day basis. Besides, the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules read with the Manual of Office Procedure that provides dissemination of information and its format to the Bureau officials.

If only Secretary Chandra had done prior homework with consolidated OMs with a covering circular letter to Cabinet Secretary and all other secretaries, reiterating government’s decisions on dissemination of information to DPOs in PIB and interacting with them without any reservations, his tirade against PIB officials would have been worth it. No other Secretaries before had arrogated unto himself/herself while reviewing performances of PIB.

 There are instances when Secretary I&B took lead initiatives, addressed Cabinet Secretary and all other Secretaries to interact individually with DPOs in PIB on a regular basis for an hour asking the Bureau officials their constraints in getting information from competent officials, DPOs requirements, what they expected from Secretaries and what Secretaries wanted them to do. This arrangement had gone a long way in smoothening functioning of PIB officials with the result that the number of press releases used to be the highest ever. Lack of such perceptible initiatives by Chandra speaks volume for his failure to create buzz much less excitement and fresh enthusiasm among the DPOs.

 Added to this, the present dispensation is an aberration in the rule of law based system of Constitutional democratic governance where entire power structure is centralized and concentrated in one man and driven by the PMO where the Council of Ministers is there, Ministers enjoy power and pelf but cannot take decisions without the nod of the boss. Entire official machinery and public institutions have been corroded from within and hollowed out with structural Constitutional facade maintained intact. In such scenario, for any departmental decision and achievement of the government credit is taken by the leader amidst an ambiance of fear psychosis in the rank and file of the government, Ministers and Secretaries are reluctant to part with information. Additionally, there is inherent tendency in the top echelons of bureaucracy not to part with information to PIB officials, apprehending there will be public demands on Ministers to meet their raised aspirations and expectations, for which the bureaucrats are to prepare special briefs for the Ministers at times by burning midnight oil.

Earlier, during my time there used to be built-in arrangement wherein daily engagement list of Ministers and Secretaries used to be on the table of the DPOs before they reached their office. In addition, the first call of a DPO used to be to meet the Minister in charge and brief him/her about day’s political and other developments based on media reports, participate in all important meetings that Ministers held, in all meetings held by Secretaries on implementations of various policies, their performances, achievements etc. Also Notes for Pad (Parliamentary Star Questions briefs) and other briefs including Parliament Questions briefings that Ministries/Departments prepared for Ministers used to be shared with DPOs. All these were modus operandi as part of official mechanism to enable DPOs to have a feel of all round functioning of the government to be able to meet the visiting media with attendant confidence and as a live wire to any queries fielded by media persons within the frame of official conduct rules. That used to help the government generate abundant public goodwill and media trust that the government so elected was doing good works for the people.

The foregoing points out that Chandra has miles to go before he does his job properly. Simply berating the Bureau officials would not do. It is not that PIB officials do not know their job. What is needed for Chandra’s onerous duty is to create right enabling situation for DPOs to act efficiently and deliver. Simply sermonizing tirade would not do. He should know his several predecessor Secretaries failed because of their self-serving servility and failure to deliver. The way he conducted himself is condemnable. He must show by example whether he can deliver in the current scenario!