New Delhi, April 15 : On day one of lockdown 2.0 on Wednesday, the Central government's top bureaucrats were noticed in their ministries and departments as required by the fresh guidelines.
These were deputy secretaries, joint secretaries, additional secretaries, special secretaries and secretaries at various ministries including Defence, Home, Health, Consumer Affairs.
As the Joint Secretary and above level officials had started their work from April 13 along with all the Cabinet Ministers following an instruction from the Prime Minister's Office, the attendance noted on Wednesday was an addition to the fresh lockdown instructions issued from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Security men, office attendance and other sources available at the entry gates and some specific locations at various government buildings such as South Block, North Block, Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan and Rail Bhawan told IANS that around 60 per cent officials from Deputy Secretary and above level joined the office on Wednesday.
Several Ministers also visited their offices and a series of meetings were taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis which has so far claimed 392 lives.
As per the fresh consolidated guidelines for the 19-day extended lockdown ending on May 3, it is clearly mentioned that the offices of "government of India, its autonomous or subordinate offices will remain open".
After strictly implementing the first phase of 21-day lockdown norms between March 24 and April 14, Ministries and departments as well as offices under their control have been directed in the fresh guidelines to "function with 100 per cent attendance of Deputy Secretary and levels above that".
"Remaining officers and staff to attend up to 33 per cent as per requirement," the fresh guidelines issued by the MHA mentions.
Defence, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), Health and Family Welfare, Disaster Management and Early Warning Agencies (IMD, INCOIS, SASE and National Centre of Seismology, CWC), National Informatics Centre (NIC), Food Corporation of India (FCI), NCC, Nehru Yuva Kendras (NYKs) and Customs have also been directed to function without any restrictions.
Former Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth justified the government's move to first restrict the office visit of all the government officers as well as ministers, saying it was the need of the hour to contain the virus The 1974 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Uttar Pradesh Cadre, Seth, who was the 30th Cabinet Secretary, told IANS: "What the government is doing is in favour of all. In such a situation, step by step decisions are taken and the government is doing as per the need." After the new guidelines, its implementation is expected to be seen across the country in coming days which directed that the offices to the state and Union Territories (UTs), their autonomous bodies and local governments will remain open.
Those offices include police, home guards, civil defence, fire and emergency services, disaster management, prisons and municipal services All other departments of states and UTs have been allowed to work with restricted staff.
"Group A and B officers may attend as required. Group C and levels below that may attend upto 30 per cent of strength, as per requirement to ensure social distancing," the guidelines say.
"However, delivery of public services shall be ensured and necessary staff will be deployed for such purpose." District administration and treasury (including field officers of the Accountant General) will function with restricted staff as per the new lockdown norms.
Resident Commissioner of states and UTs, in New Delhi, only to the extent of coordinating COVID-19 related activities and internal kitchen operations have been exempted from the lockdown.
Forest officers, including staff, workers required to operate and maintain zoos, nurseries, wildlife, fire-fighting, forests, watering plantations, patrolling and their necessary transport movement have also been allowed.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)