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Modi mantra: Lean Cabinet, not so lean PMO

Nivedita Mookerji  |  New Delhi 

The Prime Minister's office has issued a clarification on this article and a correction is appended at the end of the article.

When Narendra Modi took charge as India's prime minister in May this year, he chose to keep his Council of Ministers lean. Several ministries were merged and multiple portfolios assigned to a select few. However, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) under him - a puzzle for many and known more through its tweets and Facebook posts - is not a small group of people. The office, including 64 in the PM's personal staff, has a strength of 356.

By comparison, Modi's predecessor, Manmohan Singh, ran "a tight ship", says an official. Though the total number of people in Singh's PMO was not immediately available, the former PM's personal staff had only 11 individuals. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the PM during the National Democratic Alliance's previous term in the government, had 12 in his personal staff, his predecessor H D Deve Gowda had only two.

Quick facts
  • Modi’s PMO lists PSes, PROs, OSDs, translators and drivers as part of personal staff
  • Singh’s personal staff did not include PSes, drivers, etc.
  • Singh had only one OSD, while Modi has one each for research, IT, innovation and appointments
  • Gowda had only one personal assistant and a peon in his personal staff
  • PMs are entitled to have a flexible personal staff, depending on needs of the time
These numbers, revealed in reply to an RTI (right to information) application, have been shared by the PMO.

A prime minister is entitled to a personal staff according to the need of the time and circumstances. Also, it is important to note that many of the positions clubbed as personal staff in Modi's PMO - personal secretaries, for example - were out of the 'personal' list in earlier governments.

Personal staff handles no regular ministry work and reports only to a minister - in this case, the PM - and, unlike other civil servants, not to the secretary. There is no prescribed eligibility but it is understood that the usual rules on age and experience for a salary band apply to personal staff as well.

Modi's personal staff, as listed by the PMO, has two personal secretaries (PS), a public relations officer (PRO), four officers on special duty (for research & strategy, information technology, appointments & tours and knowledge & innovation), an information officer, three senior principal private secretaries, a principal private secretary, an under secretary, four executive assistants, two section officers, seven private secretaries, three assistants, nine personal assistants, a senior Hindi translator, four staff car drivers, three lower division clerks, a 'daftry' (junior clerk), 16 peons, and a helper.

In a sharp contrast, Gowda, when he was the prime minister, had only a personal assistant and a peon in his personal staff, according to the information provided by PMO. Singh's personal staff comprised a secretary, an OSD, an additional private secretary, an assistant private secretary, a personal assistant, a dispatch rider and a peon/attendant. In Vajpayee's case, it was a secretary, a private secretary, an LDC and a peon.

Though there had earlier been much secrecy around the people running the PMO under Modi, it is now clear that there are 34 officers running the show in the South Block office. Of them, only two are current Gujarat-cadre Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers - Joint Secretary A K Sharma and Private Secretary to the PM Rajeev Topno. Additional principal secretary to the PM, P K Mishra, is a retired Gujarat-cadre IAS officer.

Among other PMO officials with a Gujarat connection are the four officers of special duty - Hiren Joshi, Pratik Doshi, Hemang Jani and Sanjay R Bhavsar - a combination of techies and marketing professionals who had worked closely with Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. Jagdish Thakkar, the PRO in the Prime Minister's Office, has also been Modi's close aide from earlier times. Besides, there are other old-time associates like Resident Commissioner (Gujarat) Bharat Lal, who was in the US ahead of Modi's recent visit to work out the modalities. In the previous PMO, under Singh, Rajeev Topno (a director then) was the only Gujarat-cadre IAS officer.

The PMO document also shows that the two top officials - Principal Secretary to PM Nripendra Misra and Additional Principal Secretary to PM P K Mishra - draw the same scale of pay, at Rs 90,000 a month.

As for who does what in the current PMO, the document shows that R Ramanujam, secretary to the PM, handles work related to the Cabinet Secretariat, Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), anti-corruption unit, thrust areas of the government, computerisation of the PMO and home affairs. BVR Subrahmanyam, joint secretary in the PMO, who has continued from Singh's regime, is responsible for monitoring the announcements by the PM - there have been many ambitious plans already. Prime Minister's funds, RTI, matters linked to petroleum & natural gas, communications & IT, finance, PM's Economic Advisory Council and corporate affairs, are among the things that Subrahmanyam looks at.

Joint Secretary A K Sharma, the go-to person for industry, has some heavy-duty responsibilities - railways, roads, transport, highways, shipping, civil aviation, infrastructure committee, power, mines, coal, steel, environment & forests, PM's council of climate change, skill development, sports, youth affairs, human resource development, heavy industries and Cabinet Committee on Investment. Jawed Ashraf, another joint secretary in PMO, takes care of external affairs, space, atomic energy, defence, science and technology. And, Anu Garg, also a joint secretary, monitors ministries and subjects like woman & child welfare and social justice & culture, besides PMO's security.

While Modi's Swachh Bharat has been making waves, his PMO has only five safai karamcharis (staff focused on cleanliness).

Of the 34 officers listed in Modi's PMO, only three are women - a joint secretary (Anu Garg), a director (Sharmila Mary Joseph) and an under secretary (R Mythili). There also are quite a few Indian Foreign Services officers on board Modi's ship - Joint Secretary Jawed Ashraf, PS Sanjeev Kumar Singla and Directors Munu Mahawar, Deepak Mittal and Gourangalal Das.


In response to this report, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has clarified that the total sanctioned strength of the PMO has been around 525 in the period 2011-14. As against this, the actual strength of the PMO in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 was in the range of 407 to 411. The number has now declined to 385.

Also, against a sanctioned strength of 78, the PM’s personal staff in the period of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh from 1998-2014 consisted of 74 persons. The number in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal staff is 65, the PMO has pointed out.

The Business Standard report, which was based on an RTI reply provided on the PM's website, had wrongly interpreted the current personal staff strength of former prime ministers Singh, Vajpayee and Gowda as their staff strength when they were Prime Minister. According to the PMO statement, the current personal staff strength of the three former PMs is 14, 12 and 2, respectively.

We regret the errors and stand corrected.

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First Published: Mon, October 13 2014. 00:57 IST