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Modi's Tough Love Energises India's Bureaucrats

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told India's civil servants to throw out dusty files, clear clutter from corridors and may even demand that they work a six-day week.

The apparatchiks? They are apparently loving it.

Within days of taking office, Modi issued 10 administrative commandments. The first: Build Up Confidence in the Bureaucracy.

"This is unprecedented. Power has been shifted," said Suhaib Ilyasi, editor of Bureaucracy Today, a professional journal.

"The bureaucrats are feeling happy - even though they will have to work harder," added Ilyasi. In a readers' poll, more than 70 percent backed Modi's shakeup.

It's a huge turnaround for a state apparatus that, despite recruiting its top cadres through tough competitive examinations, has been ranked Asia's worst by one political risk consultancy.

In a two-pronged attack, Modi has targeted slovenliness in government offices - often grimy places where red spit from chewed betel nut stains walls, toilets are rarely cleaned, and discarded furniture and rotting files clog corridors.

In an edict seen by Reuters he demanded "hygiene and cleanliness". Offices must be "cleared and spruced up"; each department should scrap 10 archaic rules; and forms should be no longer than one page.

Change has been dramatic at government buildings across the colonial-era heart of New Delhi. Outside the Agriculture Ministry, unused files and old computers were piled up to be taken to a junk yard. Missing ceiling tiles have been replaced in passageways to cover loose cables.

The Health Ministry issued a statement saying that 35 steel cabinets, three water coolers and 40 chairs had been cleared from its corridors. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched an tender to auction off "obsolete/unusable/unserviceable items".

Modi also wants bureaucrats to think creatively and take risks to overcome administrative paralysis that set in over the past decade as the previous government became engulfed in a series of corruption scandals.

He has abolished a slew of cabinet committees, concentrated power in the Prime Minister's Office and is expected to overhaul a Soviet-style Planning Commission.

Modi's gruelling schedule has ministerial secretaries - the top-ranking civil servants - rushing to keep up.

And for some, old habits die hard.

"I too want to clean my room," said one senior bureaucrat, surveying an office table covered with stacks of files. "But there is a fear I may lose a document which could prove fatal."