The outbreak of COVID-19 has created emergency situation across the country making the Central Government to work form home and skeletal staff manning central offices. Due to the situation, the ministries are demanding access to virtual private network (VPN) for more government officials, especially if the lockdown persists beyond March 31.
The VPN access allows the access to carry out government works and process secured files files from home. At present, the VPN acccess has only been provided to officials above the rank of deputy secretary.
On the day following the order issued by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) which stated that the government offices across ministries and departments will “function with skeletal staff’, at least two ministries requested the VPN access for all section officers.
As per sources, the Department of Economic Affairs and Department of Science and Technology requested for expanding VPN access to section officers on Monday, March 23. Similarly, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment requested the VPN access from the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for almost hundred employees including those at assistant section officer level to continue the work.
In an office memorandum issued by the Ministry fo Finanace said, the smooth and normal functioning of the Government Expenditure system is critical to safeguard the public interest. Terming the expenditure functions of the government, the Integrated Finance Divisions of every ministry and department and the office of the Controller General of Accounts as ‘essential services’ , the March 23 OM emphasised that in fact in some sectors these may have to function ‘more quickly than normal to cope with the emerging needs’.
The Finance Ministry has ordered that pay and account offices and offices delaying with payments are to remain open during working hours. Also, financial advisors shall attend office as per normal schedule to ensure coordination and supervision.
However, in other ministries, even Joint Secretaries are on a scheduled duty or shifts but the officers are facing challenges keeping government processes working with skeletal staff and the financial year closing in days.
Allowing section officers to work from home has been proposed as a way to facilitate functioning from home. It is estimated that there may be 10,000-15,000 Section Officers currently serving in the government.