The Ministry of Finance on Saturday clarified that there were no restrictions on filling up of government vacancies and said that its circular from the previous day on austerity measures to be adopted by the ministry only referred to internal posts.

The clarification came hours after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi criticised the Narendra Modi government for reportedly putting a freeze on hiring for government jobs. Gandhi also shared a newspaper report on the finance ministry’s circular. “The Modi government’s thinking is minimum government, maximum privatisation,” he said in a tweet. “Covid is just an excuse, the government’s plan is to free government offices of all permanent staff, steal the youth’s future and propel his own friends forward.”

In a statement, the finance ministry said there is no such restriction or ban. “Normal recruitments through govt [government] agencies like Staff Selection Commission, UPSC, Rlwy [Railway] Recruitment Board, etc will continue as usual without any curbs,” it said.

It added: “The Department of Expenditure circular dated 04 September 2020 deals with internal procedure for creation of posts and does not in any way affect or curtail recruitment.”

The Department of Expenditure’s September 4 circular said: “In the context of the present fiscal situation and the consequent pressure on government resources there is a need for further economy and rationalisation of non-priority expenditure, while protecting and preserving priority expenditure.”

To this effect, the department said there would be a ban on creating new posts, except with specific approval. There would be a “ban on creation of new posts in ministries/departments, attached offices, subordinate offices etc without the permission” of the Department of Expenditure, it said. “This will cover all creation of posts under powers given to organisations regardless of the source of the said power.”

“If any post has been created after July 1, 2020, under delegated powers or authority, without approval of Expenditure Department and have not yet been filled, then shall posts shall not be filled,” the circular added. “If it is deemed absolutely essential to fill them, proposals may be sent for approval of Department of Expenditure.”

The department also said that there would be no printing or publishing of books or documents on imported paper and expenditure on functions and celebrations should either be discouraged or cut down. “In any case, travel for such functions and provision of bags or mementos should be avoided,” the circular said. It also directed departments to review the appointments of individual consultants.

The austerity measures were initiated after the Indian economy saw its worst contraction in decades, with the Gross Domestic Product shrinking by a record 23.9% in the April to June quarter, reflecting the severe impact of the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram, have attacked the government over the sharp decline in the GDP.

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