When the portfolios of the newly-inducted Council of Ministers are announced by the Rashtrapati Bhavan, one of the things that will be keenly watched, besides who gets the Ministry of Finance portfolio, will be how far the Narendra Modi 2.0 government remains true to its 'minimum government, maximum governance' promise.
This promise was made five years ago by Modi, as the BJP's then prime ministerial candidate, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but given the political expediencies and prioritisation of some other things in governance, particularly the delivery of social schemes, he couldn't really translate his words into reality.
At the beginning of his first term in May 2014, he did take the initiative by inducting only 46 ministers — the lowest in a decade-and-a-half. But by the end of his term, the strength of the Council of Ministers went up to 70. The number of ministers is still not a problem for the Constitution as amended during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, which provides that the strength of the Council of Ministers can be upto 15 percent of the total members of Lok Sabha.
The issue here is how the ministries and departments therein are structured or re-structured to ensure that there is no overlapping, there are no turf wars while initiating reform or policy decisions and that there is an effort to do away with or at least minimise to the extent possible inter-ministerial wars, and cut bureaucratic red tape that delays decision-making and delivery on the ground.
One can understand that in his first term, Modi could not give much attention to his minimum government and maximum governance theme but his next term, that begins on Thursday evening, gives him a good opportunity to fulfil a promise that he made.
What the restructuring, if implemented the way it has been considered for quite some time, would mean is that the number of ministers with a Cabinet rank could ultimately reduce, but the number of Ministers of State under the bigger and restructured ministries could increase slightly. Again, the need to give some work and better administrative experience to junior ministers has been discussed for decades, but in real terms no tangible progress has been made.
Firstpost spoke to some senior leaders in the ruling party (and some BJP officials) and got the sense that this time around, Modi would like to begin restructuring of ministries right from the off. The idea is to make a start on 30 May when portfolios to the Council of Ministers are allocated.
First, pharmaceuticals is one of the most important component of any reform of the health ministry. One of the major thrust areas of the previous Modi government had been to reduce the prices of life-saving and serious ailment drugs, as also making the supply chain more efficient and more reachable. An ordinary person links pharmaceuticals with the health ministry and hospitals, but phrama comes under domain of the chemical and fertiliser ministry. The removal of pharmaceuticals from the chemical ministry and its merger with the health ministry would be an important indicator of restructuring.
Second, tourism has thus far been part of the culture ministry. The problem was that the development of a tourist destination had less to do with culture and more to do with connectivity. Developing tourism and India as one of the most sought-after tourism destinations is high on Modi's agenda. Domestic tourists, while making their plans, first look at the sort of connectivity that is available to them. A merger of tourism with civil aviation would be a step forward in restructuring.
Third, the creation of a big cluster of inland transport ministries, barring railways, would take care of infrastructure development. Although in the outgoing Modi government, Nitin Gadkari had charge of , Shipping, Water Resources and River Development, they were all separate ministries — handed as an additional charge to one minister. The merger of these into one ministry would mean no inter-ministerial hassles and time lags in file movement.
Since Modi has a nostalgic association with the railways (his humble beginnings as a chaiwala) and has big plans for the ministry, this could remain separate from the rest of in-land transport. The age-old provision of a separate Rail Budget was abolished by the Modi government in its first term.
Fourth, although food processing has everything to do with agriculture but this is a separate ministry and has nothing to do with the agriculture ministry. If the thrust is placed on doubling farmer incomes in the next few years and minimise the much-discussed factor of farmer distress, then the two ministries have to be merged into one. The government could perhaps be making a move in this regard.
Fifth, over the years, the transformation of the economy and its global connectivity is such that the policymakers argue that there was no need to have a heavy industry ministry — it could be merged into the commerce ministry.
Sixth, there is an overlap between Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and that of skill development. The merger of these could give greater leeway in policy formulation and absorption of the newly-trained workforce in small and medium enterprises.
Seventh, since job creation is one of the key promises of the prime minister, it would be a good idea to give a new shape to the labour and employment ministry.
The fact that Modi has received a bigger mandate than in 2014 is an indicator that people trust in him to devise better mechanism for policy formulation and its last mile delivery.
Updated Date: May 30, 2019 23:40:55 IST