Structural reforms in Union Cabinet

One of the biggest failures of the Union Government of independent India, has been its inability to give the country a small and manageable Council of Ministers, both at the Centre and the States. India did start off with a lean cabinet (in terms of size) in 1950, but as with all self-serving and ill-governed systems, ministries became a place to park people for the pelf and benefits of power, rather than what was required to be done. The most damaging Prime Minister in that sense was Indira Gandhi, wherein all decisions were taken by her, and Ministers just roamed around in “lal-batti” cars, but had nothing to do.

Historically, creating a ministry was dicated by how many people needed to be accommodated in the ministry. The era of coalition politics, only made things worse, although there are some limitations on number of ministers now in place.

However, no one seem to have taken a look at whether and why we need these ministries. Can we reform the Union cabinet of Ministers and reduce number of ministers and ministries, and freeze them once and for all, through an all party mechanism, so that the temptation to split and create new ministries to accommodate allies is eliminated.

A quick look at the number and kind of ministries calls for a reduction in the number of cabinet ministers from the current 33 to 16. Each cabinet minister should by default be a very senior and experienced politician, who can independently manage a set of “ministers of state”, or MOS (eliminate the concept of independent charge). The cabinet minister should be responsible for the overall performance of the ministry and report to the PM – the MOSs should report to the cabinet minister only.

A large number of existing ministries can be subsumed into a much larger and powerful cabinet ministry.

The new cabinet positions (and its subsidiary ministries) could be as follows:

  1. Defence
  2. External Affairs (Overseas Indian Affairs)
  3. Home
  4. Finance (Statistics & Programme Implementation)
  5. HRD (Youth Affairs & Sports, Education, Science & Technology)
  6. Agriculture (Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution)
  7. Commerce (Corporate Affairs)
  8. Industry (Food Processing, Chemicals & Fertilizer, Steel, Mines, Textiles, Heavy Industries, Public Enterprises, MSME, Tourism)
  9. Transportation (Railways, Civil Aviation, Road Transport & Highways, and Shipping)
  10. Energy (Power, Petroleum & Natural Gas, Coal, New & Renewable Energy)
  11. Economic Development (Urban Development, Rural Development, North Eastern Region, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation)
  12. Environment (Environment & Forests, Water Resources)
  13. Convergence (Telecom, IT, Media & Entertainment (Old I&B)
  14. Law & Justice
  15. Social Development (Tribal Affairs, Panchayati Raj, Social Justice & Empowerment, Heath & Family Welfare, Labour & Employment, Minority Affairs, Women & Child Development, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions)
  16. Parliamentary Affairs

I&B Ministry should be renamed Media & Entertainment and Parliamentary Affairs renamed as PMO, as the parliamentary affairs are really being managed on behalf of the Prime Minister.

One can immediately see that there is a synergy between most ministries that have been clubbed together as shown above, and there is an overall logic behind it. What will also follow from here is a closer supervision of the MOSs by the Cabinet Minister, and hopefully better accountability.

This is not going to be easy but very much worth an effort. We need a wide public debate on this.

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