Break the Mould! How PM Can Push for Re­forms by Shrink­ing Min­istry

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

longer as there are quite a few va­can­cies in key min­istries. One can ex­pect the PM to be metic­u­lous about it like he was last year but what this coun­try and this gov­ern­ment needs is more than his thor­ough­ness in SWOT-analysing his Cab­i­net. The BJP came to power in 2014 promis­ing ‘max­i­mum gov­er­nance, min­i­mum gov­ern­ment’, a pow­er­ful slo­gan which in­di­cated that the era of big gov­ern­ment is over. Or at least it sig­nalled that gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus would shift away from mi­cro-con­trol of the econ­omy and sti­fling of en­trepreneur­ship and cre­ativ­ity and to­wards im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cies and out­comes. So far, the gov­ern­ment has tried to achieve this ob­jec­tive by re­peal­ing laws, shift­ing pro­cesses on­line to en­sure eas­ier com­pli­ance, club­bing tri­bunals and quasi­ju­di­cial bod­ies and drop­ping reg­u­la­tions to make things eas­ier for in­dus­try to op­er­ate. But lit­tle at­ten­tion has been paid to the size of the union min­istry which is to­day at 77. There are 26 Cab­i­net min­is­ters, 13 min­is­ters of state with in- de­pen­dent charge and 36 min­is­ters of state. At 77, this is a jumbo-sized min­istry and is a relic of the past. The Congress at one time and var­i­ous coali­tion gov­ern­ments since then have had such big min­istries due to po­lit­i­cal com­pul­sions. But PM Modi has of­ten shown that he cares two hoots for such con­sid­er­a­tions and it would be a great idea for him to de­liver a blow for re­forms by shrink­ing the size of his min­istry.

He should start with the out­liers and move to­wards the big min­istries. For in­stance, why should there by a sep­a­rate min­istry for heavy in­dus­try and PSUs? Why is there a sep­a­rate min­istry for steel? It mat­tered in the so­cial­ist era when gov­ern­ment dic­tated pace of in­vest­ments and PSUs were such a big part of the econ­omy. To­day, pri­vate capex is a big part of the econ­omy and pri­vate steel out­put is big­ger than PSU out­put. Even if you don’t want to abol­ish two min­istries, shouldn’t they be merged? Also, why is a depart­ment of chem­i­cals and fer­tilis­ers sep­a­rate from a g r i c ul t ure? Shouldn’ t i t be merged with Radha Mo­han Singh’s min­istry? Or, why not merge it with heavy in­dus­try, and steel and make one nodal min­istry in charge of all heavy in­dus­try in In­dia? The min­istry of plan­ning and min­istry of statis­tics and pro­gramme im­ple­men­ta­tion is an­oth- er anom­aly. When plan­ning com­mis­sion has been abol­ished, why should there be a sep­a­rate min­istry of plan­ning? Why not merge th­ese two min­istries with Niti Aayog which can then emerge as an ideas pow­er­house plus mon­i­tor the vari- ous pro­grammes. In 2014, Mr Modi did some­thing bold by merg­ing power and coal un­der Piyush Goyal. The suc­cess of the merger is there for ev­ery­body to see. In 2017, he can take this ex­per­i­ment for­ward by club­bing a few more min­istries un­der one min­is­ter. There is no doubt that In­dia’s tourism po­ten­tial is huge. But what tourists need are high qual­ity ho­tels and faster, smoother con­nec­tiv­ity. Ho­tel de­vel­op­ment is a lo­cal, state is­sue and Mr Modi can do lit­tle there. But he can cer­tainly do some­thing on con­nec­tiv­ity. Why not merge civil avi­a­tion un­der the trans­port min­istry and give Mr Nitin Gad­kari the task of pro­vid­ing fast ac­cess to In­dia’s best tourist des­ti­na­tions? Mr Gad­kari has turned around roads and is charg­ing ahead with re­build­ing In­dia’s port in­fra­struc­ture. He can also be ex­pected to turn around avi­a­tion


with newer and bet­ter air­ports in tourist-friendly spots. The prac­tice of keep­ing civil avi­a­tion out of the over­all trans­port and in­fra­struc­ture am­bit needs to be ques­tioned. If In­dia’s tourist po­ten­tial needs to be met, one needs to think of an in- tegrated model that caters to air­line pas­sen­gers and road tourists to build a strong tourist-friendly in­fra­struc­ture. Granted, avi­a­tion is more than just tourism. There are other is­sues to deal with as well. But is there any rea­son to be­lieve that an in­te­grated trans­port-cumav i at i o n min­ist r y un­der Mr Gad­kari can­not deal with it.

Mr Modi will have to deal with the po­lit­i­cal fall­out if he does take this step. Al­lies like Mr Chan­drababu Naidu and par­ty­men like Jayant Sinha need to be pla­cated but that should not be too dif­fi­cult given the va­cant min­istries like ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, I&B, etc. Mr Modi has taken the bull by the horns when it comes to tack­ling cor­rup­tion, black money, etc. An ef­fec­tive GST can be a game-chang­ing mo­ment for In­dian econ­omy. As he steps into the slog overs of his term, Mr Modi can go sev­eral steps fur­ther and de­liver a telling blow for re­forms by shrink­ing the size of his min­istry and show­ing ex­actly the kind of min­i­mum gov­ern­ment he has in mind.

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