Break the Mould! How PM Can Push for Reforms by Shrinking Ministry
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
SIZE DOES MATTER
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.