It has taken less than a year for the BJP to realise that governance can be a difficult business when you are in power. Having pilloried the Manmohan Singh government for setting up an unprecedented number of Groups of Ministers (GoMs) to tackle thorny issues, the Modi government is now resorting to the same devise. From selection of a member for the National Commission for Women to guidelines for Internet governance, the government has set up at least 16 informal GoMs during the last two months. The UPA, of course, had broken its own record by setting up 36 GoMs (including Empowered GoMs) during its second term in office. When it demitted office, there were nine EGoMs and 21 GoMs in operation at the Centre.
The trend of GoMs in the Modi regime picked up pace in March, when proposals sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have led to creation of these 16 informal groups. Once the informal group gives its consent, the proposal is cleared by the Cabinet without much discussion. This is a departure from the governance style witnessed in the early days of the Modi government which began by scrapping all the EGoMs and GoMs.
However, the first two informal GoMs came into being in July 2014: the first to plan the cleaning of the Ganga, the prime minister’s special project, and the other to fast-track environmental clearances for big infrastructure projects.
The new GoMs have been set up without any official notification and are said to be informal in nature. These groups were constituted recently for among other things: Amendments to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Bill, Seed Bill, Juvenile Justice Act; Amendment to Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act; Bureau of Indian Standards (Amendment)
Bill, the National Commission for Women (Amendment) Bill, the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill, the Lok Pal (Amendment) Bill and the Citizenship Bill – the last is now an Act, having received Parliament’s approval in the first half of the session this year. A group has been set up to frame guidelines for Internet governance after the recent row over net neutrality.
How they function
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley is in several of these ‘informal groups’ as de facto chairman, which serves to confirm his position as the number 2 in the government. How do these informal GoMs function? A case in point is the seven-member group, headed by Jaitley, which recently approved several amendments to the National Commission for Women (New) Act, 1990. The changes would now be put up before the Cabinet for its consideration. The GoM, formed in March to look into the matter, held just two meetings to review and approved the amendments. External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, urban development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and road transport
minister Nitin Gadkari are among its other members.
The women and child development ministry claims that this is a major development towards empowering the NCW and now the bill will be placed before the Cabinet. The ministry’s earlier proposal to provide the Commission with punitive powers to arrest and penalise people guilty of harassing women and ignoring its summons was removed after the law ministry expressed disapproval to the same citing these were the domain of the police and the judiciary. As per the proposed amendments, NCW will have all powers of a civil court and thus would be able to summon and ask the concerned to furnish relevant information before it.
Seven of the groups have been constituted to look at controversial pieces of legislation. With the Modi government still in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and the Opposition not in a mood to co-operate on all Bills, the government has realised the need to set up dedicated groups to strate- gise on securing political support for them. With the battle over the Land Bill continuing, Modi sent two more bills that have political implications
- one of them is them is the Seed Bill
- to a group, which has home minister Rajnath Singh heading it.
Of course, these groups, thus far, have been working at a brisker pace than the UPA’s GoMs. But the fact that the NDA government has been forced to set up such groups would suggest that things are not panning out as Modi had thought.
Until recently, a draft cabinet note circulated in the ministry concerned had to wait for the PMO nod. In case the PMO wanted changes, these were incorporated and sent back for approval before being introduced in the cabinet. Perhaps, the PMO now realises that it cannot get involved in everything since governance has acquired pace. So, the idea and spirit behind such informal groups, confides an official, are to ensure quality discussion on the subject before it appears in the Cabinet.
♦ RAKESH JOSH! email@example.com