Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group
With a sharp reduction of 50 per cent in the number of Group of Ministers (GOMs) and Empowered Group of Ministers (EGOMs), the UPA government has made its intentions clear to go on a war-footing before the next general elections, which is less than two years away. But to remove the dubious tag of policy paralysis, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government needs to double the pace of working in the government.
Showing clear signs of slide, a Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis reveals that the average number of Cabinet meetings have stridently decreased. Whilst a total of 1000 meetings of the Cabinet took place in UPA 1, during UPA 2 the meetings have dropped to 329. But all is not lost for the UPA government as it still has more than 20 months in office before the next Lok Sabha election in 2014.
Mohan Guruswamy, chairman and the founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), who also served as an advisor to the former finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, targeted Manmohan Singh’s style of functioning for slashing the numbers. He says, “The PM who is functioning in a bureaucratic manner doesn’t have the political stature to manage his party men and alliance partners. On the other hand, during the NDA regime, government was working more proactively as AB Vajpayee could take some harsh decisions.”
Similarly, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a noted political analyst and currently the president of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), shares Guruswamy’s concern that UPA in its second avatar is struggling but he doesn’t believe less Cabinet meetings is the only reason for that. Mehta argues, “These numbers don’t tell you the real story. This is no secret that UPA 2 is struggling more than UPA1 but it is hardly to do with these numbers. All governments function differently and if the number of GoM and EGoMs are coming down it is just a matter of choice.”
The analysis of government’s functioning has been done on the basis of all the notifications given on the website of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) since the UPA government came into power in 2004. PIB is the nodal agency of the government to disseminate information to the print and electronic media on government policies, programmes, initiatives and achievements.
Speedy decision-making is the biggest issue grappling the incumbent government. The last decision in the Cabinet Committee was taken a year back on June 30, 2011, when the Union Cabinet approved the amendments in tariff policy for providing specific exemptions in the hydro power and transmission sectors.
However, the decision-making was on the mark during the first two years of the UPA 2. During UPA 1, a total of 21 Cabinet Committee decisions were taken, which were reported as 18 during the UPA’s second term.
But shouldn’t alliance members be held equally responsible for reduction in the number of Cabinet meetings? For instance, Mamata Banerjee’s tenure as the Railway Minister will always remain in public psyche for absenteeism.
However, Guruswamy isn’t ready to pass the buck to the alliance partners. “I don’t blame alliances for slow functioning of government as in India we have to have coalition government. Mamata Banerjee, who is troubling the UPA, had also reacted in the same manner when she was part of the NDA government,” he added.
The other crucial Committee headed by the Prime Minister – Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) - has taken 210 decisions during the current regime which was 288 in the five years of UPA 1. Other two Cabinet Committees headed by the Prime Minister on Infrastructure and Price Rise met for 139 times in UPA 1 and 2 times since May 22, 2009.
As per the PIB, the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India was found to have only met four times during the current regime’s tenure.
The incumbent UPA government in second term constituted 27 GoMs and 12 EGoMs, which were recently cut down to 15 and 6 respectively. Many of these committees met only occasionally as Pranab Mukherjee, who is now the President, was alone heading most of these committees, opined Guruswamy.