The government has rejected the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) suggestion to reduce the number of ministries at the Centre. However, it has agreed to reorganise work within the ministries and reduce the number of levels in the bureaucracy.
An empowered group of ministers, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, has turned down the ARC recommendation to end the proliferation of ministries and departments since Independence. ARC had also suggested opting for no more than 25 ministries headed by Cabinet Ministers and assisted by other ministers.
A ministry, according to the ARC proposal, would have meant a group of departments whose functions and subjects are closely related and assigned to a senior minister.
Under this plan drawn up by ARC chairman N. Veerappa Moily — now law minister — a junior minister could head individual departments or any combination of these.
As an example, Moily recommended Shipping, Civil Aviation, Railways and Road Transport should come under one senior minister for the transport sector.
However, the empowered group accepted the recommendation for a mandatory scheme of delegation in each ministry. The core group on Administrative Reforms — a panel of bureaucrats — has agreed to implement instructions that files should not pass through more than three levels.
Government sources did not clarify if the ministerial panel had also accepted the suggestion to have a regular audit of the decision-making process to ensure compliance.
In theory, the government also agreed to recast the Allocation of Business Rules — that lists the subjects to be handled by each department — to make them more focused on the goals and outcomes rather than a detailed listing of subjects. Sources said that in practice, “the exercise to review the allocation of business rules is largely to update the subjects.”
For instance, a home ministry official said, they had asked Cabinet secretariat to include maintenance of the integrated check posts entrusted to the home ministry this year in the official list of business.