Barely a month ago, a nine-member group of ministers (GoM) working on setting up an effective anti-corruption mechanism had set the ball rolling to scrap discretionary powers of union ministers. But feedback from most ministries and departments has forced the panel to drop the proposal.
The GoM, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, was set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January in the wake of a series of scams that had jolted the UPA government.
The group’s new line on ministers’ discretionary powers follows information provided by 50 of the 64 ministries and departments. “It was seen that in a majority of cases, the discretionary powers are in fact powers exercised by the ministers in performance of their bonafide duties,” says a confidential GoM note accessed by HT.
“It was felt that in such cases there is a need to ensure that such powers are exercised under prescribed guidelines/rules.”
The issue of scrapping discretionary powers of union ministers and chief ministers of Congress-governed states was raised by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at the party’s plenary session last December.
The GoM, which was set up on January 6 and was asked to submit its report within two months to the Prime Minister, has now sought another two months to complete its work.
“Discretionary powers can be curtailed but doing away with them completely will hamper the government’s functioning. It is not a practical move and requires a review. After all, ministers are public representatives,” said a senior official who didn’t want to be named.
The GoM has met twice so far and formed two expert groups to recommend complete transparency in public procurement and contracts, and introduction of an open and competitive system of tapping natural resources.