As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced his 79-member jumbo ministry on Wednesday, a reforms panel set up by Singh himself pointed out that India has far too many ministers, resulting in a fragmented approach to big problems.
Singh named 59 new ministers to be sworn in at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday, raising the strength to 79, including 33 Cabinet ministers. US President Barack Obama, in contrast, makes do with 15 Cabinet ministers, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has 23.
Independent India’s first government, too, had started out with a team of 16, including PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
But an expansion in the state apparatus and political compulsions – especially in the era of coalition politics – had significantly raised the number of ministers, the Veerappa Moily-led Second Administrative Reforms Commission said in its report that has been handed over to the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this month.
Although 69-year-old Moily, who was sworn in as a minister in the first round last week, resigned from the commission in March-end, the report acknowledged he had been the prime driver at the ARC’s deliberations. The report has not been made public yet.
The report said because of the fragmentation, five departments were handling the energy sector, comprising power, coal, non-conventional energy sources, petroleum and atomic energy. The commission counted nearly 90 departments in the government.
Acknowledging that creating new departments for individual subjects helped sharpen the focus, the report said, “But it carries with it disadvantages of lack of coordination and inability to adopt an integrated approach to national priorities.”
“We felt there was a need to strike a balance between the requirements of functional specialisation and the need for a holistic approach to key issues,” a commission functionary told Hindustan Times.
“Democracies like the UK and the US have attempted to achieve this by having between 15 and 25 ministries headed by Cabinet ministers and assisted by other ministers.”
Since it would be “unrealistic” to expect the government to cut the size of the council of ministers in an era of coalition politics, the commission said “a more pragmatic approach” would be to appoint a senior Cabinet minister for each of the 20-25 closely related departments, to be assisted by junior ministers.
“As a consequence of this exercise, the Commission expects that the number of ministries could be reduced from about 55 at present to about 20-25,” the report said.