While allocating portfolios, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has taken some positive steps with regard to control of departments, merging portfolios and choice of ministers. There’s hope that this will put an end to the problems that dogged key departments in the state government for over a decade. Coalition politics and vested interests had affected the functioning of these departments.
The biggest casualty of the one-upmanship between the erstwhile coalition partners of the former government was Mumbai’s makeover. The two agencies handling the rebuilding of infrastructure were controlled by two different parties. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) was headed by Congress chief ministers, while the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) was headed by ministers from the Nationalist Congress Party.
Furthermore, the MSRDC was delinked from the public works department, despite the fact that their functioning was the same. There was also a tussle between ministers handling the PWD and MSRDC. The outcome was predictable. Projects such as the Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (sealink connecting Sewri and Nhava), Worli-Haji Ali and Haji Ali-Nariman Point sealinks never took off and traffic congestion remained a major problem in the city.
Now, Fadnavis has decided to put one minister in charge of the PWD and MSRDC departments. Hopefully, infrastructure projects will get back on track and rid the city of traffic congestion in the coming years. There is still a rider though: What will happen if the departments are allocated to a Shiv Sena minister and he doesn’t get along with the chief minister, who heads the MMRDA? Hopefully, better sense will prevail.
The second casualty of coalition politics was the home department. Under the power- sharing pact, the NCP took control of the department. As such, the police force governed by the department remained divided between two political masters – NCP’s home minister and Congress’s chief minister, who had a final say in several of the department’s decisions. With Fadnavis retaining the home department, the police force will have no doubt about whose orders they need to follow. It is also hoped that the chief minister will manage to stop interference in the functioning of the police force.
The cooperative department was crucial for the Congress-NCP politicians hailing from rural areas where the economy was based on cooperative sugar factories, milk federations and banks. Due to the high stakes involved, the department could not monitor the functioning of the cooperative bodies in a proper manner even as successive governments doled out hundreds of crores of taxpayers’ money to cooperative units that were not being managed efficiently. With the appointment of Chandrakant Patil, who has no stakes in the cooperative sector, it is expected that the sector will actually benefit farmers.
Between 1995 and 1999, the Congress targeted the then Shiv Sena-BJP government over the debt burden caused by loans taken for infrastructure projects. In 1999, when the Congress-NCP government took over, the state had a debt of Rs44,000 crore. Fifteen years on, the debt has reached Rs3 lakh crore.
The culture of doling out freebies and subsidies and a lack of fiscal discipline led to such a huge burden on the state’s taxpayers. It is now hoped that new finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar will maintain fiscal discipline, which will ultimately mean l ess burden on taxpayers.
With three different ministers handling school, higher and technical, and medical education, the mess in the education sector was visible. In addition, with more than half a dozen education barons in the Cabinet furthering their interests, the functioning of these departments was badly affected.
Fadnavis has taken a significant step by bringing all education-related departments under one portfolio. Education minister Vinod Tawde is expected to streamline its functioning, introduce discipline and ensure that there will be changes in our education system in line with the changes happening globally.
If the Fadnavis government succeeds in these areas, they can set an example of good governance.