Over two years have passed since a Group of Ministers (GoM) decided to curb Union ministers’ discretionary powers, but the ministries are yet to budge.
None of the 38 central ministries, whose in-charges enjoy discretionary powers, has framed regulatory guidelines on the exercise of these powers as recommended in 2011 by a ministerial group headed by President Pranab Mukherjee, who was then finance minister.
However, with corruption emerging as a core election issue and the success of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi on an anti-corruption plank, the government has renewed its effort to check the discretionary powers of ministers.
"In this regard several reminders have already been issued… you are requested to expedite requisite information to this department urgently," read an instruction issued recently by the DoPT to the 38 ministries.
Even Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a recent function in Delhi had called arbitrary discretionary powers a reason for corruption. The Union ministers enjoy discretionary powers in senior-level appointments in the government and its undertakings, admissions in schools and colleges, allocation of gas stations and grant of environmental approval to projects.
Ministers of social sector ministries, which gets about Rs. 2 lakh crore as central allocation every year, also enjoy discretion in allocation of funds to non-governmental organisations and to state governments. The ministers also have powers to relax norms or tweak regulations that can help certain private players.
The ministerial group’s key recommendation aimed at checking corruption at the highest level and making the decision-making process more transparent was accepted by the government.
The department of personnel and training (DoPT) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was mandated to ensure that each ministry had a framework to regulate and ensure transparency in the use of these discretionary powers.
But the DoPT is finding it difficult to push the ministries to accept the government decision and curb ministers’ powers.
"It is like to asking ministers to chop their own fingers," said a government official on condition of anonymity.
"Unless a clear-cut framework is decided upon and the ministers are forced to accept it, I think the government decision will remain on paper."
This is not the only transparency framework being pushed by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is facing resistance from ministers.
No ministry has put details of its official travels on the ministry websites as asked by the PMO nearly six months ago.