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India’s 15th Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started his new innings at the Centre with a younger and leaner cabinet. But downsizing the “top layers” of the civil service might be a lot trickier, and difficult as well.
Along with the stiff resistance that the proposed downsizing could face from the steel frame, it may also not be feasible to appoint one secretary for a clubbed ministry that includes two specialised departments.
“While the new government could downsize its council of ministers, cutting down the top level of the bureaucracy would not work,” Devi Dayal, a former bureaucrat who served as banking secretary at centre told HT.
According to Dayal, each ministry works as a specialised unit and its secretary has a full time job, and while the government could afford to merge two ministries into one under a cabinet minster, it would still have to have two different secretaries handling each unit.
For example while the Coal and Power ministries have been merged into one as Energy ministry under one cabinet minister, as widely speculated, the two have become departments under the single ministry and two full time secretaries are still required.
Similarly if the commerce and external affairs ministries are merged into one, each with vastly different subject matters, would have to be handled by two secretaries instead of one.
Mukesh Kacker, another former bureaucrat, said the move could also run into trouble because of huge resistance from the bureaucracy. “Every IAS officer desires to reach the top and become secretary to the government of India. Bringing down the number of secretary level positions would mean lesser chances of promotion to the top,” he said. What instead could be done is, he said is hiving off unnecessary ministries and departments.
There is no need to have a ministry of information and broadcasting as admitted by former I&B minister Manish Tewari.
Similarly why have a ministry of culture. According to Kacker the Modi government could also do well to shut down ministries that encroach on state subject for example ministry of agriculture and ministry of health.
The last decade has seen number of central ministries proliferating to over 60 from 45 in 2004. Add to this a number of departments and the bureaucracy looks mammoth oversized leviathan with over 200 secretaries.
Some of these irrelevant ministries can easily be shut down cutting down the attached bureaucracy with them.