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Narendra Modi has fulfilled his campaign promise of ‘minimum government’ in at least one respect. By breaking free of the tradition of jumbo cabinet, which was a hallmark of coalition governments in Delhi in the past decade and a half, and appointing one of the smallest council of ministers, Modi has set a precedent.
India’s new council of ministers, including Prime Minister Modi, is 46 member-strong, with 23 cabinet ministers, 10 ministers of state with independent charge, and 12 ministers of state. Modi has kept well below the legal bar, which holds that the council cannot exceed 15% of the Lok Sabha. This is in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, as well as his own party’s PM, Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose governments hovered around the 79-80 figure.
When asked about the jumbo cabinet, Vajpayee had defended it by saying that his government had the highest number of constituents joining hands on the Raisina hill. The reason Modi could implement his promise was precisely because he did not depend on others.
In a statement on Sunday evening, Modi said, “Earlier there was political stability and multi-party governments, the ministry formation was almost done in a bifurcated manner.” The free hand the election mandate gave Modi allowed him to pick his team, merge ministries, and give the cabinet a lean look.
There have been jumbo cabinets at the provincial level too. In Haryana, at one point, there were 33 ministers in a house of 90. The ruling party then had 51 MLAs, meaning that almost two out of three ruling party legislators were ministers. A law was finally passed during the Vajpayee tenure, which restricted the cabinet size to less than 15% of the house.
As the new council of ministers takes over, the government has asked all its departments to spare its officers to work as personal secretaries to the newly-appointed ministers.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued a circular to this effect to all the ministries and departments on May 21.
“Since the process of appointing private secretaries to ministers takes some time, it would be in order to provide the services of an officer within the department till then,” the DoPT circular said.
The ministries have to identify an officer working at deputy secretary or director-level in the ministry or department who could be deputed to work with the new minister until a regular private secretary of the minister’s choice is appointed.
According to the DoPT it would be an interim measure for a month or so and at the end of it the officer will return to his department and serve as earlier designation.
However, in case the minister wants to retain the officer as his PS, his name would be forwarded to the DoPT for approval by the competent authority.
For regular appointment of PS/OSD to each minister, all ministries have to send a formal proposal to the DoPT.
A cabinet minister is entitled for 15 personnel as its personal staff and a minister of state is eligible for a 13-member staff.