Hours before the Cabinet met on Wednesday, a senior functionary at the prime minister's office (PMO) rang up women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi's office. He told one of her aides about the changes in the draft Juvenile Justice Bill that was to be cleared by the Cabinet in the evening. The WCD official was instructed to prepare a press note in advance and send it to the PMO for clearance. As it happened, the Cabinet met in the evening, approved the draft bill and the already-prepared press note was out in no time.
This is the latest addition to the ever-evolving style of governance in Narendra Modi regime. Similar instructions have, of late, been coming from the PMO to ministers' offices hours before the Cabinet approves any draft legislation or policy.
"Given that the PMO plays an active role in the formulation of any policy by any ministry from the conceptual stage itself, there is rarely any dissent at Cabinet meetings. The PMO obviously remains involved down to the last detail like press note," said an official source.
Earlier, a ministry could prepare and circulate Cabinet notes among other ministries and departments for their comments. The concerned ministry would then finalise the note and send it to the Cabinet secretariat and the PMO. Now, the PMO vets a Cabinet note before it's circulated and so, it is not very often that any ministry raises any point of objection, said sources. It has caused a flutter in a section of the ruling establishment though.
"We were working on a policy relating to drugs. The PMO asked for the file and then instructed us to gather information about what other countries dealt with this issue. It has been three months and we are still gathering details," said a senior official of the ministry of health and family welfare. Another proposal by an infrastructure ministry has been hanging fire for two months as
the PMO instructed officials to gather details about best international practices.
"There is nothing wrong in the PMO micromanaging. But it's the PMO, and not the ministry concerned, that may have to own up responsibility in case something goes amiss," said a secretary to the government.
Some others offer a counterview a pro-active PMO is necessary today given how multi power centres during the UPA regime led to a policy paralysis.