With the Narendra Modi cabinet taking formal shape on Tuesday, two features stand out.
In order to rationalise the size of the council of ministers, PM Modi has brought several ministries — which may or may not be related — under a single minister. To ensure there is no confusion, the presidential announcement on the portfolios makes it clear that the PM would be in charge of “all important policy issues”.
Certain ministries have been brought together as per the PM’s principle of ‘minimum government’, to ensure more coordination and create efficiency between related departments.
So, Sushma Swaraj is both the external affairs and overseas Indian affairs minister; Arun Jaitley took charge of both finance and corporate affairs and he also has defence till the next cabinet expansion; Nitin Gadkari is responsible for road transport and highways as well as shipping; Piyush Goyal is minister of state with independent charge for power, coal, and new and renewable energy. In UPA, there were separate ministers for many of these portfolios.
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But in some cases, there appears to be no connection between ministries lumped together except a motivation to downsize the council.
For instance, Prakash Javadekar is MoS with independent charge of information and broadcasting as well as environment. He will also assist M Venkaiah Naidu with Parliamentary Affairs. Naidu himself is responsible for two related ministries — Urban Development and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. VK Singh has independent charge of development of North Eastern region and will also assist Swaraj at the MEA. Some observers say this may increase the burden on a single minister, who may have to rely excessively on bureaucrats.
The second distinct feature of the cabinet is the way Modi’s role has been spelt out. As per the press communiqué issued by the President’s secretariat allocating portfolios, as advised by the PM, Modi will be responsible for ‘all policy issues’.
This is a standard feature in all parliamentary systems. Ministries are expected to forward any key policy decision to PMO. Under UPA, the PMO often had to send reminders to ministries to do so, and there were instances of ministers making unilateral policy announcements. With this categorical assertion, PM Modi has taken full responsibility.