Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to merge ministries to make it more ‘organic’, and increase coordination between different departments could enable faster decision-making and lead to efficiency.
But according to informed observers, it runs the risk of centralizing power, making the bureaucracy excessively powerful and disrupting the ‘balance’ between different interests in governance.
In a statement on Sunday night, Modi’s office explained the rationale of his decision, and said it was in line with his policy of ‘maximum governance, minimum government’.
One cabinet minister would head a cluster of ministries working in complementary sectors, top layers of government would be downsized, and the focus would be on ‘integrated and inter-connected nature’ of governance.
Shekhar Singh, who has lectured civil servants for close to two decades, saw Modi’s move as an attempt to replicate state-model of governance — where the CM is all powerful and ministries fall in line — at the centre — where decisions have traditionally been arrived at after internal tensions between different ministries.
“In the short-term, it will enable swift decisions, but in the medium and long-term, it removes the balance that comes from internal friction, which is necessary for a complex and diverse economy and society.”
Singh added that given the weak status Ministers of State enjoy, and the increased burden on the shoulders of a few cabinet ministers, this will result in the increased power of bureaucrats. “And finally, if ministries with contradictory interests are lumped together, the dominant economic and infrastructure-related ministries will prevail. The weaker ministries like environment and social justice will get washed away.”
Partha Mukhopadhyay, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, believes the idea of mega-ministries may have come as a reaction to the perception that there wasn’t enough governance in the UPA regime.
“Certain ministries are related to transport — be it roads or shipping or railways or civil aviation — but they all have different regulatory and policy challenges.”
On the other hand, a Ministry of Urban Development and Panchayati Raj could be subsumed under a Ministry of Local Government.
The key, Mukhopadhyay suggested, is running a ‘well-coordinated government’.