In a single stroke, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday dismantled a legacy of UPA rule when he abolished its 19 Group of Ministers (GoMs) and eight Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGoMs). Instead, ministers and officers have been asked to take decisions directly on pending matters without referring them to the Cabinet. The move is expected to fast track governance.
According to an official announcement: "This would expedite the process of decision making and usher in greater accountability in the system. The Ministries and Departments will now process the issues pending before the EGoMs and GoMs and take appropriate decisions at the level of Ministries and Departments itself. Wherever the Ministries face any difficulties, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister's Office will facilitate the decision making process."
The tradition of setting up of GoMs was started by the previous NDA government, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In order to help the council of ministers to arrive at a certain decision amid conflicting views, Vajpayee used to entrust the issue to a smaller group within the Cabinet to arrive at some consensus. The UPA government took this method a step ahead by incorporating a new mechanism of EGoM. Unlike the GoM, which refers the matter back to the cabinet, the EGOM is authorised to take decisions on behalf of the council of ministers. At one time, there were 52 GoMs and EgoMs during the UPA regime, most of which were headed by Pranab Mukherjee (now the President of India). In all, the UPA government instituted a total of 82 GoMs and 14 EGoMs during its 10-year rule.
Insiders told dna the mechanism was scrapped when the Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth went to the PM, asking for instructions on issues pending before these high powered groups. Modi was puzzled to see insignificant issues like evolving integrated strategy for water management, functioning of Prasar Bharti, 2010 Commonwealth Games and issuance of resident identity cards pending before the GoMs. Other such issues included deciding the price band of sale of shares of PSUs, pricing of gas, drought, electricity generation in Arunachal Pradesh, etc, being discussed by the various EGoMs. The PM concluded that ministries and departments were well empowered to take decisions on all such issues and sending them to the cabinet was nothing but a delaying tactic.
A senior official, however, expressed doubts on the advisability of shutting down all GoMs as they were invented to prevent ticklish issues clogging the Cabinet. He, however, approved the abolition of EGoMs, where decisions were taken without the PM's involvement, and as such Modi would now have a say on all these matters. Modi has, however, assured ministries that the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister's Office will facilitate the decision making process.
The new Prime Minister is moving fast to build the edifice of the central power centre, PMO, by including more and more officers. Arvind Kumar Sharma, a 1988 batch IAS officer who served Modi as the secretary to the CM in Gujarat, has been adjusted in the PMO as a joint secretary.
Sharma was originally tipped to become the principal secretary, but it was realised later that he was too junior to hold such a high-profile post and dictate to the secretaries of various ministries who are mostly from the 1979 batch, nine years senior to him. Nripendra Misra, a retired 1967 batch IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, is now the principal secretary to head the PMO.
Another Modi confidant awaiting appointment is Jagdish Thakkar, a journalist-turned-officer in Gujarat's Mahiti Vibhag (department of information) who has been the public relations officer of every Gujarat chief minister since 1989. Thakkar worked for Modi even after he retired from service in 2004.
Though, there was no clarity on the position for K Kailashnathan, who was also tipped to head the PMO, Modi has brought here all three personal assistants (PAs) he had as Gujarat's CM. They are Om Prakash Singh, Dinesh Thakur and Tanmay Mehta. All three have been with the RSS at some point. Singh hails from Rajasthan, Thakur from UP and Mehta is a Gujarati.
Those being shown the door from the PMO are principal secretary Pulok Chatterjee (61), a 1974 batch IAS, additional secretary Shatrughan Singh, a 1983 batch IAS from Uttarakhand cadre, and joint secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, a 1987 batch IAS officer.