A lean cabinet is the essence of efficient governance. The size of the Union council of ministers in India is extraordinarily large by any standards, and seems wholly pointless and wasteful since the introduction of economic reforms. At first glance, therefore, the proposed amendment to the Representation of Peoples Act to limit the strength of a council of ministers to 10 per cent of the number of members of Parliament or an assembly seems promising. This proposal follows from a recommendation of the national commission for the review of the working of the Constitution and can be useful in the state assemblies. In many states, especially in the Northeast, the council of ministers may comprise up to 50 per cent of the house, which is an absurd proportion from the point of view of efficiency and accountability. It has been proposed that in assemblies of small states, comprising 60 members or less, there would be at most seven in the council of ministers including the chief minister.
But the same reduction would be far less effective in the Central government. In a bicameral system, that is, one with a lower and upper house, both would be included in the count, which would mean in practice close to 80 ministers in council. As it is, the division of functions has led to an enigmatic multiplication of ministries into, for example, shipping, commerce and industry, heavy industries, small-scale industries, steel, and food processing industries. Logic of governance is evidently not the working principle here. What is even more mysterious is the persistence of the information and broadcasting ministry which has no place in a liberalized democracy. The new amendment would add nicer nuances in portfolio multiplication instead of making the necessary reduction. It is no use hoping that the spirit rather than the letter of the proposal would inspire change. Coalitions are strung on the thread of promised plums, and a limiting of ministerial portfolios in the Central government may very well put the leading political party in a tight spot. A government of 10 ministries, like that of Japan, for example, which puts economy, trade and industry under one head, just will not do. It will not only mean that fewer people can sit in council, but also that the huge numbers of personnel in the departments under the various ministries will have to be drastically cut down. Neither politicians nor bureaucrats would brook this. If an amendment merely reconfirms the status quo, a lean council of ministers and efficient governance will remain a distant prospect for India.