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Look hard and spot ‘a beginning’

New Delhi, May 27: Narendra Modi’s mantra of telescoping ministries and departments into coherent and manageable administrative silos appears to have fallen short of the grand reformist design that the Prime Minister had originally conceived.

However, there was evidence that the broad principle was at work in the way that some key economic ministries were farmed out to a bunch of tyros in the government.

Minister of state Piyush Goyal was given independent charge of the ministries of power, coal and renewable energy. The three ministerial covens will retain their distinct and disparate identities, belying speculation that they would be mashed into one gigantic energy bailiwick.

“He (Modi) has made a beginning by bringing coal, power and renewable energy under one umbrella,” Goyal said during his interaction with reporters after assuming office today. “I attended presentations in the morning by the ministry officials and came to appreciate the natural synergies that exist between them.”

Goyal expressed the hope that his ministry would “work in tandem with the environment ministry to ensure faster clearance of mining projects. But environmental interests of the nation will also be kept in mind”.

Coal-based electricity generation accounts for more than 54 per cent of India’s installed power capacity of 245,393MW. Coal India currently meets about 65 per cent of the power plants’ requirements, with the remaining demand met through coal imports largely from Indonesia and Australia.

The other big change was to bring about greater coordination between the ministries of finance, and commerce and industry — which have often exposed the fault lines in governance in the past because of the egos and baggage of prejudices that earlier incumbents had carried with them.

Minister of state Nirmala Sitharaman has been given independent charge of commerce and industry. She has also been inducted as a junior minister in the ministries of finance and corporate affairs, working under Arun Jaitley.

The two ministers will clearly work in tandem. Sitharaman is expected to heed his advice in key areas where the two ministries have to cooperate such as the formulation of import-export rules and categorisation of duties.

Jaitley headed the commerce and industry ministry in the Vajpayee government. He has a deep understanding of the nuances of trade negotiations and represented India at the world trade talks in Cancun (Mexico) in October 2003, where he joined hands with China, Mexico and South Africa to forge a group of 21 emerging nations that stymied the US and the European Union from ramming through a world trade agreement that would have been loaded in favour of the rich nations.

Jaitley can hand-hold Sitharaman through the onerous challenges that she now must face.

Sitharaman, who has an MPhil from Jawaharlal Nehru University and once worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, reaffirmed the BJP’s stand of not allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. French retailer Carrefour has already indicated that it intends to pull out of the country because of a tough regulatory environment.

The department of corporate affairs, which was once part of the finance ministry, had been taken out of it because of coalition compulsions in 2004 during the UPA-I regime. It was turned into a ministry and gifted to the RJD’s Prem Chand Gupta during UPA-I.

The ministry of corporate affairs — which manages the gigantic database of all companies operating in the country and oversees the Serious Frauds Office — has now been brought under Jaitley but will retain its distinct identity.

Nitin Gadkari was given charge of highways, transport and shipping as a cabinet minister. The votaries of change have been clamouring for a large transport ministry — much the way as it exists in the US and China — that would bring aviation, shipping, railways and road transport under one umbrella.

But that didn’t happen. The railways continue to retain their exclusive status with Sadanand Gowda becoming the seventh legislator from Karnataka to become a railway minister since Independence.

Civil aviation went to Ashok Gajapathi Raju, who hails from the former royal family of Vizianagram in Andhra Pradesh.

Similarly, culture and tourism, which was a conjoined portfolio before being carved up to accommodate more ministers, is being clubbed together.

At the same time, the portfolio of overseas Indian affairs has also been brought back within the fold of the external affairs ministry.

But not everyone is gung-ho about the decision to mash ministerial portfolios.

Citing the instance of power and coal under one minister, the naysayers said power was a user industry and the ministry would try and push the demands for coal allocations of private and state-run utilities.

However, Goyal said: “If we set the processes right and we follow procedures and policies, if we’re able to work within the system which is laid down without discretionary exceptions being made to government working, we can ensure transparency.”

CLUSTER CLUB

Some portfolios that fall under a single minister

  • Power; coal; new and renewable energy
  • Finance; corporate affairs
  • Mines; steel
  • External affairs; overseas Indian affairs
  • Road transport and highways; shipping
  • Urban development; housing and urban poverty alleviation
  • Science and technology; earth sciences
  • Rural development; panchayati raj; drinking water and sanitation
  • Culture; tourism
  • Skill development; entrepreneurship; youth affairs and sports

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