PMO empowers junior ministers with new work profile

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with other ministers during their high level cabinet meeting in New Delhi. Photo: PMO India Twitter Handle
Within about a fortnight of expanding and reshuffling the Cabinet, the Narendra Modi-led Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has put in place an elaborate mechanism to ensure that junior ministers are not only empowered on paper but also delegated important work.

Breaking a long tradition atop Raisina Hill, where ministers of state (MoS) were made to feel redundant by their seniors (Cabinet ministers), the PMO has ensured that specific divisions in each ministry are allocated to junior ministers.

Officials said, according to the new rules, all parliamentary work related to ‘unstarred questions’ and administrative decisions regarding lower rank officials — those below the pay grade of less than Rs 8,700 — would have to be disposed off at the level of MoS. Simply put, such issues will not go to the office of the Cabinet minister.

According to allocation of business rules issued recently, all matters related to the divisions assigned to the MoS will have to pass through them before reaching the Cabinet ministers.

For example, in the agriculture ministry, all works related to 14 major divisions, including agriculture census, crops, drought management, international cooperation and trade, would have to be routed through new MoS SS Ahluwalia before reaching Cabinet Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s desk.

The finance ministry would have a similar arrangement. Between the two MoS — Santosh Gangwar and Arjun Ram Meghwal — the former would look after revenue and financial services, while the latter would oversee disinvestment, department of economic affairs and expenditure, officials said.

In food and consumer affairs ministry, headed by Ram Vilas Paswan, MoS CR Chaudhary would be assigned the division of consumer affairs, said officials.

Some Cabinet ministers are using it as a force multiplier. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar has made it a habit to have his junior S S Ahluwalia by his side whenever he meets the press. Recently, he told journalists that while he has 20 years of parliamentary experience, Ahluwalia has spent 26 years in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Similarly, in agriculture ministry, newly-appointed MoS Parshottam Rupala would have the right to look into all matters related to agriculture marketing, cooperation and credit, horticulture etc. before such matters reach the Cabinet minister. Rupala, a former minister for agriculture in Gujarat, would look after major departments within the agriculture ministry, including seeds, plant protection, policy, oilseeds, etc.

Officials said as per the new arrangement, the Cabinet minister will only directly handle parliamentary matters which are starred, calling attention motion, VIP references, establishment and vigilance matters relating to joint secretary and above in the ministry or any of its subordinate organisations, replies to the letters received from Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers and any other important or urgent matter which the secretary deems fit for minister’s direct consideration.

A starred question is the one where an MP desires an oral answer in the parliament, which allows for subsequent supplementary questions, while unstarred questions are the ones where a written answer is laid on the table of the House.

DIVISION OF LABOUR

  • Ministers of state to be responsible for all matters related to certain departments. Files related to such departments would go to Cabinet ministers only after they are cleared by the MoS.

     
  • MoS will dispose off parliamentary work related to ‘unstarred questions’, where written answers can be laid on the table of the House.

     
  • Administrative work related to lower-rank officials would be disposed off at MoS-level.

     
  • All ‘starred questions’, where ministers have to give oral answer in the parliament, to be handled by Cabinet ministers.

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