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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
    CURRENT ISSUE MAY 09, 2005
 
   NATION: GOVERNANCE
 
Committee Raj

The UPA regime set up over 50 panels in 11 months. On an average, one every week. If they are to be the pillars of policymaking, why have 56 ministries?
 
It may sound like an apocryphal story. Sometime during his tenure, former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee had gifted a baby elephant to a head of state. Since the NDA demitted office the onus of delivering the gift fell on the UPA Government. But mandarins in three ministries were caught in a dilemma since the government of India subsequently banned gifting of animals by fiat. The Ministry of External Affairs, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests debated for some weeks whether the ban affected the gift announced by Vajpayee. Prima facie, the ban is applicable prospectively but nobody wants to take any chances. A paper trail is now snaking through South Block, PMO and Paryavaran Bhavan.

If it had been more than one elephant perhaps the mandarins would have constituted a committee or a task force. Since May 2005 the UPA regime has created over 50 panels on every conceivable problem facing the country. From improving the lot of Dalits to water to saving tigers. And this list does not include the statutory committees or the 12-member National Advisory Council that advises UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. To get a perspective consider this: it is estimated that various governments between 1990 and 2002 constituted 170 panels. This Government created one every week. There are ministerial groups, commissions, task forces, committees, missions and high-level groups. Chairing them are familiar names-committee chieftains like M.S. Swaminathan, Arjun Sengupta, C. Rangarajan and/or political favourites, and the host is always a PSU or a ministry.

On the way they have created cabinet-level posts and bestowed members with minister of state rank or at least that of secretary to the Government of India. It is not just about posts and perquisites, which often include a house in Lutyens' Delhi, car and office with attendant staff but also the layers being added to the government that add to the confusion.

As former Union minister Arun Shourie put it, "It would seem the committees are the only instance of the successful implementation of the promise of 100 days guaranteed employment." It isn't just the Opposition, even supporting parties are tiring of the committee parade. As CPI National Secretary D. Raja says: "The topmost priority of the UPA Government should be to implement the Common Minimum Programme. What is the use of so many committees?"

Raja may not say it in so many words but the rash of committees is true to the Congress script of co-opting intellectual voices to derive credibility. The irony is that NGOs and the intelligentsia, which ostensibly believe they can make a difference, are ceding the right to dissent by joining the establishment. Thematically, committees were conceptualised to engineer solutions to changed situations or vexing problems. Sometimes in emerging areas, say bio-informatics, governments require outside expertise to formulate policy. As Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi admits, "Governments cannot be arrogant and believe that all wisdom vests in it. We do need expert opinion." Perhaps. The truth is that nine out of 10 committees seem to be studying old problems to reinvent the wheel. For instance, every government since 1991 has had a committee studying cooperative banks and agricultural credit. Education, power, water, and rural health are other favourite topics. It is a testimony to the state of affairs that this Government too has committees looking at them. In fact, it has gone one better. On April 26, it announced the setting up of a Knowledge Commission, details of which are yet to be finalised.

  PICTURE SPEAK
COMMON FACTOR: Sengupta (second from left) heads three committees

You could argue that every government sets up committees and commissions. More so when it is a coalition and particularly when the nature of the leadership leans towards a consensus approach. Says HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh: "It is essentially Manmohan Singh's style to evolve consensus and committees are simply the instrument." The idea is to chart out a course that seeks to align common goals with electoral dividend and send out political signals. Also, not all commissions or committees reek of obsolescence. The Kelkar committees on tax reforms and defence production, the Naresh Chandra Committee on Civil Aviation are instances of scholarly analysis.

But the crux is the implementation-or the lack of it. Every third year India is faced with a natural calamity or man-made disaster. So the Vajpayee government, after the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, asked Sharad Pawar to head a committee to look into the formulation of a national disaster management plan (the third such attempt). The Pawar panel submitted its report in June 2003. But nine of the 10 recommendations were yet to be implemented when the tsunami hit India in December 2004.

Also, there is little that committees can achieve in the absence of a reality check on policy framework. McKinsey has analysed that India could attract over $20 billion (Rs 88,000 crore) FDI a year if it cleared the mess on the ground. The Investment Commission headed by Ratan Tata has held 25 meetings and perhaps assuaged many a ruffled investor's feathers but it can't prevent a Posco from pulling out of Orissa or cajole an L.N. Mittal to invest, given the policy logjam. Investment will move only when the body politic moves. Often new labels are created to study an old problem. The National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) headed by V. Krishnamurthy is one example. The problem of competitiveness is the sum of all parts that ail the economy-from infrastructure to labour laws. How much can the NMCC do?

  PICTURE SPEAK
TREND MONITOR: The PM's Economic Advisory Council suggests policy response on important developments

What is worse is that the terms of reference are as vague as ever. The mandate for the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised/Informal Sector is to "recommend measures considered necessary for bringing about improvement in the productivity of these enterprises, generation of large-scale employment opportunities on a sustainable basis, particularly in the rural areas, enhancing the competitiveness of the sector in the emerging global environment, linkage of the sector with institutional framework in areas such as credit, raw material, infrastructure, technology marketing and formulation of suitable arrangements for skill development". It sounds like a prayer for nirvana.

K. Chandrasekhara Rao, minister for labour and employment, says committees may evoke a sense of deja vu but they are still the best "tool to convince two groups to move forward from their static positions towards a solution." The irony is that despite over 225 committees in 10 years there has hardly been any movement beyond the printed pages. The NDA government formed five councils of trade and industry to suggest measures on issues ranging from privatisation to rural economy. Not even one travelled into the world of policy. Not surprisingly, governments set up new committees to study the same old problem. Six committees have studied the problems of employment (or unemployment). Infrastructure has been studied by four committees and task forces including one by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Economic Affairs Secretary Rakesh Mohan. But they were obviously not good enough. So we now have two panels-a national committee for rural infrastructure and a committee for infrastructure. Ditto literacy which has seen three committees in 10 years but the UPA still found it fit to announce a national mission for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Nothing highlights repetitiveness better than this gem. On October 5, 2000 the Ministry of Small Scale Industries, Agro and Rural Industries set up a committee under the chairmanship of K.C. Pant (then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission) to study the needs and goals of the khadi and village industries sector. The committee submitted its report in December 2002 to the ministry which set up another committee under S.P. Gupta (member, Planning Commission) which held two meetings in 2002 to review implementation of the recommendations of the Pant Committee. Come December 2004, the ministry set up yet another panel, this time called Committee for Revamp of Khadi and Village Industries Commission, headed by former Maharashtra chief secretary D.M. Sukhtankar.

What is worrisome is that the real problems of governance, listed by the Govindrajan Committee in 2002, continue to be neglected. Last month, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation revealed that a sum of Rs 5,337.78 crore has been spent on 87 Central projects (estimated cost on completion: Rs 28,386 crore) which had no definite date of commissioning. Predictably, the Government has constituted an inter-ministerial group to "look into" it.

Governments are well within their rights to source expertise and outsource policymaking to manage problem areas. But this cannot be by negation of the basic system. Consider the rush to create missions. They are supposed to reflect the concerns of the government of the day without adding flab. But that begs the question: Aren't the ministries by definition supposed to reflect the concerns of the regime?

The government of India, through a network of around 500-plus IAS officers, manages a bureaucracy of over 34,61,337 employees just at the Centre, that costs the nation around Rs 38,656 crore annually. This frame is supposed to deliver within the parameters of the Constitution. If committees were to be the pillars of policymaking, why have 56 ministries and 69 ministers? More importantly, the basic problem in governance is not so much an issue of ideas or policy but of processes. The story of the gift elephant illustrates the psychosis of inefficiency that multi-tiered questioning (by Parliament, committees, and legislators) in the name of accountability has bred.

You could argue that in a democracy there is a need to co-opt civil society into decision-making. But isn't that what parliamentary democracy is all about? Besides, there is already a phalanx of panels. Till date, there are 19 parliamentary committees, 24 standing committees attached to ministries, six ad hoc committees, five national commissions, 20 missions, one task force and four working groups listed on the governance landscape. Add to this the Planning Commission and its consultative sub-committees.

Former power minister Suresh Prabhu agrees that in a coalition era committees are necessary but cannot be a method to sweep issues under the carpet of lack of consensus. "By definition governments must aim to deliver." There are no short cuts to governance. Action, not just ideation, is the answer. The UPA Government would do well to revisit the fate of the Ottoman regime. The apocryphal story is that Suleyman Kanuni, at the peak of his reign, asked a committee to chart out a vision for the empire. By the time it was finalised his empire was in tatters.

-with Priya Sahgal

PANEL PARADE 2004-2005 ...
TASK FORCE TO REVIEW MANAGEMENT OF TIGER RESERVES
Set up: April 14, 2005
Chairperson: Sunita Narain
Agenda: Suggest measures to strengthen tiger conservation and improve methodology of tiger counting.

MONITORING COMMITTEE ON RESERVATION FOR SCs AND STs
Set up: April 8, 2005
Chairman: Cabinet secretary
Agenda: Monitor filling up of backlog of reserved vacancies for SCs and STs.

ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS COMMISSION
Set up: April 8, 2005
Ministry: Home Affairs
Agenda: Points of reference range from organisational structure to ethics in governance and crisis management.

EXPERT GROUP ON PATENT LAW ISSUES
Set up: April 6, 2005
Chairman: R.A. Mashelkar
Ministry: Commerce
Agenda: Study patent law issues on TRIP compliance regarding grant of patents to pharmaceutical substances.

STANDING COMMITTEE TO MONITOR WOMEN'S STUDIES
Set up: April 4, 2005
Chairperson: Vina Mazumdar
Ministry: HRD
Agenda: Monitor women's studies in the university system and review its current status.

TASK FORCE FOR DEVELOPMENT OF J&K
Set up: April 4, 2005
Chairman: C. Rangarajan*
Ministry: PMO
Agenda: Prepare a plan for development of J&K.

COMMITTEE OF EXPERTS FOR CHARTER ON NATIONAL INSTITUTES
FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
Set up: March 30, 2005
Ministry: HRD
Agenda: Write the Charter of National Institutes for Scientific Research and Education.

TASK FORCE TO ASSESS STATUS OF BASIC SCIENTIFIC
RESEARCH IN UNIVERSITIES
Set up: March 29, 2005
Chairman: M.M. Sharma
Ministry: HRD
Agenda: Suggest ways to enhance excellence of universities in scientific research and training.

COMMISSION FOR PROTECTION OF CHILD RIGHTS
Cleared on: March 24, 2005
Agenda: Oversee and review the implementation of the National Policy for Children.

NATIONAL RURAL HEALTH MISSION
Set up: March 24, 2005
Ministry: Health and
Family Welfare
Agenda: Improve access to healthcare for the weaker sections of rural society.

COMMITTEE TO REVIEW LONG-TERM IMPACT OF TSUNAMI
Set up: March 24, 2005
Ministry: Ocean Development
Agenda: Review impact of the tsunami on the ocean ecosystem and its resources in the light of the anti-dumping duties imposed by USA on the Indian shrimp industry.

HIGH-LEVEL COMMITTEE FOR REPORT ON MUSLIM COMMUNITY
Proposed: March 23, 2005
Chairman: Justice Rajendar Sachar
Agenda: Obtain and analyse data on the Muslim community; its occupational profile; income levels; and share in employment.

TASK FORCE ON CENTRALLY SPONSORED SCHEMES UNDER PANCHAYATI RAJ
Set up: March 22, 2005
Agenda: Examine implementation of centrally sponsored schemes through Panchayati Raj institutions.

COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS FOR DALIT AFFAIRS
Set up: March 7, 2005
Chairman: Manmohan Singh
Ministry: Social Justice and Empowerment
Agenda: Oversee implementation of programmes and schemes relating to welfare of Dalits.

NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL MISSION
Announced on: February 28, 2005
Chairman: Yet to be nominated
Ministry: Urban Development
Agenda: Upgrade urban infrastructure, implement programme to ensure basic entitlements for all.

COMMITTEE TO REVIEW WORKING OF ESI
Set up: February 28, 2005
Ministry: Labour & Employment
Agenda: Review the functioning of medical care under the ESI Scheme.

COMMITTEE FOR TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT FOR INDIAN LANGUAGES
Set up: January 31, 2005
Chairman: Secretary, DIT
Ministry: Information Technology
Agenda: Review the goals of the Technology Development for Indian Languages programme of DIT and suggest directions.

COMMITTEE TO REVIEW NATIONAL HOUSING POLICY
Set up: January 20, 2005
Chairperson: Chitra Chopra
Ministry: Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation
Agenda: Revise the National Housing and Habitat Policy.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR SYNERGY IN ENERGY
Set up: January 18, 2005
Chairman: V. Krishnamurthy*
Ministry: Petroleum & Natural Gas
Agenda: Examine the core competence of public undertakings in the petroleum and natural gas sector to assess their competitiveness.

WORKING GROUP FOR INCREASING PENETRATION OF
PERSONAL COMPUTERS

Set up: January 18, 2005
Ministry: Information Technology
Agenda: Examine issues related to increasing PC penetration and growth of software market.

COMMITTEE FOR REVIEW OF IT ACT
Set up: January 7, 2005
Chairman: Brijesh Kumar
Ministry: Information Technology
Agenda: Conduct an in-depth review of all issues relating to the IT Act, 2000.

TASK FORCE ON MICRO CREDIT
Set up: January 2005
Chairman: Secretary, Ministry of Urban Employment
Agenda: Evolve formulations for a micro-credit mechanism for the urban poor/informal sector.

PM'S ECONOMIC ADVISORY COUNCIL
Set up: December 29, 2004
Chairman: C. Rangarajan
Ministry: PMO
Agenda: Advise on policy matters referred to the Council by the PM from time to time. Monitor economic trends and important developments.

NO FISHING DEVELOPMENT FUND COMMITTEE
Announced on: December 13, 2004
Ministry: Agriculture
Agenda: Improve fishing prospects with the cooperation of coastal states in concert with the implementation of the new Marine Fishing Policy.

NATIONAL COMMISSION ON ENTERPRISES IN THE
UNORGANISED/INFORMAL SECTOR

Set up: December 11, 2004
Chairman: Arjun Sengupta*
Ministry: Labour
Agenda: Examine problems of enterprises in the unorganised sector, suggest measures to improve infrastructure.

BOARD FOR RECONSTRUCTION OF CPSEs
Set up: December 3, 2004
Chairman: Prahlad K. Basu **
Agenda: Advise on ways to strengthen public sector enterprises.

 

...AND THE PANEL PARADE CONTINUES
EXPERT COMMITTEE ON COMPANY LAW
Set up: December 2, 2004
Chairman: J.J. Irani
Ministry: Company Affairs
Agenda: Suggest ways to evolve a compact law to address changes taking place on the national and international scenario.

COMMITTEE FOR KASHMIRI MIGRANTS
Set up: December 2, 2004
Chairperson: Kasturi Gupta Menon
Ministry: PMO
Agenda: Prepare rehabilitation plan after taking into account means of livelihood, education and security of women.

COMMITTEE FOR REVAMP OF KHADI AND VILLAGE INDUSTRIES COMMISSION
Set up: December 1, 2004
Chairman: D.M. Sukhtankar
Ministry: Small Scale, Agro & Rural Industries
Agenda: Revamp KVIC and take steps to introduce modern management practices in it.

COMMITTEE ON ARBITRATION
Set up: December 1, 2004
Chairman: Justice Bhubhaneshwar Prasad
Ministry: Railways
Agenda: Study the reasons for growing number of arbitration cases related to the Railways.

NATIONAL HORTICULTURE MISSION
Announced on: November 22, 2004
Ministry: Agriculture
Agenda: Enhance production of horticulture products to 300 million tonnes by 2011-12 and improve income of farmers.

COMMITTEE TO REVIEW ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT
Set up: November 18, 2004
Chairman: Justice Jeevan Reddy
Ministry: Home
Agenda: Review Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON OIL DIPLOMACY FOR ENERGY SECURITY
Set up: November 16, 2004
Chairman: Arjun Sengupta
Ministry: Petroleum & Natural Gas
Agenda: Determine strategies on oil security, examine country-specific risks and advise on steps to be taken to attract FDI in new exploration blocks.

NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR MINORITY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
Set up: November 11, 2004
Chairman: Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui**
Ministry: HRD
Agenda: Look into specific complaints regarding deprivation or violations of the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR SAFAI KARMACHARIS
Set up: November 8, 2004
Chairman: Santosh Chowdhary
Ministry: Social Justice and Empowerment
Agenda: Recommend programmes of action for elimination of inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities for safai karmacharis.

JOINT TASK FORCE FOR PROMOTING MEDICAL TOURISM
Announced on: November 5, 2004
Chairpersons: A. Ramadoss, Renuka Chowdhary
Ministry: Health & Family Welfare and Tourism
Agenda: Look into issues relating to accreditation of hospitals and a price band for treatments to be offered as part of promotion of medical tourism.

AD HOC GROUP ON AUTONOMY FOR PSUs
Set up: November 2004
Chairman: Arjun Sengupta
Agenda: Plan for granting greater autonomy and financial powers to PSUs-navratnas and mini ratnas.

NATIONAL COMMITTEE ON RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Set up: October 18, 2004
Chairman: Manmohan Singh
Agenda: Initiate policies to ensure provision of quality infrastructure in rural areas.

MONITORING COMMITTEE FOR ACTION AGAINST VANISHING COMPANIES
Set up: October 11, 2004
Ministry: Company Affairs
Agenda: Pursue firs against the companies and their promoters or directors.

DISTRICT VIGILANCE & MONITORING COMMITTEES
Proposed on: September 21, 2004
Chairman: The local MP
Ministry: Rural Development
Agenda: Monitor rural development programmes being executed by district level officers.

NATIONAL MANUFACTURING COMPETITIVENESS COUNCIL
Set up: September 18, 2004
Chairman: V. Krishnamurthy
Ministry: Finance
Agenda: Suggest policies mindful of the requirements of efficiency and equity, advise on policies to enable industry to be globally competitive.

STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE NATIONAL MONITORING COMMITTEE FOR MINORITIES' EDUCATION
Set up: September 6, 2004
Agenda: Study reports of previous committees which have gone into the issue of minority education and suggest ways to implement the recommendations.

COMMITTEE ON STRATEGIC RESERVES
Set up: August 24, 2004
Chairmen: Mani Shankar Aiyar and P.M. Sayeed
Ministry: Petroleum & Natural Gas
Agenda: Review policies ranging across sectors, fuels and regions to enhance the country's energy security.

TASK FORCE FOR REVIVING RURAL COOPERATIVE BANKING INSTITUTIONS
Set up: August 9, 2004
Chairman: A. Vaidyanathan
Ministry: Finance
Agenda: Recommend action plan for reviving rural cooperative banking institutions, assess financial help cooperative banking institutions will need for revival.

COMMITTEE FOR REVIVAL OF IDPL
Announced on: August 3, 2004
Ministry: Chemicals & Fertilisers
Agenda: Study the prospects of the revival of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL).

COMMITTEE TO REVIEW COASTAL REGULATION ZONE
Set up: July 2004
Chairman: M.S. Swaminathan
Ministry: Environment & Forests
Agenda: Review the existing Coastal Regulation Zone Notification and all environmental regulatory systems.

COMMITTEE FOR ACTION AGAINST VANISHING COMPANIES
Set up: July 12, 2004
Chairpersons: SEBI chief and Secretary, Ministry of Company Affairs
Ministry: Company Affairs
Agenda: Take legal action against unscrupulous promoters or directors.

INVESTMENT COMMISSION
Chairman: Ratan Tata
Ministry: Finance
Agenda: Attract investment from top corporates and draw FDI especially into the infrastructure sector.

HIGH-LEVEL COMMITTEE ON INFRASTRUCTURE
Chairman: Manmohan Singh
Ministry: PMO
Agenda: Monitor the progress in all key infrastructure projects including airports, power, telecommunications, roads and ports.

GROUP OF MINISTERS ON RESERVATION IN PRIVATE SECTOR
Ministry: Social Justice and Empowerment
Agenda: Engage in a dialogue with industry to explore prospects of increasing employment opportunities for SC-ST in the private sector.

DISTRICT ADVISORY COMMITTEES ON RENEWABLE ENERGY
Ministry: Non-Conventional
Energy Sources
No. of committees: 376
Agenda: Support planning and coordination of renewable energy programmes.

NATIONAL MISSION FOR SARVA SHIKSHA ABHIYAN
Chairman: Manmohan Singh
Agenda: Focus on better funding and implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

TSUNAMI REHABILITATION PROGRAMME
Chief coordinator: K.S. Sidhu
Ministry: PMO-Planning Commission
Agenda: Focus on long-term rehabilitation of tsunami-affected communities in four states and the Andamans.

WATER MISSION
Agenda: Integrate ongoing schemes to address water as a critical issue.

 

 

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
MAY 09, 2005
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

INDIA IN FASHION

OTHER STORIES
 

After Advani Who?

Several Heads, Just One Crown

Committee Raj

Past Perfect, Future Tense

Rebel Rousing

Don't Fight for Fringe, Mr Chidambaram

Back to the Rink

Officers' Mess

Cyber Peddler

The Minority Retort

The Cultural Expanse

Back To The Routes

The Twilight Zone

Case History

Dance and Drama

 

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