91st Amendment: Fixes Quota and not Responsibility
July 15, 2004
On July 7 this year the 91st amendment to the Constitution, limiting the size of the Councils of Ministers at the Centre and in the States to not more than 15% of the numbers in the Lok Sabha or State Legislatures, came into effect. The logic underlying this amendment is quite obvious. Cost is not the issue at all for in relation to the overall cost of government, the expenditure on ministers is miniscule. Efficiency too does not seem the issue for even after the Amendment; there will be too many ministers in the Central Government and the big states to allow for good governance. The only problem that is being addressed is that with unlimited ministerships on offer the destabilization of governments is made easier. Unfortunately we may have passed up the chance to kill two birds with one stone by enacting an amendment that merely limits the quota and not emphasizing good governance. It's just too bad that there is so little realization that too many cooks spoil the broth. The economic and social results of the past five and a half decades are enough proof of that.
Even the National Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), which recommended that the number of ministers "be fixed at the maximum of 10% of the total strength of the popular House of the Legislature", does not seem to have thought this matter through. But even this recommendation was tweaked quite a bit by raising the ceiling by 50% and limiting ministries to 15%, possible since we seem to have too many leaders overly keen to be of greater service to the public by becoming ministers?
It would seem that the only reason why the amendment was whisked through, and whisked through is the only description for it for it was hardly discussed in the Parliament or in the media, was to afford political managers some protection against the clamor for berths in the government. Like good politicians they naturally expect to come out smelling of roses at the same time! But there could be an unstated reason as well, which might have to do with the distribution of wealth. Too many thieves could reduce the individual take? That and making ministerships too commonplace only devalued the worth of the jobs.
Whatever be the reasons for the ceiling, good governance or management principles seem to have little to do with it. We have 543 MP's in the Lok Sabha, which means that we can have up to 81 ministers in New Delhi. With 787 MP's in all, that means almost one in nine MP's can expect to be a minister. The states have in all 4020 MLA's; opening up possibilities for about 600 ministerial berths for 4487 MLA's and MLC's. Uttar Pradesh has the biggest Legislative assembly with 403 MLA's while Sikkim at the other end of the spectrum has to make do with just 32 MLA's or 5 ministers.
Quite clearly the persons who have applied their minds to this amendment have not seen government as a responsibility that has to be sensibly shared and not as a basket of fruits to be distributed. No organization that is meant to function can be designed on such a basis. Analogies are seldom entirely appropriate, but you will see what one has in mind when you consider the absurdity of limiting the number of functional responsibilities in a company to a function of the number of workers on the payroll. Management structures and hierarchies are based on assignment of responsibilities based on a division of work according to the technical and managerial specialization of tasks. Thus a typical company will have separate heads for the Production, Marketing, Finance, HRD, Legal and Secretarial, and Research functions. Its true that in very small companies just one or two persons may perform all these functions but the managerial task is still split into functions. On the other hand in a large professionally managed corporation there would be separate heads of functional areas. While a large company may have a lot many more managers the functional areas are still limited. The numbers of functional areas is not a function of the number of employees.
The other important point to remember is that modern management structures apportion tasks and responsibilities according to specialization. There is little specialization in government. Few ministers are trained or even knowledgeable about the responsibilities they shoulder. To compound matters even the bureaucrats in our system are generalists with very few with specialized skills. Thus, a person who is who is working on Animal Husbandry one day might take charge of Economic Affairs the next. But more on this at another time.
Obviously the management of government is a much more complex with an infinitely larger set of tasks than the biggest corporation, however professionally managed it may be. But to divide the management of the State into 39 functional responsibilities, as is the case now, is to exaggerate that magnitude and complexity. It is as if in an automobile company making and selling cars the person responsible for making gearboxes is at the same level as the persons looking after the paint shop or procuring accessories. As if this was not bad enough all these would then be at the same level as the head of Production or Marketing or Finance. Yet this is how the Cabinet is organized. There is a Minister for Rural Development and a Minister for Panchayati Raj as there are Ministers for Irrigation and Fertilizers, sitting on the same table as the Minister for Agriculture.
We know that all agriculture is rural and everything in the rural world revolves around agriculture and so the case for separating the two goes straight away. Besides agriculture involves water, fertilizer, food distribution, food processing, and agro-based industries. And who has heard of forests in the urban areas? Thus instead of having one person responsible for improving the lot of our farmers and rural folk, we have nine departments headed by nine ministers. They often work at cross- purposes. Even if the ministers are willing, it will be almost impossible to make the bureaucratic structures to march to the beat of one drummer. And so if the rural sector continues to languish, no one is responsible?
This was not the case fifty years ago. In Jawaharlal Nehru's first cabinet there was only one minister for Food and Agriculture. The only agriculture related function not with this minister was Irrigation. Gulzarilal Nanda held the portfolio of Planning, Irrigation and Power. But in those days additional power was intended primarily from hydel projects and it thus possibly made sense to have irrigation outside the Food and Agriculture ministry.
Likewise Transport and Railway was one ministry while it has been broken up into five areas now. Some of them quite ridiculously small. Take the Ministry for Civil Aviation. Apart from Air India, Indian Airlines, Airports Authority of India and the DGCA there is little to it. The first three are companies with full time professional managers supposedly managing them. Since the ministry has little policy to make it busies itself micromanaging the companies. And don't the ministers for Civil Aviation just love that? Particularly since in the last three plan periods alone the capital expenditure on civil aviation was over Rs. 22,000 crores. We also know that a further Rs.20, 000 crores worth of aircraft purchases are in the pipeline. And what is the need for a Ministry of Information and Broadcasting when that means little more than Akashvani and Doordarshan? Mercifully there is little by way purchases in I&B, though the previous incumbent seemed to want make CAS incumbent on us for more reasons than apparent.
By now it should be quite apparent that the 91st amendment is not good enough as it just does not address the problem. We now need a 92nd amendment that will marginally change Article 74(1) of the Constitution to read "there will be a Council of Ministers consisting of the Ministers for Home Affairs, Defence, Foreign Relations, Agriculture ……" Article 75(1) that makes it incumbent for the President to appoint Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister, remaining as it is then makes the choice of the ministers entirely his or hers. While we are at it we might want to look at Article 75(5) afresh and consider the merit of eliminating the stipulation of getting elected to either houses of Parliament or legislatures. In this manner we could encourage Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers to induct professional and competent persons rather than be limited to professional leaders.
The new Prime Minister in his first address to the nation said: "I am convinced that the government, at every level, is today not adequately equipped and attuned to meet this challenge and meet the aspirations of the people. To be able to do so we require the reform of governments and political institutions." The Chairperson of the UPA is putting together some sort of an extra governmental, possibly even an extra constitutional, think tank. May be the subject of a smaller and more functional government will merit its attention?