The recently held general elections and the newly formed government of India has abolished all the 30 ministerial groups (nine empowered groups of ministers (EGOMs) and 21 groups of ministers (GOMs)), which were set up to take decisions on various matters before bringing them for the cabinet's consideration. Also, the size of cabinet was kept very small, until the late addition of 21 new ministers in November, 2014.
What are GoMs and eGoMs?
GoMs are small groups of ministers that meet to resolve conflicting views within the council of ministers. Decisions taken by the GoMs had to be approved by the cabinet. This tradition was started by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government. The UPA government took this practice a step further by setting up eGoMs. Recommendations by GoMs had to be approved by cabinet while EGoMs were authorised to decide on their own. UPA-I set up about 80 GoMs and eGoMs, and UPA-II took this figure to about 120.
Such ministerial panels were reported to have been formed whenever the Cabinet or its Committees wanted to have further deliberations for resolution of various issues. From the pricing of a stake sale in government companies to sanctioning of new Metro rail projects and considering steps to curb corruption, GoMs and eGoMs were set up for a wide variety of eclectic subjects.
The GoMs brought into play collective wisdom and institutional experience. It acted as a single window clearance system. In the coalition era, GoMs and EGoMs did serve the purpose for which they were set up. They decided several contentious issues, including the plan for restructuring Air India, the amendments to strengthen India’s anti-rape laws following the Delhi gang rape, the allocation of natural gas to different industries and 2G spectrum pricing in the aftermath of the 2G scam, among several other decisions. But they had also brought policy paralysis in the system due to long deliberations. Telangana, for instance, was first referred to a ministerial panel in 2004, where discussions continued till 2012 with no results.
• Now, ministries directly decide on policy. Ministries and departments process, at their level, issues pending before the EGoMs and GoMs and take decisions. If ministries face difficulty in deciding, the cabinet secretariat and prime minister’s office will step in.
• The move signals a new style of functioning in which PM will assert more authority instead of delegating power to other cabinet colleagues. This move will reduce the dominance of certain Ministers and ensure that everyone has a role and responsibility.
• The move would lead to a better sense of transparency in governmental functioning, fast- track decision-making processes and increase accountability.
The step is also in line with the ruling party’s mantra, of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’.
• EGoMs and GoMs concept had overpowered cabinet system of parliamentary democracy. Illustrate with examples.
• How does scrapping of EGoMs and GoMs will bring transparency and swiftness in the decision making?
Manoj K Jha