Absence of big-ticket ideas, apparent working in silos draw PM’s ‘displeasure’

Abantika Ghosh
Modi Council of Ministers meeting, Modi five-year plans, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Modi govt, indian express

The meeting of different minsters with Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place on Friday.

One set of meetings of the Council of Ministers last week, out of a series of such meetings planned for formulating five-year sectoral vision plans, seems to have fallen short of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expectations.

Presentations by some of the groups of secretaries on issues related to health, education, law, technology, and governance were taken up for consideration during a marathon meeting on Saturday. But the absence of big-ticket, impactful ideas during the presentations is learnt to have drawn the Prime Minister’s displeasure, sources present in the meeting told The Indian Express.

The meetings took place over Friday and Saturday.

That the presentations overwhelmingly focused on minute workings of individual ministries within the identified sectors seems to have signaled an approach of thinking in silos, which defeats the idea behind the original purpose of the effort.

The exercise, the PM is learnt to have told the bureaucrats, will have to be redone once all 10 groups of secretaries have completed their presentations.

A source present in the meeting said: “The PM, as is his wont, spoke at the end of the meeting. He seemed not too happy with the outcome and said the idea of the exercise was for officers to come up with 2-3 big-ticket ideas that would change the way things are done. ‘Impactful’ was the word used in the Cabinet Secretary’s order on constitution of the groups. That did not materialise, the PM said, because officers seemed to have been too caught up in the nitty-gritty of their own ministries.”

Explained

For better inputs across sectors

Several groups of secretaries were first formed in 2016 for better cross-sector inputs in governance, and were revived last year after the NDA’s re-election. The groups are on resources, agriculture, transport, foreign affairs and security, social sector, rural development, governance, technology, infrastructure, economy and finance. An IAS officer heads each group, barring the one on technology, which is led by a scientist. Each group is to present the overall vision, the vision of individual ministries comprising the group, and progress on 100 days’ targets.

The source said, “Cross-sector planning, for which the groups of secretaries had been formed, seemed to have been lost. The PM said once all 10 groups have presented (their vision report), the exercise may have to be redone.”

Some officers, in fact, were questioned barely a few minutes into their often long presentations and reminded of the need to stay “grounded”, the source said.

In one of the first assignments to ministerial colleagues, Modi is learnt to have asked all ministers to draw up five-year vision plans in the first meeting of the Union Cabinet on May 31, a day after the swearing-in of the new government. The Prime Minister is learnt to have given six months to the respective sectoral groups to draw up their five-year vision plan.

The first set of presentations was held late last month. Another set of presentations are scheduled in the coming days.

Another source said, “The Prime Minister wants us to synergise the work of all connected departments towards a positive narrative for the country in those sectors. His instruction is very clear: all departments must plan for a holistic coordinated plan.”

Sources said Modi encouraged ministers and secretaries to provide inputs to each presentation, irrespective of their current responsibility for a holistic plan.

An idea that generated some interest was one by the group on governance, which sought to overhaul the training format for bureaucrats by developing online modules for specific postings to ensure officers’ training is attuned to the particular needs of a job.

Groups on infrastructure, rural development, social, energy, governance, and technology have so far presented their vision. After each presentation, ministers asked questions about implementation of the proposals made, or doubts, if any, sources said.

The focus of the presentation by the group on health was the NDA’s flagship Ayushman Bharat programme, while education vision focussed on internationalisation of education and quality improvement. The group on resources outlined ways to decrease imports and promote ease of doing business.