New Delhi: Soon after the Narendra Modi government was elected to power in 2014, it issued a notification to abolish the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoMs) and the Group of Ministers (GoM) that had been set up under the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
But the idea, it seems, was not completely shelved.
In episode 638 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explained: “Under NDA (National Democratic Alliance) 2, something fascinating has happened. It now has groups of ministers. So you are revisiting the idea that you junked.”
Gupta went on to dissect the Modi government’s increasing use of these groups and what Amit Shah’s role in it tells us about the government.
Currently, several GoMs set up by the NDA are headed by Home Minister Amit Shah.
What were GoMs, EGoMs
EGoMs and GoMs were constituted by the UPA government to investigate contentious issues. “The Manmohan Singh government had developed this practice of whenever there was a complex issue … instead of dealing with it in the entire cabinet, which would cause clutter … you set up Groups of Ministers,” Gupta explained.
Unlike the GoMs, however, the empowered groups had the power to make a decision on matters and issue notifications, he added.
At the time, in 2014, when the groups were dissolved, there were nine EGoMs and 21 GoMs, which was an indication of the UPA 2 government’s “slow decision making”, Gupta said.
As it stands, the “champion of the GoMs, EGoMs” was Pranab Mukherjee, who between 2004-2012, headed several of these groups. “When he became the President in 2012, he was heading 24 out of the 39 EGoMs and GoMs. So sometimes in the Congress circles, he was called ‘GoM dada’ or ‘EGoM dada’,” Gupta said.
Under the NDA, Shah appears to have taken over this role.
“If Pranab Mukherjee was the GoM or EGoM ‘dada’ of UPA, Amit Shah now is the GoM or EGoM ‘dada’, or ‘bhai’, of NDA,” Gupta added.
Modi govt’s ‘specialists’
When the Modi government came into power, it didn’t want to repeat several of the Congress government’s ideas. For instance, the Planning Commission was transformed into the NITI Aayog. The EGoMs and GoMs also became a casualty of these changes, Gupta said.
What is also important to note here is that the Modi government, unlike the previous Congress-led UPA governments, had its own majority and is a government that is “on its own”.
“But what happens is that when you start running a government, then you realise that many issues come up, which you then discuss in a crowd of 50 to 60 to 70 people — the size of the Council of Ministers … as a result of which, they lose their way,” Gupta said.
And so, the Modi government set up informal groups of ministers, “essentially of specialists”.
Elucidating on a few examples of these groups, Gupta said, “There were specific groups set up for amending or improving several laws. There were groups on the Bureau of Indian Standards Amendment Bill, National Commission for Women Act, Juvenile Justice Amendment Act, of which Arun Jaitley was made in-charge. There was also a Ganga review and Housing for All groups headed by Nitin Gadkari.”
“In fact, even before NDA finished its term … a group of ministers was set up under Amit Shah on POSH law, which is the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace … but that happened by the way because the group was set up under Rajnath Singh and Rajnath Singh was the Home minister then,” explained Gupta who added that four more GoMs had been set up.
‘Centralisation’ of GoMs
Once the second NDA government came in, things changed radically.
“There was a Group of Ministers set up on the onion crisis in November 2019 that included Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Piyush Goyal who came up with the recommendations that India should make large scale imports of onions through the Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation,” Gupta said.
Similarly, other GoMs were also constituted, such as the one on ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal’ scheme for water connections to homes and the privatisation of Air India. A group came up in 2018 on mob lynching, which fell under the home ministry’s purview.
Gupta noted that now, the same minister heads all these groups — Amit Shah.
“This tells you that one big difference between the Modi government and other governments in the past … that this is a much more centralised government in the Prime Minister’s Office,” he noted.
“… In the course of time, you realise that governing India is a complex challenge. So, you need more people and you need to empower more people. In the process, you’ve seen these groups come up … Now, it is true that the most important groups are headed by the most trusted minister, that is bound to happen. As time passes, I think we’ll see a few more of these … In fact, we have some already, they are not as high profile; those are not headed by Amit Shah,” he added.
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