Do we need a Minister of Steel, or Coal or Non-Renewable Energy? There could be many ways of answering that question. IndiaSpend’s Bhumish Khudkhudia tries to answer this by highlighting the Indian Government’s own introspection in this regard. And contrasts this with countries like the United States, and concludes, well, the obvious.
Let us look at the government’s take which covers most, though not all the possible permutations. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) was constituted in August, 2005, under the chairmanship of Veerappa Moily. In its 13th report – Organisational Structure of Government of India – it said that the number of ministries could be reduced from about 55 at present to about 20-25.
Let’s go back further. In order to restrict the size of the council of ministers to a reasonable limit, the Constitution (Ninety-First Amendment) Act, 2003, provided that the strength of the council of ministers shall not exceed 15% of the number of Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.
And even further... in 1947, the council of ministers had 16 members including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. The size of the council of ministers has, over the years, increased significantly with the expansion in the role of the state and also due to the political compulsions, particularly in an era of coalition governments.
Overlapping Of Departments
Take “Transport” as a department. As many would know, different aspects of the subject are dealt with in different ministries. The Ministry of Civil Aviation deals with air navigation and carriage of passengers and goods by air while the Ministry of Railways is responsible for all aspects of rail transport.
Similarly, Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways deal with maritime shipping and navigation, highways and motor vehicles, respectively. The Ministry of Urban Development deals with planning and co-ordination of urban transport systems. Thus, “Transport” is fragmented into multiple disciplines and assigned to independent ministries. Arguably, this makes an integrated national approach difficult.
Similarly, Energy is now being handled by at least four different ministries i.e. the Ministry of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Petroleum and Atomic Energy. The Planning Commission wrote a document titled “Integrated Energy Policy” to deal with the whole gamut of issues pertaining to energy within one policy. But linkages between ministries are weak and thus difficult to devise national energy strategies.
According to ARC, there is a need to strike the right balance between the requirements of functional specialisation and the need for a holistic approach to key issues. Democracies like the UK and the USA have attempted to achieve this by having between 15 and 25 ministries headed by cabinet ministers and assisted by other ministers.
Increased Co-ordination The Solution?
A pragmatic approach for India, the ARC feels, would be to retain the existing council of ministers but increase the level of co-ordination among the departments by providing for a senior cabinet minister to head each of the 20-25 closely-related departments.
He/she may be designated as the “First or co-ordinating Minister” (or any other suitable nomenclature) and would co-ordinate and provide the overall lead for the entire group of departments. The commission recognizes that for this arrangement to work, adequate delegation and division of work among the concerned ministers would have to be worked out.
Interestingly, the ARC has proposed a rationalised structure as well:
1) The Ministry of Local Government could include the following ministries or departments:
a) Rural Development
b) Drinking Water and Sanitation
c) Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation
d) Urban Development
e) Panchayati Raj
2) The following ministries could be clubbed under the Ministry of Transport:
b) Road Transport and Highways
c) Civil Aviation
3) Similarly, the Ministry of Energy could include the following ministries:
b) Petroleum and Natural Gas
c) New and Renewable Energy
For comparison, here is a look at how the departments are organised in the United States of America:
Departments In United States Of America
Name of the Departments
Year of Establishment
DOT sets Federal transportation policy and works with State, local, and private sector partners to promote a safe, secure, efficient, and interconnected National transportation system of roads, railways, pipelines, airways, and seaways.
DOT’s overall objective of creating a safer, simpler, and smarter
Transportation program is the guiding principle as DOT moves forward to achieve specific goals.
DOT employs almost 60,000 people across the country, in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and through 12 Operating Administrations (OAs) and bureaus, each with its own management and organizational structure.
Department of Interior
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the nation’s principal
conservation agency. Its mission is to protect America’s natural
resources, offer recreation opportunities, conduct scientific
research, conserve and protect fish and wildlife, and honour the Department’s
trust responsibilities to American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and
responsibilities to island communities.
The Department of the Interior is managed by Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, five Assistant Secretaries (Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Indian Affairs; Land and Minerals Management; Water and Science; and Insular Areas) and eight Bureau Directors.
The U.S. Department of the Interior employs about 70,000 people in approximately 2,400 locations with offices across the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Territories, and Freely Associated States*.
To ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.
Catalyze the timely, material, and efficient transformation of the nation’s energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies.
Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of US’ economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas.
Enhance nuclear security through defence, non-proliferation, and environmental efforts.
Establish an operational and adaptable framework that combines the best wisdom of all Department stakeholders to maximize mission success.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is comprised of three Offices of Under Secretaries (Nuclear Security,
Energy, and Science), the Energy Information Administration, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the Loans Program Office, 4 Power Marketing Administrations, 13 staff and support offices,
22 operations and area offices, and 24 research laboratories and facilities.
The fiscal year 2011 workforce was comprised of 16,036 on-board federal employees and 100,072
Contractor employees. The large number of contractors is attributable to the highly specialized scientific
and technical skill mixes required to manage and operate DOE’s 17 national laboratories.
*Freely Associated States of the United States: Consists of Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Now, let us look at the size of the various Indian ministries and their budgets:
Strength/Size Of The Ministries*
Name of the Ministry
Ministry of Rural Development
^Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation
Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation
Ministry of Urban Development
Ministry of Panchayati Raj
+Ministry of Shipping
-Ministry of Road Transport and Highways-
Ministry of Civil Aviation
Ministry of Railways
Ministry of Power
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas
Ministry of New and Renewable Energy
Ministry of Coal
* Report of the Sixth Central Pay Commission, March 2008
^In 1999, the Department of Drinking Water Supply (DDWS) was formed under Ministry of Rural Development, for focused attention on drinking water and sanitation. Later was renamed as Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2010 and in 2011, it was conferred the Ministry status, keeping in view the extreme importance given to the sector by the ruling government.
+- Ministry of Shipping was formed in 2009 by bifurcating the erstwhile Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways into two independent Ministries.
Administrative Costs In Running The Ministries
Name of the Ministry
Non Plan Expenditure (Revised) 2011 – 2012 (in Rs cr)
Non Plan Expenditure (Budget) 2012 – 2013 (Rs in crore)
Department of Rural Resources
Department of Land Resources
Drinking Water and Sanitation
Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation
Department of Urban Development
Stationery and Printing
Road Transport and Highways
Petroleum and Natural Gas
New and Renewable Energy
(Source: Union Budget 2012-2013)
The administrative costs are not comparative. It would still appear that the bigger loss in departmental spin-offs is not so much cost – for which a far more detailed study is required – but the evident inefficiency in co-ordination. This is also not a front burner issue. And perhaps that’s where the problem lies.