With elections in mid-2014, government can't lose more time simply putting out fires
Determined not to be distracted any longer from the prime business of governance by difficult allies, an uncooperative Opposition and civil society groups on the offensive, the Prime Minister's Office will now monitor on a monthly basis over a dozen thrust areas, ranging from anti-graft measures to social sector programmes to infrastructure projects. With general elections in mid-2014, the United Progressive Alliance government, clearly, cannot afford to lose more time simply putting out fires. The message to the ministers is: perform or perish.
At the end last week of a series of mid-term review meetings, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, government sources said, identified the thrust areas that will form the core of his government's governance agenda. Dr. Singh has asked his new Principal Secretary, Pulok Chatterji, to brief him every month on the progress, after which directions will be given to the ministries concerned, and this will be followed up by the sectoral officer in the PMO.
With the PMO finding it hard to answer convincingly accusations of policy paralysis, especially after the recent attempt to permit FDI into multibrand retail came a cropper, the Prime Minister, official sources said, now wants to pump some energy and purpose into his government — especially as much of the criticism has been of his own office.
Not surprisingly, measures to strengthen the anti-graft machinery gets top billing, with the controversial Lokpal Bill first on the list of subjects that will receive the PMO's attention. Supplementing this will be electoral reforms, getting 5,000 gram nyayalayas — magistrates' courts at the mandal level — off the ground; a public procurement law to help create a transparent system to manage natural resources such as telecom spectrum and mining rights to help the government counter charges of crony capitalism, and draft laws for Judicial Accountability and Grievance Redress (which were cleared by the Cabinet on Tuesday).
In the social sector, the focus will be on measures to tackle malnutrition, increasing employability through skill development training; following up on the Sachar Committee recommendations for Muslims; and ramping up health insurance coverage under the Rashtriya Swasthya Beema Yojana. Simultaneously, development projects for the neglected northeast and J&K announced by the Prime Minister are on the government's priority list.
In infrastructure, the creation of a cold chain for farm storage; the National Highways Development Project; upgrading seaports; and improving the coal, power distribution and fertilizer sectors will be under the scanner.
Finally, the government wants to fast-track the critical Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, follow up on the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission's recommendations, and ensure speedy implementation of the eight Climate Change Missions aimed at achieving enhanced energy efficiency.
Under the UPA, the PMO has, of course, always had a Delivery Monitoring Unit to review flagship programmes and initiatives and ensure time-bound, effective delivery of programmes by the ministries. But clearly, the government's thrust areas have changed — and been vetted after the recent mid-term review. Now, the ministry concerned will have to upload its report on the 5th of each month; the posting of status and comments on the sector side by the 9th; collation, with comments, of a consolidated monthly report, by the monitoring unit, and submission to the Prime Minister by the 12th. It's back to basics.