Column: Ministerial M&As

May 21 2014, 20:37 IST
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SummaryThere is a case for one energy ministry and an infra one which includes city-building, but who heads them is critical

Why do we have a separate ministry for roads and one for railways and another for civil aviation when they all deal with transport? Why not combine the oil and power ministries with coal since they all deal with energy? And given that agriculture and food are different sides of the same coin, why not merge them againthat way the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) chief wont get calls from the agriculture minister asking him to hike MSPs and another from the food minister asking to reduce them!

As happens each time a new government comes to power, the same questions are being raised once again. Indeed, with greater vigour as it is believed that since Narendra Modi doesnt need to placate allies, he can afford to carry out complex M&As across ministries.

That Modi doesnt need to accommodate fractious allies like Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee does make his life easier, but it has to be kept in mind the NDA is a coalition of 20-plus allies. And lets not forget the large number of fractious friends Modi has in the BJP who need to be placatedfriends who have friends in the RSS, for instance.

There is certainly a case for merging ministries, indeed many were single entities in the past, but were just broken up to provide jobs for various allies over the yearsin the case of agriculture and food, the split took place when Sharad Pawar wasnt convinced about the workability of the Food Security Act, and wanted out. A combined energy ministry, for instance, will ensure that the entire sector is opened up to the private sector instead of, as present, private firms being allowed only in oil/gas exploration but not in coal.

But, as in the case of corporate M&As, merging ministries, desirable as it sounds on paper, isnt going to be easy. For one, there are vested interests that are difficult to tackleimagine how the bureaucracy will react if the number of secretary-level posts halve. Unscrambling an omelette would be easier than merging too many ministries.

The most important reason, though, and that is why Modi has delayed government formation, is to find the right person to man these ministries. A bad minister/bureaucrat for the power sector is bad enough, but if this duo is in charge of the energy ministry, it will play havoc with the petroleum sector as well as coal. Which is why, chances are,

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