A Govt Of 1.2 Billion & Just 112 Decisions

The Economic Times, January 17, 2011

…Nothing happened in parliament, nothing happened in cabinet and nothing happened in the government. For UPA, it started as a year of being firmly in power, but ended in despairing nothingness

THE government?s stamina for running the course with policy decisions nosedived in 2010, an ET analysis reveals. This confirms the widespread sense that governance has suffered in UPA?s second term, with the ruling coalition besieged by corruption scandals, bickering ministers and the absence of a strong power centre.

The union cabinet managed to sign off on an abysmally lower number of decisions in 2010 compared with previous years. During UPA?s first term, between2005 and 2008, the cabinet took an average of 242.5 decisions every year. The average for every year of UPA rule since 2005 is 183 cabinet decisions per year. In 2010, a year marked with big corruption scandals, parliament paralysis and ministers working at cross-purposes, the cabinet managed to agree on just 112 decisions, the lowest single-year tally since UPA assumed power.

?The cabinet is clearly in an internal disarray and your number nicely confirms what everybody suspects already,? said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research. ?The most astonishing development of the past few months has been that it has become evident there is no such thing as a single unified government. There is this strange spectacle of everyone trying to distance themselves from having to take a decision and in every possible way from decisions that have already been taken,? he added.

Policy activity worse than 2009

ET analysed the number of cabinet and Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) decisions from the beginning of UPA?s first innings in May 2004.

The 112 cabinet decisions in 2010 are lower than the 135 decisions taken in 2009, even though typically new governments start slow, and a couple of months saw no decisions due to the Lok Sabha elections.

In May 2009, when UPA returned to power, the markets gave an unprecedented thumbs-up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The hope was that a Left-free UPA would go all out on crucial economic reforms as well as other bigticket policy measures. But decisionmaking actually slowed further. UPAII?s cabinet has taken 193 decisions in 20 months. This compares poorly with the 271 decisions taken in 2008 alone.

Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan said this was due to the contradictory forces within the government. ?There are two contradictory impulses within the Congress party and consequently in the government.

One is the modernising impulse that seeks reforms and pro-market policies. And the other, older impulse is a populist one that seeks large government schemes and state spending. In the first UPA, the Left played the latter role. Paradoxically, the numerically stronger Congress party in the second term of the government seems more deeply divided in terms of its agenda,? said Rangarajan, a professor of history at the University of Delhi.

The number of decisions taken by the Cabinet is an important metric by the government’s own admission. In early 2006, the then government gloated that its performance in the previous year was the best in 10 years. ?As many as 832 cases were considered in 136 meetings of the Cabinet and its Committees during 2005, which exceeds the business transacted in any of the past 10 years. It is significant that during 2005, the Cabinet met 61 times, i.e. at an average of more than once a week, to consider 503 cases,? an official statement dated January 12, 2006 said.

The trend is similar as far as decisions by CCEA are concerned, though ET included routine decisions like fixing minimum support price for different crops and paying salary arrears for sick PSUs.

Admittedly, more decisions don?t mean better governance. But critical decisions on big-ticket reforms, left hanging ostensibly due to UPA-I?s Left allies, remain out of sight. Key financial sector reforms in pensions and banking, bringing antiquated land acquisition and labour laws up to date, or easing foreign direct investment in sectors such as retail?there?s little momentum yet behind the reform agenda in UPA?s second innings. ?We are at a policy juncture where critical urgent decisions are needed on issues like inflation, and critical longgestation decisions are needed in areas like education reforms,? CPR?s Mehta said. ?In all of this, the government’s ability to forge a consensus within?forget convincing others?seems to be diminishing,? he noted.

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