Prime Minister Narendra Modi has identified “all important policy issues” as a portfolio subject within his remit in the allocation of Cabinet responsibilities Tuesday, lending to his office powers across ministries to control and direct crucial policy matters.
The intention, sources said, is to focus policy making in the PMO and ensure that all ministries obtain approvals at the initial stages rather than start consultations by moving Cabinet notes or issue policy guidelines without prior consent. In Gujarat, sources said, such a system had helped bring about predictability and uniformity in policy, particularly in the industry sector.
Executing this at the Centre would require streamlining procedures and, at some point, the PMO may look to create a category that would separate important policy subjects. In which case, once an issue is identified as such, the PMO could play a more direct role regardless of the ministry.
While the rules of business allocation do enshrine a necessary supremacy to the PMO, sources said, a clear mention of this in the allocation of duties means that the Prime Minister can authoritatively take the lead in not just policy control but even policy authorship.
Instead of getting a ministry to generate a Cabinet note on any policy subject through discussion and consultation, the PMO can direct the Cabinet Secretariat to have a note put up. This authority could also be used to ensure compliance and, in a way, institutionalise a strong check on all ministries.
At the moment, however, this subject has left much of the bureaucracy groping on how this would be implemented. But to those familiar with Modi’s governance style, this is the first step towards exercising control over ministers and creating the official basis for getting senior officials across ministries to brief him directly on what he may define as an important policy issue.