Ministers in quandary over discretionary powers

Twenty-one months after the ministry of personnel asking the other Central ministries to have a system in place to check the discretionary powers of ministers, nearly 38 ministries are yet to have a system in place despite several reminders.

A number of ministries and departments including external affairs, coal, environment, rural development and culture, had been sent a reminder on the New Year’s day for details on evolving the parameters, which, according to instructions, should be put out in the public domain to check arbitrary use of power.

The first office memorandum to have such a mechanism in place was despatched on April 15, 2012, followed by several reminders.

Prior to the prompt on the New Year, all the 38 entities in question were sent a reminder on September 27, 2013. The ministry of personnel had set May 15, 2012 as deadline to complete the exercise.

The ministries had also been asked to state the reasons for the delay, which was ignored.

In early 2011, a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recommended to the government to end all discretionary powers enjoyed by the ministers.

However, the government later accepted the change the GoM suggested and asked all ministries to evolve a mechanism to regulate their minister’s discretionary powers.  The GoM also had senior ministers P Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar, A K Antony, Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal as its members.

It was set up following Sonia Gandhi’s dismay over the way the party was tackling corruption at a meeting in Burari in December 2010. The government had already withdrawn discretionary powers to allot gas pumps and issue gas coupons, besides discretionary funds at the disposal of some ministries like social welfare.

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