Post-Pranab, PM finds going tough with EGoMs

It may look bizarre, but it is true. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's efforts to reconstitute almost 40 Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGoMs) and Groups of Ministers (GoMs) after the departure of the United Progressive Alliance troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee from the alliance has come a cropper.

While a few of these committees which are headed by Singh, like the ones on economic affairs, political affairs, security affairs and Infrastructure, are functional, but almost 40-odd EGoMs and GoMs are defunct. The Cabinet Secretariat was quick enough to remove the entire list of these empowered groups and GoMs from its website immediately after Mukherjee resigned.

Discreet inquiries by this correspondent revealed that a few days went by without there being a decision taken on the issue, as the UPA leadership was undecided about who to hand over the finance portfolio.

A top official in the Cabinet Secretariat explained, 'We have not removed the list. Our server is down. Therefore, you cannot see the list.' But, this statement turned out to be a half truth. While the web site of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Cabinet Secretariat is functional otherwise, only three links are defunct. These links deal with EGoMs, GoMs and cabinet committees. When clicked, they give the following message: 'The requested URL /files/allocation/cabinet_committees.pdf was not found on this server.'

Even the officials in the PMO maintained silence on re-constituting these important committees, which handle important policy decisions and inter-ministerial issues. Sources say that the prime minister is likely to divide the responsibility of these powerful committees among few chosen senior cabinet ministers in the absence of Mukherjee. Top sources in the UPA said that workload will fall on the home minister P Chidambaram, the defence minister A K Antony, the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, the commerce minister Anand Sharma and the telecom minister Kapil Sibal.

The power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is also slated to lead a few GoMs once he is made the leader of the Lok Sabha in place of Mukherjee. At present, he leads the GoM on power sector issues. Mukherjee headed 13 of the 27 GoMs and all the 12 EGoMs. While GoM decisions need ratification by the union cabinet, an EGoM is empowered to take a final call on its agenda. 'Now there won't be too many EGoMs either and the work will be distributed equally amongst senior ministers,' said a senior official in the PMO.

Pawar, who enjoys excellent rapport with the prime minister and is one of the most vocal supporters of Singh’s reforms agenda, was so scared of the spectrum issue that he declined to head the EgoM on it. But he has a good equation with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Singh these days and therefore may bag sensitive EgoMs on under-recoveries of oil marketing companies and management of drought, among others.
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