Relevance of I & B Ministry, will Modi Government dismantle or rightsize it?

With the outgoing Minister of Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewary in the UPA Government having broken ice over the irrelevance of the Ministry of I & B in the current media scenario, his successor Prakash Javadekar in the Narendra Modi Government having endorsed that, rumour is rife in the corridors of power that this Ministry would be dismantled. The private media, both print and electronic, are gung-ho, lapped it as an opportunity for giving effect to the ruling NDA Government’s professed policy for minimum government and maximum governance, and a prop up of the much touted so called self-regulated regime of private media.

Given the prevailing state of Indian media, their penchant for sensationalisation of news, distorting it further to make it exciting and juicy with a view to increasing their readership (circulation) and TRPs, running berserk in generating negative sentiments, functioning irresponsibly in flagrant violation of the constitutional postulates of “reasonable restraint” in exercise of the press freedom and so on, the relevance of the Ministry of I & B cannot be pushed under the carpet and the private media left to continue to deny the people their inherent right to fair and correct information in this age of paid news syndrome and cross media ownership and crass commercialism of the country’s media. It boils down to the fact that some regulatory regime or oversight is necessary lest it should be chaotic and free for all. It’s also true that no one laps up the so called self-regulated mechanism by the private media that have failed miserably.

Today, development does not make news. Only negativism and sensationalism make news. In such scenario, the Government needs to disseminate developmental information to the people as part of its responsiveness to them in our system of democratic governance. It shall, therefore, continue to have its own media units like PIB, AIR, DD, DAVP, DFP, Songs & Drama Unit, Press Registrar and social media platforms for connectivity with the people. The Government cannot be expected to leave such onerous task to the private media in view of the prevailing media scenario.

In the likely evolving situation, the size of the Ministry would be reduced to the barest minimum and the Ministry merged with the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, AIR and DD made more efficient and attractive to the people, PIB (the prime official media unit for dissemination of all official information and publicity) brought under the Prime Minister’s Office as in the United Kingdom and other media units streamlined further. Some format of the Ministry would have to be maintained for public accountability purposes with oversight mechanism to ensure a better and well coordinated information management as well as keeping a tab on private media for effective functioning of the press freedom with responsibility. The Indian Information Service cadre would have to be infused with desired high professional standards in tune with the globalised India.

Rightsizing of the Government has been on the agenda of every successive Union Governments. There is nothing new what the Modi regime has been pontificating. So far two Administrative Reforms Commissions, one headed by Morarji Desai/K.Hanumanthaya and the other headed by Veerappa Moily, have made volumes of recommendations. While implementing them, the Government has succeeded partly and mostly come a cropper, as in the scheme of the Constitution the oneness of the Government or its cohesiveness has been casualties for want of integrated coordinated approach resulting in the Government speaking in conflicting voices that have been giving wrong signals to the people. This aspect needs to be addressed more authoritatively than the so-called right sizing.

Rightsizing by Rajiv Gandhi Government to bring Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Roads & Highways, Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Civil Aviation as respective departments under a unified omnibus Ministry of Transport under one Cabinet Minister, splitting of the omnibus Ministry of Agriculture into the Ministry of Food & Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, and Ministry of Food Processing, indeed, did bring about some perceptible changes in the form of successes. But mostly failed on account of the State Governments half hearted implementation mechanism and rampant massive leakages of funding of various welfare projects. The Geeta Krishnan Committee report on downsizing of the Government during the Vajpayee Government was thwarted by the satraps of the NDA Government.

What is needed is a better-coordinated result oriented time bound approach, reorientation of bureaucracy and making them accountable. Rhetorics and platitudes or gimmicks would not work. For, far too long people have been taken for granted. It’s time Government worked seemingly to deliver on the ground by plugging leakages in the funding of welfare schemes by the State Governments, who are the real culprits. Amend Article 311 of the Constitution to make bureaucracy accountable in order to increase their productivity, make State Governments accountable. Situation would automatically improve, corruption, if not altogether eliminated, would minimize to the negligible level. Dispense with system of contractual employment. It has deleterious impact on the psyche of such employees as it denies them rightful wages, social security, related benefits and pension, in the process increasing social tension. What ever it be, it’s easier said than done. The constraints are implementation, execution and timely and satisfactory delivery with right minded committed people at the helm!

M.Y.Siddiqui, the writer is a former Spokesman, Ministry of Law & justice and Railways.

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