Question – Discuss the implications associated with the Prime Minister’s Office acting as the most powerful office due to its formidable influence in policy making in India. – 17 January 2021
Answer – The Prime Minister’s Office is famous because of its importance and its responsibilities. It can be defined as an administrative agency created under the provision of Article 77(3) to provide secretarial assistance. It started in 1947 as the Secretary to the Prime Minister, then in 1977 it was renamed as the Prime Minister’s Office.. It has got the status of a department under the Business Allocation Rules 1961. This staffing agency mainly assists in decision making at the top level of Government of India. But still it has its importance as an extra constitutional body.
At the time of independence, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) began to function as a low-profile body as an extra-constitutional and non-statutory body to provide secretarial assistance to the Prime Minister (PM). But in less than two decades, the PMO has emerged as one of the most powerful institutions with immense influence in policy-making. This development has the following advantages of the PMO playing a leading role in the decision-making of the government:
- It helps in speedy decision-making by providing guidance to other ministries and resolving various inter and intra-ministerial level disputes.
- The increasing complexity of governance issues and the increasing number of ministries can result in a lack of coordination. So a strong PMO can effectively coordinate in such a scenario.
- It collects information, advises, initiates and oversees their implementation, including economic and foreign policies, thus ensuring PMO effectiveness and accountability. ,
- Agencies/organizations handling sensitive matters such as RAW, ISRO etc. report directly to the PMO, thus maintaining discretion in their work as well as reducing the chances of their politicization.
However, with the emergence of PMO in this role there are associated risks which are as follows:
- It concentrates powers under a single office, thereby ignoring other ministries, which is against the principle of collective responsibility envisaged in the Constitution. It also jeopardizes the culture of debate and deliberation, thus introducing an authoritarian style of decision-making.
- It supersedes the powers of the Cabinet Secretariat, which is envisaged as the center of all matters relating to the Cabinet and which is entrusted with the task of coordinating between the various Ministries.
- There is a lack of scrutiny of decisions taken in the PMO, as it is an extra-constitutional body headed by the PM himself, which lacks effective checks and balances.
Thus, while a strong PMO brings about quick decision-making and consistency in policies, it is not in keeping with the nature of decentralized and thoughtful functioning. In this context, the Prime Minister has to work to strike a balance between the PMO and other institutions, as the PMO derives its authority from the PM. He alone decides how and in what manner he/she wants to use the office.