on the latest cabinet reshuffle

the latest cabinet reshuffle underwhelmed most people. no big heads rolled. the larger ministeries stayed untouched. and parts of the media swiftly wrote it off as minor and inconsequential.

in this article, my colleague devika and i argue that there are at least two significant moves in this reshuffle. jairam ramesh moves from the environment ministry to the rural development ministry. and kishore chandra deo enters the cabinet as the minister for tribal affairs and panchayati raj.

why so? because it looks like an attempt to win back the rural and tribal votes the Congress has progressively ended up alienating in the past few years.

There’s a bit in common between what the two new ministers represent and the task ahead of them. Both men are associated with the landmark legislations of the UPA-I, both of which are suffering from implementation problems: the employment guarantee programme in the case of Ramesh and the Forest Rights Act in the case of Deo. The reallocation puts them in charge to fix this.

in this story, we look at the tasks in front of them. i wrote the bit about deo and the tribal ministry. much of this is stuff i should have written a long, long time ago. more precisely, on the day the MoTA rejected the NAC’s reccos on how to better implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) saying FRA implementation was going super. yet another in the long rich tradition of ministeries/bureaucracies more accountable internally, to superiors and institutional imperatives, than to the country around them.

Deo also needs to increase the relevance of the ministry of tribal affairs. Every central ministry runs its own programmes for tribal welfare, which Deo’s ministry has to monitor. In addition, the ministry has its welfare schemes-like hostels and scholarships for tribal-being implemented by state governments. The ministry has been taking a narrow view of its responsibilities.

In his critique, (NAC member NC Saxena) writes: “…(the approach of the ministry has been to) confine its attention to its own budget and schemes under its control.” The Parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment, in 2010, had said the coordination of the tribal ministry with other ministries “was not at the desired level”…

…another example is the decision to disallow Vedanta’s mining project in Niyamgiri, Orissa. It was the ministry of environment, under Jairam Ramesh, that intervened to check whether the rights of the Dongria Kondh tribe in the proposed mining area had been recognised under the FRA. “The ministry of tribal affairs should have issued that circular,” says Y Giri Rao, executive director, Vasundhara, an NGO implementing the FRA in Orissa.

i had met deo earlier during the glory days of working on the FRA paper and had been impressed back then. am curious to see how the ministry will behave under him. am also wondering if implementing FRA and PeSA will put the ministry on the warpath against the PMO et al. let us see.

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