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Image Courtesy: Narendramodi.in (Blog-artwork)
Can the Chairperson of a statutory commission embody one-person quorum? Yes. This has become a de facto rule under the ‘smart governance’ expounded by the NDA Government at the time of its formation.
In a release dated 26th May 2014, Prime Minister’s Office had stated: “Mr. Modi is eventually aiming at Smart Governance where the top layers of Government will be downsized and there would be expansion at the grass root level.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi perhaps might not be knowing about the quorum issue at National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), where the posts of three members are lying vacant. NCST is now left with Chairman and Vice-Chairman, both lightweight congressmen appointed by UPA Government. 
Under the new quorum rule and the exisitng situation, if the Vice-Chairman is unable to attend the meeting even after half-an hour adjournment, then the quorum requirement stands dispensed with. This, in effect, means the Chairman represents the quorum in such circumstances. 
One-man quorum certainly does not fit into Mr. Modi’s or any other democratic scheme of governance. It has, however, emerged due to the lax and bad governance that gets passed on from one Government to another. 
Before elaborating on NCST’s new quorum rule, one must realize that NCST vacancies are just one of the many instances of NDA’s inability to fill up promptly top slots in numerous entities. Its failure to reconstitute and revive vital national bodies, many of which are chaired by PM is equally pathetic.
All this raises a big question mark about the credibility of Mr. Modi’s resolve to create a new model of national development, governance and skills development.  It appears his Cabinet colleagues holding multiple portfolios  and other trusted advisors are unable to bridge the gap between his intent and governmental action.
  The vacancy syndrome has been a perinneal problem in all domains including judiciary. It is an integral part of the Indian system. The disorder has persisted in spite of new Government’s resolve to enliven Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC)-related software named ACC Vacancy Monitoring System (AVMS). This application was developed in 2007 as part of ACC proposal Monitoring System. 
As put by Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) in its memo dated 11th June 2014, “It has been observed that the software has fallen in disuse as the relevant information is not being updated by the minsitries/departments. As a result, the latest incumbency/vacancy position reflected in the reports generated by the AVMS is factually incorrect. In the case of some ministries, even the change in Nodal Officer ( who is normally a Joint Secretary)  has not been updated in the AVMS.”
The Memo continues: “As a part of the 100 days agenda of the new Government and with a view to facilitate monitoring of vacancies, it has been decided to revive and fully operationalize the AVMS in next 60 days.”(emphasis as in the original text)
For obvious reasons, DoPT’s recent presentation on its achievements during the first 100 days’  of the new Government makes no mention about this goal. 
Reverting back to NCST, one slot of member has been lying vacant for several years. Two more vacancies have arisen under NDA following the demise of two members with one passing away on 17th July and the other on 19th August. 
At a meeting held on 5th August 2014, NCST noted that it could not recently hold its meetings due to “non-availability of some members and Vice-Chairperson.” To avoid recurrance of such situations, NCST has amended Rule 46 of its Rules of Procedure as provided for by the Clause 4 of Artcile 338A of the Indian Constitution.
The amended quorum rule reads as: “i) presence of minimum 50% of the posted members including the Chairperson and/or Vice Chairperson shall constitute the quorum for holding meeting of the Constitution. ii) If the quorum is not complete, the Chairperson may adjourn the meeting for half an hour. When the Commission reassembles, the quorum requirement shall not apply.” 
The substituted or previous quorum rule stipulated that “presence of at least three members including the Chairperson and/or Vice-Chairperson shall constitute the quorum for holding meeting of the Commission.” 
Assuming AVMS has been put back on the rails by NDA, it has no deliverables to show. NDA is adrifting towards marginal governance. This is obviously due to its reluctance to take speedy decisions purely on professional basis. 
It is at present governance as usual with 45 posts of CMDs/CEOs and whole-time directors lying vacant in public sector enterprises excluding publc sector banks. The number of unfilled posts of independent directors under the corporate governance rules is hard to come by but would certainly be much more. 
The collective vaccancy picture about all autonomous bodies under all ministries, whose list is available with PMO, would also be unpleasant, if made public.  
There can be no other rational explanation for NDA Government’s failure to reconstitute Inter-State Council (ISC) and ISC’s Standing Committee. This job can be peformed in less than five minutes by looking at the composition of previous ones constiuted by UPA. 
Chaired by Prime Minister, ISC comprises all chief ministers. The previous one had six Union Cabinet ministers as its members and five Minister of State (with independent charge) as permanent invitees. Re-constituted in September 2013 under Article 263 of the Constitution of India, ISC was never convened by UPA Government in its 2nd tenure. ISC met last in December 2006!
ISC website says: “Reconstitution of the council following the formation of new government after general elections is under process.” It has the same stock statement about ISC’s Standing Committee, which is chaired by the Union Home Minister. 
The buck for failure to reconstitute ISC and its Standing Committee stops at PM. After all, he has to decide who among his cabinet colleagues should be inducted.
Compare this ground realty with what BJP stated in its Manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls. It said: “Team India shall not be limited to the PM but will also include CMs as equal partners. We will evolve a model of national development, which is driven by the states. The moribund forums like ‘National Development Council’ and ‘Inter-State Council’ will be revived and made into active bodies.”
Mr. Modi himself has spoken about his commitment to build Team India at least on two occasions including on the Independence Day. 
Then what is the hitch is reconstituting ISC and NDC and convening them regularly to make a paradigm shift in national development? 
A 209-page report prepared by Cabinet Secretariat for assessing the alignment of results-framework documents (RFDs) of various ministries for 2014-15 with BJP’s Manifesto gives an insight into the intent-action divide on several issues.
An entity’s RFD provides a summary of the most important results that a department/ministry expects to achieve during the financial year. 
As regards “manifesto’s action points” on the Centre-State relations, the report is clueless about under which department’s RFD this issue should come and whether it has been included. The blank spaces in the report on this matter as well as another manifesto action point on overcoming credibility crisis shows the Government is clueless on these issues. 
The report is also clueless about which department’s RFD contains initiatives to translate BJP’s commitment to take on the menace of black money.  
This situation perhaps might not have arisen had the Cabinet Secretariat not exempted the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Finance from preparation of RFDs for departments under their control. 
Several departments have not yet uploaded their respective RFDs and/or Outcome Budgets for 2014-15 on their websites. How do the citizens know that what the Government departments are upto when these vital documents are missing from public domain? This is yet another instance of governance as usual mode. 
Take the case of National Integration Council (NIC) that comes under the aegis of MHA. The new Government has not yet reconstituted this vital body. NIC does not have its own website, a handicap that Mr. Modi can remove as he is committed to digital platforms. Creation of a robust NIC website would perhaps help PM realize his wish for 10-year moratorium on communal strife. 
If Singapore can have a good website for its NIC, there is no justification for the persistence of this glaring deficiency in Indian digitial governance space. Why are there no proponents of Indiutva or Indiantva (a spin from Hindutva) among the loudmouths in the country?
Turn now to National Population Commission, which was last re-constituted in April 2005. The ‘about us’ page of the Commission website is “under construction.” Like the UPA Government, NDA appears to have adopted ostrich-like posture before the population explosion, which is unquestionably the biggest threat to India’s existence. 
Take now the case of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose Vice-Chairman and seven members resigned in June following NDA Government’s advice. Modi Government has not reconstituted this crucial statutory authority even as natural and man-made disasters continue to rock the country. 
The post of Chief Central Information Commissioner is also lying vacant since 22nd August 2014 even as the backlog of RTI applications is growing.  
The more one investigates such instances of vacant posts in official bodies and the resulting marginal governance, the more one gets worried about the fate of great Indian yearning for change for better stirred up by Mr. Modi during the Lok Sabha polls. 
Is it the internal tussle for power and pelf within BJP and among its affiliates that is holding the country from galloping forward?
And if this governance as usual continues, then Mr. Modi might sooner or later prefer to avoid chanting his famous mantra – minimum government; maximum governance. At present, it is marginal governance at the Centre as has been the case for decades.
All indications suggest that Mr. Modi is enjoying power and glory. He thus runs the risk of becoming part and parcel of the inefficient Indian system. And if that happens, then who would shake the system?  
(Published by taxindiaonline.com on 24th September 2014)
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