With the eighth council of avisors now in place, no one can accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of being ill-advised, writes A K Bhattacharya.
Till a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to have seven councils and committees attached to his office. They continue to function even now, but not all of them are well known or even heard of. Yet, the nature and composition of these bodies should provide a clear indication of the prime minister's main areas of concern and preoccupation.
Let us start with those, which are not well known. There is the Prime Minister's Council on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME).
It is a 10-member body, which has representation from the ministries in charge of the small-scale industries, think tanks and expert bodies associated with the development of the sector. It meets only once a year. No one, though, can remember when the Council met last and what its key recommendations were.
However, there can be no doubt about the justification of the PM's Council for MSMEs, as the sector indeed accounts for about 40 per cent of the national gross domestic product and is more labour-intensive than large-scale industries.
Thus, if the government has to achieve inclusive growth with the help of the manufacturing sector, it has to recognise and promote the role of MSMEs. For that, the PM's Council for MSMEs should serve as a useful instrument. Whether the government is using the Council and its advice effectively or not, of course, is a different matter.
The second body, of which one hears very little, is the Delivery Monitoring Unit. Granted, this is a body that was set up only last year in fulfilment of the announcement made by President Pratibha Patil in her address to Parliament in June 2009, just after the start of the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government.
The Delivery Monitoring Unit's task is to monitor the performance of the flagship programmes of the government and prepare reports on how well the outcome of these schemes matches with the financial outlay made for, each of them.
We are yet to see any of these reports in the public domain. It is likely that the reports the Unit is preparing are for internal consumption of the government and for introducing checks and balances. Undoubtedly, the effectiveness of any such monitoring unit will improve if its findings become public, which can then exert pressure on the ministries and departments concerned to pull up their socks wherever needed.
The PM's National Council on Skill Development is the third body about which little is known. The Council has seventeen members, including the prime minister as its chairman and his principal secretary serving as the member-secretary.
A national skills development board, chaired by the Planning Commission deputy chairman, assists the Council in its functioning and (the late) C K Prahalad used to be one of its members and existing members, include Nandan Nilekani, formerly of Infosys, and Rajendra Pawar of NIIT.
The Council has already taken some action. The finance ministry has proposed the setting up of a skills development corporation. But does anybody know anything more on what the Council is up to?
There is also the Trade and Economic Relations Committee under the Prime Minister, which advises Dr Singh on the various trade agreements India has with different countries. It is an important body and has representation from all the key economic ministries.
With the World Trade Organisation talks for the Doha round not making much progress, the Committee has of late been busy making suggestions on the various bilateral free trade agreements India has been signing with different countries.
That leaves three councils, which maintain a relatively high profile. These are the PM's Council on Trade and Industry, the PM's Council on Climate Change and the PM's Economic Advisory Council. The Council on Trade and Industry has 23 members, including the prime minister and his principal secretary.
The remaining 21 members are all leading names from the Indian industry. It has no regular schedule for its meetings. However, the high level of publicity the Council gets whenever it holds a meeting more than compensates the absence of a regular schedule for consultations.
The PM's Council on Climate Change has 26 members from different ministries, including the minister for environment and forest. It is engaged in the task of assessment, adaptation and mitigation of climate change. With climate change issues gaining in importance, the Council too has begun playing a crucial role in the formulation of the government's stance at international forums.
Overtaking even the Climate Change Council in importance is the PM's Economic Advisory Council, which is now headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan. It has five members and prepares a monthly report on the state of the economy, wielding considerable influence over policy-making by the government.
Last month, yet another council was attached to the Prime Minister's Office. This is the National Advisory Council, headed by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Going by all available indications, the National Advisory Council will be the most powerful of all the PM's councils or committees.
Whatever else you may accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of, after the creation of the eighth council to advise the government, nobody can say that he is not well-advised.