Scheduled meetings of various Groups of Ministers have been postponed for the foreseeable future as key ministers in the United Progressive Alliance government turn their attention to political assignments for the Assembly polls in six states.
Several of these meetings can be considered critical to stoking the investment climate. For instance, the department of industrial policy and promotion wants to introduce sweeping changes in norms for calculating "direct" and "indirect" foreign investment limits in a range of sectors like insurance, telecom and media. Yet the first meeting of the latest Group of Ministers scheduled for Tuesday (November 18) was cancelled.
On Monday, an Empowered GoM meeting to decide the future of the troubled Dabhol power plant that government-owned companies acquired from Enron was also indefinitely postponed.
"Political programmes have certainly taken centrestage," said a bureaucrat who is involved with more than ten GoMs.
"For the past few weeks, it has become extremely difficult to get a common slot for all the members," admitted another bureaucrat.
The GoMs--consultative groups set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to suggest solutions for controversial issues -- involve four to five ministers in each group. The EGoMs --which are authorised to take decisions on their terms of reference -- have the same number of ministers.
A senior minister handling at least 15 GoMs recently told his aides: "Am I a bureaucrat to keep on attending these GoMs? Cancel all such engagements and allot time for political work."
Another minister reportedly told his office not to fix more than two GoM meetings for the next two weeks.
Last week, two more GoMs were postponed because important ministers couldn't make time for the meetings. The first one, an EGoM, was to take a call on the crucial issue of gas pricing in the Krishna-Godavari basin. This issue involves a court case between state-owned NTPC and Reliance Industries, the licensed producer that will start commercial production in a few months. The second meeting was convened to discuss another controversial issue labelling pictorial warnings on bidi packets.
Pranab Mukherjee and Kamal Nath, who are members of some crucial GoMs, cancelled all their official engagements on Wednesday and spent the whole day campaigning in Madhya Pradesh.
On Monday, Mukherjee cancelled a series of similar engagements and was busy in political programmes in Haryana.
Other GoM members like Lalu Prasad, Vilas Muttemwar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Kapil Sibal are equally busy campaigning in different states. Some ministers are also heavily engaged with visits of foreign dignitaries as well.
Earlier, ministers like A K Antony, Prithviraj Chavan and Mukherjee couldn't fix any official engagements in the evenings because they had to attend party meetings to select candidates for the current elections, which is being seen as a "mini general election" ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.
"It isn't imperative that all members be present for a GoM meeting. But the critical members (senior ministers) must attend along with the nodal minister. At this point, most of them are busy elsewhere," said a bureaucrat.
Those who are awaiting important policy decisions, meanwhile, will have to wait. Indian democracy is at work.