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The workless worthies

Meet some ministers of state who are brimming with ideas and initiative - but could do with more on their table.

Puja Mehra | Print Edition: July 11, 2010

A money order delivered the next day to your cook's family. Clean drinking water in a remote village. Smooth-as-silk highways coming up without land acquisition hitches. Villagers using service centres to get things done without having to bow to babus. All right, all right... that's too big a dream-may be. But all these are being made possible in small steps by a bunch of young, can-do ministers with great ideas and implementation skills. BT met some of these ministers of state to get to know them, and get a sense of the freshness they bring to problems of governance and development.

The verdict: they are learning the ropes. Some, like Agatha Sangma, have demonstrated their ability to come up with big-picture ideas, while others, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, prefer execution.

The common factor: a preference for solutions that don't leave the people dependent on politicians or bureaucrats, but empower them to take charge of their own lot. Just what heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi wanted. Take some of the favourite things of R.P.N. Singh, the Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways: gently nudging state governments to acquire land for the highways project, and clearing files in a matter of hours.

Or meet the youngest of the lot, Sangma, a first-time minister. Sangma, who also happens to be the youngest Member of Parliament today, presides over the Ministry of Rural Development's policies for drinking water and sanitation. The ministry oversees almost all of the UPA's agenda for rural India and releases up to Rs 1,50,000 crore to the states every year.

At her insistence, the Rs 20,000-crore National Rural Drinking Water Programme or NRDWP began offering an incentive for sustainable projects proposed by the states. Earlier, a state had to come up with 10-20 per cent of the funds, and there was no incentive to make a project sustainable. Although funding for sustainable projects has been capped at 20 per cent of the total, states are making a beeline for it since they get full funding if the project qualifies.

Sangma is modest. "The role and capacity of a minister of state is limited," she says. "It is more an opportunity to learn than reshape policies." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's choice of berths for the young politicians was judicious. For example, Arun Yadav, Minister of State for Heavy Industries, should find his auto dealership experience helpful in teaching ailing public sector undertakings a thing or two about markets and customers. The tech-savvy Scindia and Pilot were given the job of delivering e-governance solutions to minimise corruption.

Twice this year, a number of young ministers have met the Prime Minister to seek a bigger role in the government, with some complaining about the lack of working space. Not all have this feeling of not getting enough work, though. Scindia, who loves to roll up his sleeves and dig into problem-solving, for one, is not complaining. "There are many pain points... and solutions are hard to find, but I enjoy identifying a problem, ideating with knowledge, and execution," he says.

So, may be the youngsters could check their porfolios again and see if there is anything they could do better or have missed?

R.P.N. Singh, 46,
Road Transport & Highways

  • QUALIFICATION: History Honours from St. Stephens, Delhi
  • EXPERIENCE: Opposition MLA for 13 years in Uttar Pradesh
  • HAS DELIVERED: Against the total land acquisition across all of India from 2006-07 to 2008-09 of 12,767 hectares, pushed through acquisition of 29,750 hectares in the first nine months of current UPA government
  • WATCH HIM FOR: The Hapur-Garmukhteshwar stretch on National Highway 24 from Dasna; Vijaywada-Hyderabad stretch on the Mumbai-Hyderabad highway
  • GEN NEXT QUOTIENT: Five hours is the maximum time a file stays on his table if he's in the Capital


Arun Yadav, 36,
Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises

  • QUALIFICATION: B. Com
  • EXPERIENCE: MP since 2007; runs auto dealerships and educational institutions
  • HAS DELIVERED: Roped in HMT International for taking products of other state-owned firms to overseas markets; got BHEL to give some civil contracts to smaller brethren; expanded the market for a government salt refinery by giving it a brand
  • IS DOING: Injecting market culture in ailing PSUs, pushing them to break the mould by entering overseas markets and chasing exponential, not incremental growth
  • WANTS DONE: The government's role doesn't end at making and implementing policies; it must also offer "after-sales service"


Jyotiraditya Scindia, 39,
Commerce & Industry

  • QUALIFICATION: M.A. from Harvard University and MBA from Stanford University, California
  • EXPERIENCE: MP since 2002; Minister of State for IT, Communications & Posts in UPA-I
  • HAS DELIVERED: Implemented the award-winning Project Arrow in India Post. The percentage of non-deliveries of Speed Post, money orders and registered mail has been reduced to decimal figures in the 500 post offices covered in Phase I
  • WATCH HIM FOR: Delivering the much-awaited government portals aimed at cutting corruption: e-biz for starting, running and closing businesses without human interface at local, state or Central government agencies by obtaining clearances (fire, labour, VAT, MCD, toll certifications) through simplified online forms; e-trade is being planned similarly for clearances required by exporters
  • GEN NEXT QUOTIENT: Putting technology to use-41 video conference reviews of the performance in Project Arrow post offices between November 2008 and March 2010


Agatha Sangma, 29,
Rural Development (Drinking Water & Sanitation)

  • QUALIFICATION: M.A. from Nottingham University, UK, in environment management; Pune University law graduate
  • EXPERIENCE: MP since 2008; a lawyer at the Delhi High Court HAS DELIVERED: Got the National Rural Drinking Water programme to disburse Rs 1,600 crore in 2009-10 for sustainable schemes of states. States are tapping the funds eagerly, and the ones in the North-East are harvesting rainwater
  • WATCH HER FOR: Building a model that will encourage states to popularise eco-friendly sanitary toilets under the Total Sanitation Campaign
  • WANTS DONE: Collapse ministry boundaries to implement programmes better. She attends consultative meetings in the Human Resource Development Ministry to have sanitation introduced in the education programmes


Sachin Pilot, 33,
IT, Communications & Posts

  • QUALIFICATION: MBA from Wharton
  • EXPERIENCE: Two-year stint at General Motors; MP since 2004
  • HAS DELIVERED: Rolling out common service centres under India's national e-governance plan. These centres will deliver digital land records, birth certificates, ration cards, BPL cards et al
  • WATCH HIM FOR: So far, 76,000 such centres have been put on the ground, and are functioning. If they catch on, his ministry could become one of the most important for the common man
  • GEN NEXT QUOTIENT: One of the few politicians with an up-to-date website

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