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
Arun Yadav, 36,
Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises
Jyotiraditya Scindia, 39,
Commerce & Industry
Agatha Sangma, 29,
Rural Development (Drinking Water & Sanitation)
Sachin Pilot, 33,
IT, Communications & Posts