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Ministerial Myopia Vs Cluster Convergence

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We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Sandeep Sahni, President of the Uttarakhand Hotel and Restaurant Association, is a major stakeholder in the well-being of our state. “Sunny” felt that that the growth of tourism in Uttarakhand has frequently been hampered by the inability of our Forest Department to see economic reason.

UK’s extensive forests are a major natural resource. Many of the world’s current global problems, including Climate Change and Covid-19, can be directly attributed to the selfish rape of our green cover. Curiously, however, we know that many of our own forest officials, too, believe that the forests, which they are paid to protect, belong to them alone. They act as if they are the owners of these natural resources and not their caretakers, answerable to us, the taxpayers of the state.

As a case in point, some of their babus contend that Forest Bungalows are their exclusive domains. Similarly, they believe that land under their control, even when its green cover has been ravaged, should never be used by another government department. This attitude could account for some of the short-sighted decisions which have hampered the effective growth of tourism in our state. A possible cure, according to Sunny, could be to let the Chief Minister personally handle both the Forest and Tourism Departments.

This is, certainly, a possible solution. The compulsions of politics, however, would prevent this from happening. We are a small state and status-enhancing Ministerial berths are limited. If we remove two of the most attractive ones from the political sweepstakes, the election prospects of the party in power will be gravely diminished. No High Command (or whatever else the Big Bosses are called) will ever approve of such a suicidal step! So what is the alternative?

Under the present convention of Cabinet Responsibility, every member of the Cabinet is responsible for every decision taken by the Cabinet. In other words, Cabinet decisions taken regarding Tourism would also be accepted as decisions taken by the Cabinet Minister in charge of Forests! Once a decision has been taken by the Cabinet, none of its Members can claim that he or she had violently disagreed with the decision before it was passed by the Cabinet.

This, consequently, places a grave responsibility on the Chief Minister on whom, in effect, the burden of the controversial decision falls. As the First Amongst Equals, he has the painful task of deciding against the advice of one of his differing Ministers. Given the current fluidity of political loyalties, this is a decision which could topple the government!

If, however, we accept the practice of Cluster Ministries, the CM would never have to face this dangerous predicament.
This is how the Cluster System works.

Ministries competing for the same limited resources, like the use of forests, would be grouped into the same Cluster. The Tourism and Forest Ministries could be grouped into one Cluster. It would, then, be the duty of the Ministers in the same Cluster to agree to problems of resource sharing at their level. If there should be an ego clash, and the two Ministers cannot agree to a compromise, then the proposal will not go to the Cabinet. It will be aborted. This should force netas to stop chest thumping and get on with performing the jobs We, the Government, have mandated for them.

If the Cluster system works, it should be expanded. After the 9.11 attack, the US created the Department of Homeland Security merging 22 other, often warring, security agencies under one head. We certainly need that sort of reformation. There is a growing discontent, among voters, with the way many of our Enforcers of the Law are behaving: cravenly spineless at the behest of their political masters! We don’t say that the Cluster system will cure this invertebrate tendency but it might force Twilight Zone wheelers and dealers to step into the light and attempt to justify their proposals.

A Cluster exchange of views would, clearly, have forewarned of the agony of the eviction of 84 poor families from Mussoorie’s ”Shiffan Court”, in the drenching monsoon and a raging pandemic. It could also have projected a doomsday scenario for any project founded on so much avoidable, and heartless, human suffering!

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime
Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under thier joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)