While the first meeting of the Pragati in the second term of NDA government narrowed on water, fisheries and animal husbandry as the key themes the Narendra Modi government will pursue, the first edition of the meeting in the previous term of this government was less about specific issues. It spent more time to set the terms of engagement of the officers with the Prime Minister through these meetings.
The main issues flagged in the first meeting by Modi were about drought relief and directions for quick project implementation, which were more of immediate priorities than medium term targets. Pragati is an acronym for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation.
An important difference in the format of the meetings in both editions is that in the first term, the Prime Minister made those a solo affair with the secretaries, while this time he has begun the series with the attendance of other senior ministers, including home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. It remains to be seen if these ministers will also be invited for the subsequent monthly meetings.
In the absence of the ministers, the secretaries at these meetings were able to directly speak with the Prime Minister about the challenges besetting their departments and frame responses accordingly. As per protocol, in the presence of ministers, the secretaries will not be expected to lead the discussions. It was in one of those meetings in the first term where the officers aired their concerns about the impact of the Prevention of Corruption Act on the ability of senior government employees to make bold decisions and which subsequently led the government to amend the act to offer them more protection.
In the first meeting held on Monday, the cabinet secretary has instructed the secretaries to come up with (a) a five year plan document for their ministry, with well-defined targets and milestones, and (b) a significant impactful decision in each ministry, for which approvals will be taken within 100 days. There is a mention of developing a sectoral groups of secretaries to assess these plans as well.
Prime Minister Modi had begun these series of monthly meetings in March 2015 with the secretaries of the various government departments. There was, however, one meeting held even earlier in June 2014, though it was not classified as part of the series. There were 29 of those held in the first term of the Modi government with the last one being in October 2018. These meetings were the forums where the government sought to cut the clutter within the administration to deliver results.
Secretaries who were asked to present progress report on specific areas in these meetings had to also subsequently show the results to the satisfaction of the Prime Minister. Officials who attended the meetings said the interdepartmental issues often got resolved in these meetings where Modi often also took in detailed presentations. The platform also brought on-board chief secretaries of states through - as the press release noted - by “uniquely bundling three latest technologies: Digital data management, video-conferencing and geo-spatial technology”.
Another government release issued later claimed the Pragati meetings had cumulatively reviewed projects with a total investment of over Rs 11.75 trillion. The reviews widened the definition of projects to include larger schemes lilke the Ayushman Bharat to specific consumer grievances such as call drops. The release noted that the meetings have analysed about 320 projects in the three year period. They have not only set time lines to complete them but also set detailed instructions to solve the problems around any projects. Of course the time line for completing many of them even then was set beyond the term of the last NDA government, with some coming up for completion in 2020.