Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to appoint Cabinet minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Minister of State Ananthkumar Hegde at the helm of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) should be seen from both the political and administrative points of view.
Politically, the move assumes significance as Pradhan is from Odisha, and first-time minister Hegde from Karnataka — two states going to the polls in 2019 and 2018, respectively. Their performance would also matter for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2019 general elections as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Skill India programme is targeted at the youth and providing employment.
The BJP is eyeing around 133 million first-time voters (70 million men and 63 million women) for the 2019 polls. It’s no secret that a majority of around 150 million first-time voters had helped the party take power in the 2014 general elections.
Pradhan has been leading the ministry of petroleum and natural gas since the Modi government came to power. He was able to deliver on the direct benefits transfer scheme for cooking gas. He also successfully implemented the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, under which more than 25 million below poverty line households were provided with cooking gas connections. It is believed this programme was one of the reasons the BJP won the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. His elevation comes after he led the party to a good performance in the Odisha panchayat polls earlier this year.
Critics say the onus on the new ministers is huge and time is short. This, perhaps, explains the government’s decision to appoint two ministers, including a Cabinet minister, for the first time for this relatively small ministry. The MSDE currently has a secretary-rank and three joint secretary-rank officers, besides junior staff. But, it is working with 22 other ministries and various agencies for the implementation of its key programmes.
It is expected that Pradhan would work mainly on the coordination part, while Hegde would handle daily affairs at the ministry. Their first task would be to streamline the working of the ministry and its partner agencies such as the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). Both the MSDE and NSDC are tasked with achieving the government’s target of skilling 400 million youth by 2022. But, there has been a lot of criticism regarding the functioning of the NSDC. The government had tasked the NSDC with implementing the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), for skilling 10 million people by 2020. But the government is considering taking away this responsibility. This is because data show that the NSDC trained a little more than 600,000 people till September 1, 2017, while only 12 per cent of the trained youth found jobs. The ministers would have to take tough decisions and find innovative ways to speed up the targets.