Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) a few days ago to take stock of the damages caused by the current floods. A few days after his visit, finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also visited the flood-hit world heritage site.

How the visit of the head of the state is planned on such occasions?  The chief minister of a state is the highest constitutional functionary. The value of his time is most pricy.  Therefore, he is not required to personally visit a place unless it is most warranted. Now, when the chief minister of state visits a place if it is not a sightseeing or religious trip, this needs to be planned meticulously. This meticulous planning doesn’t mean the facilities and security measures for the chief minister and his entourage which are obvious.

In this context, there are three stages of chief minister’s trip. First the necessary ground works related to the damages caused by the flooding of the National Park must be worked out. This means the concerned department is supposed to prepare a proper briefing file for the chief minister before his visit with all the necessary details. This is the first stage.

The second stage is proper recoding of the visit. This means his exposure to the problems and its various aspects and its proper recording by the visiting team. This is the documentation part of his visit. The third and most important aspect of the visit is the follow up actions which means the actionable points emerging out of the visit.

This will have two parts: on the spot the chief minister would decide a short term action plan in consultation with the high ranking officials and the responsible persons at the ground level to meet the emergency needs and when he returns to the state capital he is supposed to discuss all the related issues with the topbrass of the department and also concerned minister.

Thus a more holistic and long term plan would be prepared for finding a permanent solution to the problem. I believe any visit of the chief minister should be planned likewise and I am sure the recent visit of the chief minister   to Kaziranga was also planned in this manner. The journalists and officials who accompanied the chief minister will be able to tell us more about this. The media coverage of the event is not very significant because as the head of the state any visit of the chief minister will be covered by the media.

Now comes the subsequent visit of Himanta Biswa Sarma to Kaziranga. This visit by an important minister of Sonowal Government is indeed very strange. Was there a need of another visit by minister Sarma after the visit of the chief minister? Did he inform the CMO before visiting Kaziranga?

Or he visited the place on his own without the knowledge of the chief minister? We must note here that Sarma is neither handling flood control ministry nor the ministry of forest and wildlife. Then, why did he visit Kaziranga? Wouldn’t his visit create confusion among the officials about the follow up actions?

How would his visit impact the things discussed above? What does this mean? Is the cabinet system of governance working in Assam? Or is it a free for all kind of a situation? There are two things in a cabinet system of working. These are coordination and intervention.

Mostly it should be run by coordination. This coordination among the ministries is maintained by two offices: one is the CMO and the other is the office of the chief secretary. These two offices act in tandem so that the government runs smoothly.

The respective ministries enjoy enough independence and autonomy to work independently. But it is too natural that at times a particular ministry or department may take a decision which may be wrong or which may not augur well with the sentiments of people.

Recently we had such an example. The urban development ministry headed by Siddhartha Bhattacharji named a crematorium after late Banikanta Kakoty, a doyen of Assamese literature and culture. This created a furor among people. Following public outrage, CMO intervened in the matter and the signboard was removed.

So CMO can always intervene in any decision undertaken by any department of his government. But this is exception not the rule.    Of course after the onset of coalition era in Indian politics, at times this system comes under heavy pressure.  Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee faced many such pressures while running a coalition ministry. Same was the case with Manmohan Singh.

But here it is a different case in Assam. In all probability, it seems it is a case of parallel power centres. What happens when the cabinet system fails and there grows an atmosphere of parallel power centres? Such an atmosphere cripples the functioning of the government. The top bureaucrats can not take independent decisions. The bureaucracy also gets divided and become fraction ridden. Above is a case in hand. If the intent of both the visits was not to take any mitigating measures to tackle the damages caused by the floods and only a publicity blitz there is nothing to say. But otherwise it was a mesh.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com