- Government has decided to revive the Strategic Policy Group or SPG
- SPG will assist National Security Council in undertaking defence review
- The move has made Ajit Doval most powerful bureaucrat in India
Four-and-a-half years into its term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has decided to revive the Strategic Policy Group to assist the National Security Council and help with a long-term strategic defence review. The move makes National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval the most powerful bureaucrat in India since the post was created in 1998.
The policy group will be the main mechanism for inter-ministerial coordination and integration of inputs in forming national security policies, a senior Home Ministry official told NDTV.
Earlier, the group was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, the most senior bureaucrat in the government.
Now the group will be headed by Ajit Doval, the country's top national security officer, and the Cabinet Secretary will report to him.
What makes the policy group's chairman more powerful is the inclusion of the NITI Aayog or plan panel.
Members include the NITI Aayog vice chairman, the cabinet secretary, the three military chiefs, the Reserve Bank of India governor, the foreign secretary, home secretary, finance secretary and the defence secretary.
The secretary of the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, the scientific adviser to the defence minister and the secretary, cabinet secretariat will also be on the panel. So will top officers of the departments of revenue, atomic energy, space and the Intelligence Bureau.
Other ministries and departments will be invited to meetings when needed.
NSA Doval will call the meetings of the group and the cabinet secretary is to coordinate with ministries and states for the implementation of its decisions.
"It's nothing new. This group was functioning in previous UPA government too. It was recommended by the committee which was set up to look into lapses during Kargil," a senior functionary of the government said.
The revival of the policy group just months before the national election has raised questions, even within the government. "The intent of the government to revive SPG at the fag end of its tenure is not clear," a senior bureaucrat confessed.
A retired bureaucrat said, "NSA is all-time powerful now and too much centralised power in one command centre is not very healthy in a democracy."
The reconstituted policy group also places the National Security Adviser at the top of the country's security strategy set-up as Mr Doval was also recently appointed chairman of the defence planning committee, a new strategic think tank.
"The NSA is tasked with regularly advising the PM on internal and external threats and overseeing strategic and sensitive issues on behalf of the Prime Minister. With these changes, the government has been able to make him all powerful," adds a senior bureaucrat.