India’s notoriously oversized bureaucracy has found a new way to expand – the country’s first ministry of happiness, dedicated to “putting a smile on every face”.
The new ministry will be created by the central state of Madhya Pradesh to “track our growth” in a manner based on Bhutan’s concept of gross national happiness.
“The state will be made responsible for happiness and tolerance of its citizens and will rope in psychologists to counsel people on how to be always happy,” said Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the state’s chief minister.
Details of the initiative were formalised on Thursday as Mr Chouhan, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP party, travelled to New Delhi to seek permission to expand his cabinet.
The new ministry will oversee up to 70 social programmes spanning yoga, spirituality, meditation and the arts, as well as offering free religious pilgrimages for senior citizens.
Mr Chouhan, a renowned yoga enthusiast, is expected to head up the new ministry personally.
It will also incorporate existing schemes such as the state’s flagship “girl child” programme, which sees female students and their families financially rewarded for remaining in education longer.
The new ministry emulates dedicated happiness bureaus in the UAE and Venezuela. During his tenure as French president, Nicolas Sarkozy planned to introduce a happiness index as an alternative to GDP for measuring growth.
Mr Chouhan, who holds a philosophy master’s degree, has previously said that “happiness does not come into the lives of people merely with materialistic possessions or development, but by infusing positivity in their lives so that they don’t take extreme steps like suicide in distress”.
Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s poorest and most agrarian states, and a severe drought has left it with the country’s third-highest suicide rate among farmers.
At least 27 schoolchildren have committed suicide in the state this year in cases attributed to exam-related stress.
Madhya Pradesh also suffers from high malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality, and the highest rape incidence in the country.
Ranjit Pathania, a former civil servant, tweeted yesterday: “Contemplating ‘Happiness Ministry’! Extremely childish. Don’t make a mockery of set establishments. Do good and happiness flows.”