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Planning commission to Niti Aayog

, January 27, 2015, 0 Comments

planning commission niti aayog-MarketExpress-inThe Planning Commission has been abolished and in its place the NITI Aayog has been created. Most observers see this only as a cosmetic change where a new title has been given to an old organization and most of its functions continue to remain the same. To a large extent this view is correct and creation of the NITI Aayog could be merely an attempt of the new government to look different from its predecessor.

There are, however, certain respects in which NITI Aayog will be different from the Planning Commission. The new organization is not likely to look after Five Year Plans and Annual Plans. Perhaps the present Twelfth Five Year Plan will happen to be the last in the series. It is even possible that this plan will be terminated even before it is completed. It is probably the experience of Narendra Modi like other Chief Ministers to have to appear before the Planning Commission year after year for the ritual called the Annual Plan discussions which finally resulted in the demise of the Planning Commission.

If the erstwhile practice of formulating Five Year Plans and Annual Plans goes will the NITI Aayog be reduced to a mere think tank of sorts. It is important to have think tanks in India and there is no doubt about this. But there are already so many academic institutions in the country playing the role of think tanks that one fails to understand whether there was the need for a new one. Instead of having a think tank operated by itself the government could have very well sought advice from the multitude of think tanks that exist in the country for which there is no shortage.

We have in this country, economic think tanks like the NCAER, IEG, NIPFP, IIFT, IGIDR and so many others. The government could have sought the advice of these think tanks whenever it so desires. Whenever the need arose the government could have entrusted studies to these institutions and thus created an academic-cum-government partnership of sorts.

In the field of defense and international relations there is already an important think tank in the form of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. If there is any shortcoming in these institutions they could have been strengthened and made more robust.

Think tanks like the Centre for Policy Research, Centre for the Study of Developing societies, Tata Institute for Social Work, National Institute for Rural Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, etc., deal with a number of subjects like economics, political science, sociology and so on. They are all there in existence for the government to take benefit from.

Similarly there is no shortage of institutions in the field of science and technology and health and medicine to which the government could have turned for advice. Instead of having a think tank in the form of the NITI Aayog the various ministries of the government could have benefitted for close interaction with the multitude of think tanks we have in the length and breadth of the country.

Under the new set up there is expected to be more interaction with the states. But this is again likely to be a change without much substance. Under the erstwhile Planning Commission there existed the National Development Council (NDC) which was meant to bring in state participation in the planning process. If need be the meetings of the NDC could have been made more frequent. It is not clear how in the new set up interaction with the states is going to be qualitatively different.

If one of the objectives of abolishing the Planning Commission was downsizing of the bureaucracy, this objective has certainly not been achieved. The old bureaucracy continues to exist just as ever before.

The NITI Aayog as it is presently constituted has three academic experts and seven ministers as members. The ratio is adversely tilted in favour of the latter. The PM is in search of original ideas for reform.

Such ideas can come only from outside experts not from within the government set up. Under the old Planning Commission we used to have experts in science and technology, economics, health, education, social sector etc. as members. In NITI Aayog we have so far seen only experts from economics and S&T. Thus, the NITI Aayog appears to be a watered down version of the Planning Commission.