11:07 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

Spot the difference: Modi’s NITI Aayog looks like the Planning Commission

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Planning-Commission-PTI

The government has set up NITI Aayog, a think-tank that will replace the Planning Commission. According to a government press release, the new body is the result of “extensive consultations” the Centre held with state governments, domain experts and other relevant institutions.
The move is the first major step taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to break away from the Socialist legacies in the matters related to economy and development. The Planning Commission, established by Jawaharlal Nehru 65 years ago to formulate Five-Year Plans, has been criticised for being a Socialist era vestige, which became irrelevant in a more globalised and market-focussed economy.
NITI Aayog has been set up “to provide a critical directional and strategic input into the development process”. It will act as a “think-tank” and advise the Centre and states on policy matters. The Aayog seeks to end “slow and tardy implementation of policy, by fostering better Inter-Ministry coordination and better Centre-State coordination”, the press release says. It will also monitor and evaluate the implementation of programmes. NITI stands for National Institution for Transforming India.
One important factor being highlighted in the press release is that NITI Aayog rings in co-operative federalism. The term co-operative federalism denotes a two-way relationship between the Centre and state governments in matters related to economic policy and development. NITI Aayog is expected to “help evolve a shared vision of national development priorities”, in keeping with the spirit of such a federal structure.The centre-to-state one-way flow of policy, that was the hallmark of the Planning Commission era, is now sought to be replaced by a genuine and continuing partnership of states,” the press release states.
Break from the past?
But just how big a break is this from the past?
A key difference NITI Aayog has from the Planning Commission is in its constitution. The new body has state chief ministers and lieutenant governors as members in the governing council. PM Modi has termed it as a landmark change that will foster spirit of “cooperative federalism”.
NITI Aayog will also have a vice-chairperson and a CEO in addition to five full-time members and two part-time members. Four union ministers would also serve as ex-officio members. The Planning Commission had a Deputy Chairman and full-time members with a member secretary as a convener.
The opposition parties have criticised the move saying that the change that has been brought about is only cosmetic. Merely a change in the name is not going to make a difference, they say.
And they aren’t the only ones who are criticising the move.In an interview to CNBC-TV18, Kirit Parikh former head of fuel decontrol panel and also a former member of the Planning Commission, has said that the new body is not much different from the earlier Planning Commission.
While the structure of the Planning Commission as proposed in the new resolution of the Cabinet is almost similar to the earlier one, except that the Planning Commission was reporting to the National Development Council consisting of the state chief ministers and Lieutenant Governors of Indian territory. But now there is a governing council which consists of the state Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors,” he said.
According to him, there is nothing new even in the constitution of a regional council. Even during the Planning Commission era, consultative panels were formed whenever issues cropped up between states.
“…now, we are formalising it, having a policy of regional council but this is a similar mechanism as we have seen in the past. So, I do not see this as much of an innovation,” he said.
So then what is the real break from the past? As Parikh says, it is in states getting more say in development policies.
“…instead of Planning Commission formulating a plan and then asking the states whether they agree with this or not, this is going to be something where states would have much more input at the earlier level of plan formulation,” he has said.
Now the question is whether the new set-up will bring about a seminal change in developmental policy making by decentralising the process altogether. Is this one a bottom-up setup as opposed to the top-down approach that Planning Commission was famous (or rather infamous) for?
In all likelihood, it is not. The true spirit of decentralisation lies in giving away the power to plan and implement developmental programmes to local bodies. The central and state governments should remain as enablers.
“The NITI Aayog will develop mechanisms to formulate credible plans to the village level and aggregate these progressively at higher levels of government,” is all the press release says on the matter.
If this means that the new body will develop plans for the village level development, that will amount to centralisation. In the press release, there is no word about grassroot level development planning, which would have been appropriate for bottom-up planning.
In short, as of now, there is no reason to believe that the NITI Aayog will bring about a major difference on the ground in planning and implementation of developmental policies.

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