The Planning Commission is dead. For 65 years, it had planned out the country’s development course. On New Year day of 2015, it ceased to exist and was replaced by the tiol Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. As India integrates more and more into the globalised and market–based economy, the new panel is expected to function like a think tank. It will advise the Centre and states on policy matters, as well as provide directiol and strategic inputs into the development process. NITI Aayog will consist of a governing council and regiol councils, both to be headed by the Prime Minister. Earlier the Planning Commission reported to the tiol Development Council. But with all the state Chief Ministers and Lieutent Governors getting on board as members of the new panel, it is expected to foster better Centre–State and inter–ministry coordition. This is more in line with the Prime Minister pushing for an effective structure which strengthens cooperative federalism and takes forward his concept of ’Team India’.
It is well known that rendra Modi had several run–ins with the Planning Commission during his twelve years as Chief Minister of investor friendly Gujarat. He once stunned the plan body mandarins with a video presentation, accusing them of high–handed interventions and hobbling states with one–size–fits–all policies. Over the decades, the Planning Commission had emerged as a parallel cabinet, allocating central funds to states and sanctioning capital spending of the Central government. In the eyes of Opposition–ruled states, some of its activities smacked of favoritism and discrimition. It was derided as a ’parking lot’ for political cronies and unwanted bureaucrats. The Planning Commission’s image took a severe beating after it came to light that Rs 35 lakhs was spent to renovate two toilets in its imposing headquarters when it was suggesting that citizens who consumed goods worth Rs 27 or more a day were not poor! In his maiden Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, Modi lost no time in announcing that the country needed a new body more in sync with the contemporary economic world. While addressing Chief Ministers on December 7 last to seek their support for the new panel, Modi pointedly reminded them of the words of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Planning Commission has "no futuristic vision in the post–reform period". Thus it has come about that the Planning Commission, set up on March 15, 1950 by Jawaharlal Nehru through executive fiat, has met its end in similar fashion.
Ostensibly the NITI Aayog marks the first major step by rendra Modi to break away from Socialist legacies in matters related to economy and development. Suspecting ’anti–Congressism’ and ’anti–Nehruvianism’, the Congress has expectedly slammed the Prime Minister’s move. It has dubbed the setting up of the new panel as an attack on the country’s federal structure, aimed at centralising powers in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have voiced strong reservations, while Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has lambasted it as a ’political gimmick’ by the Modi government to vest monies entirely with the Union Fince Minister and thereby hinder fund allocation to the states. But even as Tarun Gogoi mourns the demise of the Planning Commission, he cannot escape uncomfortable questions. Did the Chief Minister succeed in painting a rosy picture of the state’s finces year after year primarily due to the largesse of the Planning Commission, with the Congress High Command putting in a good word on his behalf? Do Tarun Gogoi’s claims of better fiscal magement and greater resource mobilisation hold water? It is high time the Assam government gets its act together on the economy front, learning to be accountable and compete for Central funds in a tougher world.