Is NITI Aayug a superior option to the planning commission?
J P Rajkhowa
Prime Minister rendra Modi, in his first Independence Day Speech, made from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort, announced the decision of the newly elected BJP–led UPA government at the Centre, that, the 65–Year old Planning Commission (PC) – [Yoja Aayug] had outlived its utility, and it would be soon disbanded and in its place, a more effective, result–oriented and people–friendly Body would be set up. Mr. Modi kept up his promise and on the very first day of 2015, replaced the Commission by a new Body , “NITI Aayug or tiol Institute for Transforming India, which will serve as a policy think–tank for the Central as well as State governments and have the Prime Minister as its Chairperson”. It is not quite clear, why the word ‘Aayug’ was added to ‘NITI’ as by itself, ‘NITI’ appears to be self–contained as a very powerful policy–making Institute for the Country, just like the Youja Aayug, which too did not have any Constitutiol or Legislative ‘mandate’ behind its creation, but only an approval by the Central Cabinet.
NITI will have a governing council comprising all State chief ministers and Lt. Governors representing the Union Territories and will work towards fostering a ‘cooperative federalism’ for providing a “tiol agenda” to the Centre and the states. The apex body of NITI will have, besides its Chairman, also a Vice Chairman, a CEO, some full–time members– all appointed by the Prime Minister and four Union Ministers as ex– officio members. Experts and specialists would be nomited to the Body as ‘special invitees’ by the Prime Minister himself.
NITI has to serve as a think–tank of the government ‘’as a directiol and policy dymo’’ and would provide the governments at the Centre and the States with ‘strategic and technical advice on key policy matters including economic issues of tiol and intertiol importance’’. Thus it is abundantly clear that, NITI would be serving as a very high level ‘advisory body’ for policy formulation, and unlikely to have a deciding role in planning for the States and the Centre, with wide powers to make fincial allocation to the States and fixing their Annual & Five Year Plan size, which was a major exercise of the disbanded Yoja Aayug. The Plan size was filized at a meeting between the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and the Chief Minister of each State, where lot of bargaining and pleading were to be done by the Chief Minister and the fil say was with the Deputy Chairman, who played the role of a benevolent morch. He also distributed ‘largesse’ to each State, in the form of grants outside the plan, which was done purely on discretiory basis, with political consideration as well, with the States having the same party governing, as in the Centre, used to be the gainers. It is expected that, the NITI Aayug would do away with such undemocratic practices.
It is reported in a section of the media that, ‘’the task of allocating plan funds to states including discretiory funds such as additiol central assistance or for developing hilly or border areas, will go to the fince ministry’s expenditure department’’. Unlike the PC, the new body, Mr. Modi has said, will not follow the “one size fits all” approach. This is certainly a healthy approach towards balanced development of States and Regions, because, in the past, the PC used to adopt a singular approach or a tailor– made ‘sectoral and sub– sectoral’ development approach for the entire country, irrespective of different levels of development, in different states or regions. But there is a risk of the Fince Ministry becoming all the more powerful, like the PC, in allocating State–specific additiol resources or ‘outside the plan’ kind of resources, discrimiting in favour of BJP ruled states, as done by the PC in respect of Congress– ruled states. However, there’s a saving grace in that, the States will be represented in the Governing Council, where the aggrieved chief minister would be able to voice his concern and demand a fair deal.
The disbanded PC did not have any regiol council or offices/establishment in the states, whereas the NITI is supposed to have Regiol Councils (RC) and decentralized state–specific offices/centres, which should be in a position to go deeper into the state/regiol issues and devise acceptable solutions to address them. RCs will address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region. The NITI Aayug would work with central ministries and states to formalise plans to create mega–industrial clusters along the industrial corridors planned along the Mumbai– Delhi and Delhi–Kolkata freight corridors. We would like the centre to announce industrial corridors, smart cities, specific major infrastructure, skill development plans, M.S.M.E. programme, trading, tourism, export–oriented projects for the northeast, in keeping with the Act East Policy, which the NITI has to be entrusted with by Prime Minister Mr. Modi.
Amongst other objectives, NITI has to design strategic and long term policy and programme frameworks and initiatives, and monitor their progress and efficacy. It would also offer a platform for resolution of inter–sectoral and inter–departmental issues. NITI would also monitor and evaluate implementation of programmes and initiatives. Now the question arises as to what schemes and programmes the NITI would formulate and recommend, as there is no mandate, that, it will have to formulate Plans for the Central ministries and the States, in the form of Annual or Five Year Plans as done by the former PC. The Modi government has not declared any clear–cut policy as to whether the concept of State–planning has been given up or modified or a new kind of planning at Central and State level has been devised, in consultation with the stake–holders. It is surprising that, the matter of constituting the NITI or doing away with or re–shaping of the ‘Planning process’, with greater focus on a ‘free market’ development strategy, has not yet been discussed and deliberated at the tiol Development Council (NDC)– the highest policy formulation body of the tion on all socio–economic development issues. Prime Minister Modi, who often talks of ‘good governce’ and transparency in administration, would do well to make his ‘plans’ public in regard to ‘balanced regiol’ and ‘sectoral development’, with a ‘special accelerated development agenda’ for the backward Northeast and other similarly placed regions .
NITI should have no problem in functioning immediately, once all the members and the CEO are on their saddle, as the entire physical and other infrastructure of the PC, with its huge manpower, are readily available. It is not clear, if the Vice Chairman would exercise executive authority like the Deputy Chairman of the PC, and if he does, the same should be so framed that, he does not become another ‘power centre’ as in the past. The CEO should have clear–cut functions, powers and responsibilities and should be a sort of Secretary to the NITI and accountable to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman. The Prime Minister should be able to devote considerable time to NITI affairs, on a daily basis, till such time a clear–cut demarcation be made on the role of the public and private sectors and plans formulated for public sector, at central and state levels. It is presumed that, ‘public sector plans’ have to continue for some more time, till the ‘free market economic model’ gets formulated and accepted by the people, i.e., the Parliament. Meanwhile, NITI would have to take cue from the Planning exercise already done by the former PC and formulate recommendations to the Prime Minister, who should place those before the tiol Development Council, for deliberation and decision, in the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’.