The views expressed by Chief Ministers at the maiden >meeting of NITI Aayog’s Governing Council last weekend, demanding greater freedom to frame their own development plans, vindicate the thought process that went into conceiving the body that has replaced the 64-year-old Planning Commission. Promoting cooperative federalism and giving States greater freedom in designing their development plans were two of the key objectives behind the setting up of the NITI Aayog. >Chief Ministers , cutting across party lines, demanded that they be given such freedom, with Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy pointing out that schemes such as Jan Dhan Yojana or Beti Bachao were of little relevance to his State which already boasted of superior metrics in both fields. Similarly, Rajasthan’s Chief Minister demanded that the number of Centrally-sponsored schemes be reduced to 10, while Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar wanted such schemes to be dispensed with altogether. If these demands prove something, it is this: there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to development in a diverse country like India. And no longer can development be orchestrated from the Centre alone; it is as much the preserve, prerogative and responsibility of the States. Thus, the NITI Aayog will stop with making recommendations; implementing them will be the responsibility of the States.
An important decision made at the meeting was to constitute a subgroup of Chief Ministers who would study the 66 Centrally-sponsored schemes to assess whether they should be continued, transferred to States or dropped altogether. While doing this assessment, care should be taken to ensure that socially important inclusion schemes are not either downgraded or dropped. There could be examples of schemes that may not have national relevance but have resonance with particular States; these should be identified with due care and alterations should be made only after a consensus is evolved in the Governing Council. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that inclusion of the vulnerable and marginalised sections and redressing identity-based inequalities are at the top of the seven guiding principles for the Aayog as laid out in an e-book published by the government. This should also reassure those who see the body’s mandate as promoting a free-market economy which could come at the cost of the less-developed States. Of course, the true test of this government’s commitment to inclusive policies will come in the Budget’s allocations to social sector schemes. All the lofty ideals of the Aayog will come to naught if the government, forced by fiscal considerations, decides to set aside lower sums for social spending.
Corrections and Clarifications
This article has been corrected for a factual error