Unanswered questions


The key takeaway from the meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with State Chief Ministers to discuss the contours of the new body that will replace the Planning Commission was this: that power and planning should be decentralised and States should be empowered to plan, design and manage schemes based on what fits them best. This is a point on which consensus appeared to have emerged even as the Chief Ministers diverged along party lines over whether the existing body should be revamped or be replaced with a new one. The decision to offer a greater say to States in planning and managing schemes seems to have been born from Mr. Modi’s own experience as Gujarat Chief Minister when he made presentations to the Plan panel and felt the need for a better platform to articulate the views of his State. In line with this consensus, Chief Ministers would be included in the body on a rotational basis to give it a federal character. Mr. Modi’s remark on ‘bottom to top’ planning is a comment on how New Delhi cannot tailor the development plans of States as each State has unique needs and problems. A second point that appeared to have gained recognition was that expertise and knowledge resided as much outside the government, if not more so, and that these needed to be tapped by roping in the private sector into the new body.

There is, however, not much clarity on the traditional role of the Planning Commission, including its job of sitting in on expenditure committee meetings. Will it mean the end of the planning process itself? If not, who will formulate and monitor the annual and five year plans as the Commission was doing? Sunday’s meeting also failed to tackle the issue of who will allocate and transfer funds from the Centre to the States for Centrally-sponsored and Plan schemes, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stating that further consultations would be held on this issue. The Planning Commission has also been a veritable think-tank producing studies and policy reports that different Ministries relied upon in their decision-making. The body was staffed largely by academics and bureaucrats at the top, and an attempt to enlist expertise from the business sector did not go very far. If the new body has to be a public-private think-tank, as the Prime Minister seems to want it to be, it should have the ability to attract top-drawer talent and also network with research bodies and universities in India and abroad. Interestingly, unlike the existing Planning Commission, the new body is likely to have a statutory role, giving greater weight to its functions and powers. At this stage, many unanswered questions remain, and a great deal more of conceptual thought needs to go into the making of the new body that is to come into being by the end of January.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 1:18:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/unanswered-questions/article6673581.ece

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