OPINION

Is the NITI Aayog relevant today?

It is introducing new ideas and bringing about a greater level of accountability in the system

The NITI Aayog was formed to bring fresh ideas to the government. Its first mandate is to act as a think tank. It can be visualised as a funnel through which new and innovative ideas come from all possible sources — industry, academia, civil society or foreign specialists — and flow into the government system for implementation. We have regular brainstorming sessions with stakeholders from various industries and sectors. Initiatives like Ayushmaan Bharat, our approach towards artificial intelligence and water conservation measures, and the draft bill to establish the National Medical Commission to replace the Medical Council of India have all been conceptualised in NITI Aayog, and are being taken forward by the respective Ministries.

An action think tank

In that sense, I think of NITI Aayog as an action tank rather than just a think tank. By collecting fresh ideas and sharing them with the Central and State governments, it pushes frontiers and ensures that there is no inertia, which is quite natural in any organisation or institution. If it succeeds, NITI Aayog could emerge as an agent of change over time and contribute to the Prime Minister’s agenda of improving governance and implementing innovative measures for better delivery of public services.

We also work to cut across the silos within the government. For example, India still has the largest number of malnourished children in the world. We want to reduce this number vastly, but this requires a huge degree of convergence across a number of Ministries, and between Central and State governments. NITI Aayog is best placed to achieve this convergence and push the agenda forward.

NITI Aayog is also bringing about a greater level of accountability in the system. Earlier, we had 12 Five-Year Plans, but they were mostly evaluated long after the plan period had ended. Hence, there was no real accountability.

NITI Aayog has established a Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office which collects data on the performance of various Ministries on a real-time basis. The data are then used at the highest policymaking levels to establish accountability and improve performance. This performance- and outcome-based real-time monitoring and evaluation of government work can have a significant impact on improving the efficiency of governance.

Using such data, we also come up with performance-based rankings of States across various verticals to foster a spirit of competitive federalism. That is another big mandate of NITI Aayog. We identify the best practices in different States in various sectors and then try to replicate them in other States. We also play an important role of being the States’ representative in Delhi, and facilitate direct interactions with the line ministries, which can address issues in a relatively shorter time.

Improving innovation

The Atal Innovation Mission, which is also established under NITI Aayog, has already done commendable work in improving the innovation ecosystem in India. It has established more than 1,500 Atal Tinkering Labs in schools across the country and this number is expected to go up to 5,000 by March 2019. It has also set up 20 Atal Incubation Centres for encouraging young innovators and start-ups.

With its current mandate that is spread across a range of sectors and activities, and with its unique and vibrant work culture, NITI Aayog remains an integral and relevant component of the government’s plans to put in place an efficient, transparent, innovative and accountable governance system in the country.

As told to Yuthika Bhargava

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