By Brinda Sapra

Edited by Namrata Caleb

2014 has been quite a year in the history of Indian politics. The overwhelming majority won by a single party BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls comes years after the 1984 elections when Congress swept a clear majority led by Rajiv Gandhi. This definitely marks the beginning of a new era. Be it the launch of the ‘Make in India’ campaign or Modi’s cleanliness drive- Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the wheels of change have been set in motion. Yet another promise of the saffron party, to repeal the Planning Commission set up by the first PM Jawaharlal Nehru and replace it with a more representative body NITI Aayog, has been fulfilled- at least on paper.

Data shows that the Planning Commission’s utility had increasingly been questioned, with state governments protesting against their limited role in the planning process. The Congress ruled states supported the idea of reforming the former Planning Commission itself rather than scrapping the body entirely, whereas some NDA states and those ruled by parties like AIADMK and TRS wanted the immediate disbanding of the Planning Commission. However, some non-NDA chief ministers have also supported the dismantling of Planning Commission.

The structure of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog has been disclosed. The PM will head this contemporary body as the Chairperson, and will appoint the Vice Chairperson along with the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). The council will also have a panel of full time members, part time members- maximum two, and ex-officio members- maximum four from the Union Council of Ministers. The new institution will also comprise a governing council which will include state chief ministers and lieutenant governors of Union territories. The office of NITI Aayog will be located at the same place as that of the Planning Commission in the Yojana Bhavan, Lutyens Delhi. According to several reports, the head of the NITI Aayog might well be the Columbia University professor and economist Arvind Panagariya, who has long been supportive of reforms.

The primary aim of this new institution, as reflected in its structure, is to foster cooperative federalism. The body has been designed to suit the contemporary economic needs seeking representation from all States and Union Territories. The PM tweeted his desire to do away with the ‘one size fits all’ approach inviting participation of CMs of all states in planning the development agenda and path, thereby attempting to accommodate India’s plurality and diversity. The new body is expected to remedy the top-down approach and facilitate a bottom-up consultative policy making.

Some of the key differences have been highlighted between the NITI Aayog and the erstwhile Planning Commission in terms of financial clout, full time and part time membership, and the role of States. It was under the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission to allocate funds whereas the new agency might give that power to the Finance ministry. NITI Aayog will have fewer full time members than its former version. Unlike NITI Aayog, the Planning Commission had no provision for part time members. States’ trivial role in Planning Commission was limited to the National Development Council whereas the new body was mainly created to resolve this very problem of giving states more say in the planning process.

It will act as a policy think tank at the Centre and State level. It will also interact with other national and international Think Tanks, as also with educational and policy research institutions.

Although NITI Aayog attempts to reinforce the belief that strong states make a strong nation, only time will reveal how effective the participation of states is. The special focus will be on sections who have yet not availed of the benefits of the development process or who have endured its adverse consequences. It remains ambiguous whether it is just another political tactic to give false hope to the nation or a real effort to right the wrongs.

Brinda Saprais a first year student pursuing BA Economics honours at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. She takes keen interest in watching movies ranging from genres like Science fiction to Romantic comedies. She enjoys reading books with a gripping plot. She tries to keep herself updated with the world affairs, be it political or economic. She enjoys writing poems and reading inspirational ones because that is what keeps her going through tough times. She respects her teachers -not just from school and college but also her mentors from the field of performing arts like dance and theatre. Her motto in life being, hard working people can take on a tough journey just as well as the ‘talented and gifted’ ones.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind