Battered & bruised, Planning Commission loses more of its teeth

Business Standard, November 03, 2014
Most key functions now handled by the finance ministry and other govt departments.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently extended a Rs 8,000-crore central support for building roads in Jammu & Kashmir, Union Cabinet’s approval for the big-ticket announcement came in barely 48 hours. Unlike in the past, the proposal did not get stuck in the corridors of the Planning Commission, a Nehruvian-era body.

The Commission, which occupied the centre stage in all critical economic and social decisions until a few months ago, is now but a shadow of its former glorious self.

Its office, an imposing five-storied structure opposite Parliament House, earlier teemed with people engaged in one or the other meeting, especially in the run-up to annual Budget preparations. Not anymore; that seems to be a story of the past, as hectic activity has given way to an eerie sense of uncertainty.

During its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, even the location where a public-sector undertaking should come up was decided by the Commission. But, today, the pivotal role it was known to play in shaping the country’s development trajectory is conspicuously missing from the scheme of things.

The Planning Commission’s importance gradually reduced over the years as India moved from a Soviet-style controlled economy to a more market-driven one. But the body still wielded considerable clout, particularly on important decisions of the Cabinet or Groups of Ministers.

Though all major policy decisions are referred to the Commission even today, its opinion is no longer paramount. In fact, even as a new body to replace the Planning Commission takes shape, the wings of the old one are being gradually clipped.

Its diminishing role is also evident in the fact that a mid-term appraisal (MTA) – a course correction of sorts that in normal circumstances is completed by the third year of a Plan period – is yet to be done for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-13 to 2016-17). “We are ready with our sectoral assessment for MTA. But, as of October, there has been no signal from the government on whether or not it wants to carry out the process,” said a senior Planning Commission official who did not wish to be named.

The speculation around the contours of a new body to replace the Planning Commission has been rife since Prime Minister Modi first signalled a wind-down of the five-decade-old body, in his Independence Day speech on August 15. Read Full story>>

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