The new name of planning

The Hindu, January 19, 2015

The replacement of the Planning Commission by Niti Aayog will help change the emphasis from projects and programmes to policy and institutions, from expenditure inputs to real outcomes through better governance, and from political disputation over incremental allocations to new challenges and opportunities

The “Yojana Aayog” or “Planning Commission” has been replaced by the “National Institution for Transforming India” or “NITI” for short. From “Yojana” to “Niti”, what is the difference? First and foremost, it means a sharp break from Soviet inspired National Development (Five Year) Plans to “Niti”, that is “Policy” and “Institutional change for ‘transforming India’.” Paragraph three of the Cabinet resolution states: we “require institutional reforms in governance and dynamic policy shifts that can seed and nurture large-scale change.”

“Development” is one of those words that everyone thinks they understand but which means many different things to different people. It covers a multitude of possibilities as well as a multitude of ideological sins and special agendas. The cabinet resolution constituting Niti Aayog approvingly quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.” The Planning Commission took its first tentative steps towards “policy” 28 years ago, by creating a post of Advisor Development Policy. There was so much resistance that the Advisor (in this case, me) had to be designated “Advisor-Development Policy Research.” Despite decades of effort, policy solutions always played second fiddle to increasing Plan allocations and expenditures without any “social benefit-cost analysis” or “Macro-economic models” to back the decisions.

Three other points in the introductory part of the Cabinet resolution setting up Niti Aayog are noteworthy: The first is the assertion that “our aspirations have soared and today we seek elimination, rather than alleviation, of poverty.” The second is the important role given to governance in achieving desirable social outcomes: “The people of India have great expectations for progress and improvement in governance, through their participation. They require institutional reforms in governance and dynamic policy shifts that can seed and nurture large-scale change (paragraph 3).” Subsequently, there is an indication of how the institutional reforms in governance can be brought about: “Government and governance have to be conducted in an environment of total transparency — using technology to reduce opacity and thereby, the potential for misadventures in governing (paragraph 6g).”

Poverty elimination

A paper in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2002 had raised the issue of corruption and governance and to bring policy-institutional reform into the development debate, but to no avail. A debate on poverty elimination, as against alleviation, was sought to be initiated in 2005-06 through a Planning Commission paper, but was stymied. It is therefore very encouraging that this is an important part of the mandate of Niti Aayog.Read Fullstory>>

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