Business Standard, August 20, 2014

By Pradeep S Mehta

A special open forum has been created on the website for suggestions

To involve people in the decision making process, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday invited suggestions from the public on the shape of the proposed institution to replace the Planning Commission.

“We envision the proposed Institution as one that caters to the aspirations of 21st century India & strengthens participation of the states…Let the ideas flow,” Modi said in a statement.

A special open forum has been created on the website for suggestions, the statement added.

In his maiden Independence Day speech, Modi had announced abolition of the Planning Commission and replacing it with a new institution, which would cater to the needs of changing economic realities and also various demands from states.

The Planning Commission was created over 60 years ago to usher in an era of planned development in the country. The prime minister is the chairman of the Commission.

Experts said the shape of the new body would mainly depend on the powers that it is vested with.

“It (the shape of the new panel) depends on how much power you will give to the new body,” Pronab Sen, chairman of India’s Statistical Commission and a former principal advisor to the Planning Commission, told Business Standard.

Sen was also critical of the proposed move to hand over the allocation power for plan expenditure to the finance ministry as part of the restructuring exercise and said it might take away the checks and balances that existed till now.

Secretary-General of Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Pradeep S Mehta said the new body being thought of by the government should be a leaner and meaner organisation, which initiates reforms, monitors projects, does perspective and scenario planning with the active participation of state governments to give it a more federal structure.

“It should be involved in giving vital inputs in policy making,” Mehta said.

Mehta said more than China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the ideal model for the new body should be the Korean Development Institute (KDI). “Whatever policies are made in Korea is with the active help of KDI,” Mehta said. CUTS were among the first organisation, which held two round-table discussions on the shape of the Planning Commission.

Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira too felt that the new body should not limit itself to just Budget making exercise, which the earlier Planning Commission used to do. “The new body should be more ‘catalytic’ in nature and not control-oriented, which were the hallmarks of all the previous Commission,” Maira said.

He said it is not that the Planning Commission was not changing itself, but the pace was much slower than the rate at which the world around it changed. Maira who had earlier floated the idea of a ‘Systems Reforms Commission’, in place of the Planning Commission.

Experts too disagreed on the vitality and usefulness of the five-year plans.

Sen felt that abolishing the five-year plans was a bad idea. Years of the plan are not the main thing, but there should be short-term, medium-term and long-term plans for the economy. “In corporates also, you have a planning division. They also make plans. When they can have a planning system, why can’t there be plans for the economy,” asked Sen.

However, Maira felt the five-year plan system should be done away with, as it was a rigid document without ample scope to adjust to changes. “Just look at the 12th five-year plan (2012-13 to 2016-17), it had laid down some growth targets, which could be achieved in the next five years, but the world changed in two years itself,” he said. Maira felt that the five-year plan process should be replaced with scenario planning or a rolling plan.

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