This Article is From Aug 14, 2014

Bye-Bye Planning Commission? PM Eyes a Think Tank

Bye-Bye Planning Commission? PM Eyes a Think Tank

FILE photo: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BJP National Council meet in New Delhi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot be accused of ever signalling high esteem for the Planning Commission, an institutional vestige of attempts, during the infancy of independence, to mimic the Soviet command economy. 

Sources say he is considering a proposal to bifurcate the commission with eight experts being pooled into a think tank tasked to helping him with "Vision 2020" - the plan meant to enable Mr Modi deliver on the promises he made for economic growth and more in his campaign.

While some sources say the new think tank could be announced in his Independence Day speech tomorrow, others say it's still a work-in-progress.

The remaining staff of the commission could be assigned to implement the think tank's recommendation and merged with the Department of Expenditure which resides within the Finance Ministry.

Sources say Mr Modi is expected to meet tonight with top advisors including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to discuss the proposal.
Last year, as Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Modi stunned buttoned-down members of the commission by turning up at a meeting with a video that accused them of high-handedness and saddling states with one-size-fits-all policies. The agency is resented by some state governments because it allocates central funds to them.

Since Mr Modi became Prime Minister in May, there have been signals that he wants to clip the central agency's wings, or perhaps abandon it altogether. The Prime Minister is formally the head of the commission; he has left the post of executive head vacant, and he has taken away its authority to determine the central government's capital expenditure, passing that to the Finance Ministry. For the first time, the commission has been excluded from discussions to frame the national budget, which was presented last month.

After he took over, a government-backed report that assessed the efficacy of government schemes, had suggested dismantling the Planning Commission as the hub of policy-making and replacing it with a think tank.

"Since the Planning Commission has defied attempts to reform it to bring it in line with the needs of a modern economy and the trend of empowering the states, it is proposed that the Planning Commission be abolished," the Independent Evaluation Office had said in a report.  But the report credited the commission for providing coordination between ministries, and a critical long view for policymakers distracted by short-term pressures.

The Planning Commission's utilitarian value has been questioned by experts who point out that its tome-like five-year plans are always laboriously crafted but rarely adhered to. Members of the BJP like Arun Shourie have questioned the relevance today of an agency created in 1950 to optimise scarce resources in a newly born nation.