Re-birth vs. enduring burial of the Planning Commission- Hidden Possibilities

Let us now put an end to discussing the evils of the Planning Commission. Sloppy approach and unclear working mechanism of the Planning Commission has led to its demise, which for sure was the pressing need of the hour. And those retaliating to this change, just because the new PM has initiated this action, must know that the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the Planning Commission recommended the scrapping out of the Commission alleging that the PC in its current form and function is a hindrance rather than help to India’s development. The dipping GDP of India, ever-low industrial and agricultural output, and tensions between the states and the center are the elements good enough to assess the working of the PC.

Those who are unqualified to relate the economic downfall of the country with the failure of the Planning Commission are of the opinion that the Nehru-created Commission, comprising of so-called think-tanks and planners, is what that Mr. Modi wants to be outstripped. If the rulebooks and governing groups were eternal, why would governments bring in constitutional amendments? And what at all is wrong in getting rid of a body of intellectuals which until today could not set a convincing poverty line, or for that matter, which makes almost unchanged five-year plans with same bottlenecks and corrective measures. Federalism, which banks upon cordial relations between the states and the center, urges for a setup that can assure unbiased working norms.

Having talked much about the Planning Commission, let us now concentrate on the structure that is about to add to the dexterity and pace of evolution of India. Mentioned hereunder are a few proposals for the new arrangement that I have named as the Commission for Cohesive Development and Reformation (CCDR).

1. Let the new commission have demarcated wings ranging from Department of Industrial Policies; Department of Price Regulation; and Department of Regional and Rural Policy to Department of Social Evolution; Department of MSME; and Department of Legal, Fiscal and Trade Affairs.

2. The prime motive of the new commission shall be ‘efficient utilization of available resources, unbiased allocation of funds to states and central ministries, workable control mechanism, and all-inclusive and sustainable development’.

3. Formulation of five-year plans can now be dispensed with. Instead, the demarcated wings must devise both short-term and long-term plans for their domains. Short-term plans will be easy to implement and supervise, whereas long-term plans will be the ultimate goals.

4. Assessment of basic bottlenecks viz. scarcity of educational facilities, quantum and nature of unemployment, underlying causes of poverty, excessive freedom to producers with respect to pricing of basic commodities, and concerns related to drinking water and sanitation.

5. A link between the states and the center by helping the Ministry of Finance realize the distinct needs of different states. Not all states have similar tailbacks and needs. Computing of financial requirements shall be based on number of residents, stage of development, and the capacity of the state government in properly allocating funds to relevant programmes.

6. Comprehending the economic conditions prevailing globally with a motive to embracing the pluses in the national economic endeavors and to steering clear from the minuses.

7. Dedicated prominence to the infrastructure wing- Planning the need for ports, rail projects, shipyards and airports, along with conservation of energy and augmentation of PPP model with requisite transparency and accountability.

8. Easy approachability by the central ministers, state governments, and also the general public. Proposals should be invited from the general public with a view to getting rid of problems that remain uncovered.

9. Assessment of GDP growth rate. This will include evaluation of the participant sectors of the GDP viz. agriculture, industry, and services. India is high on services; however we rarely have any substantial copyrights and patents. Industrial sector demands additional focus.

10. Control mechanism that can uncomplicatedly recognize the deadlocks of the devised plans. Monitoring of the funds allocated to states and central ministries, along with corrective actions, wherever needed, will render pace to the wheel of development.

If we look at the other side of the coin, it becomes apparent thatalthough the new commission will be equipped with enhancedefficiency and accountability, not every bit can be achieved byplacing the old wine in a newly designed bottle with a new brand name. This part of the coin depicts an altogether distinct alternative, wherein the existing departments and ministries can render the services which we are trying to extract from a revived Planning Commission. To be precise, the union government can part with the proposal of a new body and can delegate the tasks intelligently in the present structure. Let me throw some more light.

The ministries of the union government are equipped withintellectuals, powers, and resources. For instance, the Ministry of Finance deals with taxation, union budget, center and state finance, capital market, and such other financial tasks. Departments ranging from Expenditure to Revenue and from Economic Affairs to Financial Services are the key wings of the Ministry of Finance. Then, is it not feasible and prudent to delegate the tasks of planning financial needs, coordinating states and center affairs, andsupervising allocation of funds to this Ministry? Of course, the Finance Ministry cannot undertake all the responsibilities in vacuum, hence would need some helping hands viz. other state-level and central ministries and a special cell. Mentioned below is an indicative plan that can prove viable in the current circumstances.

Bifurcation of tasks of the existing Planning Commission to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Ministry of Finance, Cabinet Ministers, and the Auditor General of India under the central level would be the foremost step. At the state level, the bifurcation can be to the state HRD Department, Finance Department, Chief Secretary of State, and the Chief Minister’s Office. The task of gathering requisite data for the project to be undertaken, through the database of Revenue and Finance, shall be the job of the state HRD Department. It is known that this crucial department takes care of the development of human resources (primary and secondary education, and technical education). Post recognizing the needs of the state, the report shall be forwarded to the state Finance Department for budgeting with respect to expected funds to undertake the project. This report shall be forwarded to the Chief Secretary of the State for approval, who shall have the power to order revision. Final draft shall be moved to the Chief Minister’s Office where the approved project report will be made ready.

This approved project report will now be dealt with at the central level. The foremost echelon will be the Ministry of HRD. Post the approval granted by the Ministry of HRD, which will consider the feasibility of the project in terms of resources needed, and the social and economic gains expected from the project, the report shall be moved to the Ministry of Finance, which will have the authority ofreleasing funds for the project after evaluating the budget laid down by the state Finance Department. For expert and unbiased analysis, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India will weigh the report on preset parameters prior to submission to the Prime Minister’sOffice. The complete process will take two-three months if undertaken with due diligence and dedication, which will be highlyresourceful as compared to the working of the Planning Commission. Also, the states and the center will share amiable vibesas the obligation of moving to an unnecessary body will be dispensed with.

The above recommendations are not exhaustive and are just a glimpse of the overall picture. It is, however, expected that the new setup must embrace such pluses, which appear as the most promising measures in the current milieu. Also, the government or the new commission cannot be the only driving force. The opposition, corporates, social welfare agencies, and above all, the common man will have to contribute in the process of nation building. No agency can assure compatibility between the states and the center unless they are self-motivated and authentic towards bringing in prosperity. Indians expect the state governments to disremember any ego clashes with the center for those five years when they are accountable for mutual evolution. An agreeable end to all the uncertainties, viz. would a new body that would find new possibilities be formed, or would the government remove all hindrances between the states and central ministries by opting for the second suggestion, is expected from the wise squad of new leaders.

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