NITI Aayog –The new Avatar of Planning Commission

Planning Commission, the legacy of Nehruvian era, was dismantled and replaced with new Body called National Institution for Transforming India aka NITI Aayog on 1st January, 2015.

On reading headlines -‘ planning commission has been replaced by NITI Aayog’, Readers thought that it’s “Policy Commission” but, devil lies in details, it’s not Policy Commission rather ‘National Institution for Transforming India’.

I have tried to analyse the various aspect related to this development in question and answer format. Hopefully some of queries would be resolved after going through this.

What was mandate of planning commission?

The Planning Commission was set up on the 15th of March, 1950 through a Cabinet Resolution. Its mandate was to conduct a major resource management exercise (assessing national resources) in order to ensure equitable development through a series of five-year plans.

What is mandate of NITI Aayog?

The monitoring and evaluation roles have been retained. New body has not been given the powers to allocate funds. The mandate to look into the interest of national security is new.

Aims and Objectives of NITI Aayog:  (as outlined in official Cabinet Resolution)

  • To provide a critical directional and strategic input into the development process.
  • It seeks to establish a genuine and continuing partnership of states in policy making.
  • Emerge as a “think-tank” that will provide Governments at the central and state levels with relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum.
  • Evolve a shared vision of national development priorities, and foster cooperative federalism
  • It promises better Inter-Ministry coordination and better Centre-State coordination.
  • Develop mechanisms to formulate credible plans to the village level and aggregate these progressively at higher levels of government.
  • It will ensure special attention to the sections of society that may be at risk of not benefitting adequately from economic progress.
  • Create a knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurial support system through a collaborative community of national and international experts, practitioners and partners.
  • Monitor and evaluate the implementation of programmes, and focus on technology upgradation and capacity building.
  • Focus on leveraging Demographic Dividend, Poverty Elimination (Pet theme of erstwhile planning Commission), reducing inequality, villages, small businesses & environment and ecology has been retained.
  • Dissemination of best practices from within the country as well as from other nations, the infusion of new policy ideas and specific issue-based support.

What is composition of NITI Aaayog and who are its Members?

Composition of NITI Aayog is as follows:

Chairman: Prime Minister of India

Vice-Chairperson: Mr. Arvind Pangaria

Governing Council: Chief Ministers of all the States and Lt. Governors of UT.

Regional Councils: to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region for a specified tenure.

How is Composition of NITI Aayog Different from Planning Commission?

As saying goes – more things change, more they remain same. Structure and Composition is more or less same as Planning Commission. Tough Governing Council’s Role would decide how far it can achieve the aim of Cooperative Federalism and Team India.

How are aim and Objective of NITI Aayog Different from Planning Commission?

How surface it seems there is little change in its aims and objectives. Apart from stripping it of formulating 5 year plans, meddling in ministries work and instructing state government, there seems to be little innovation. In actual working, we may see some innovation.

As per Minister In-charge, NITI Aayog will actively monitor and evaluate implementation of government programmes and initiatives with its focus on Concurrent, comprehensive, credible and reliable evaluation.

One Important addition to the task of Body in terms of Public Policy is – “Creating Jan Chetna” or Public Perception Management or Awareness Generation. It was quite visible in recent government initiatives be it Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojna , Swachha Bharat Abhiyan or Make In India or Beti Bachao Beti padao. It addresses one of missing point in India’s welfare and governmental programme. But it only addresses part of Problem. Other Crucial issue is Implementation and capture by vested interest.. It needs to be tacked effectively to accomplish real achievement.

What are Reasons for disbanding planning Commission and Constituting NITI Aayog?

Following Reasons have been cites in Official Resolution for Removal of Planning Commission and establishment of New Institution aka NITI Aayog

  1. Greater demand of state for their role in public policy
  2. The one-size-fits-all approach of central planning is not compatible with changed realities at national and intentional level.
  3. Planned economy (especially command and control economy) model is no longer working as anticipated and planned changes far outweigh the consequences of Technology revolution, market forces and Globalisation.
  4. New India needs an administration paradigm in which the government is an “enabler” rather than a “provider of first and last resort”.
  5. Government has to focus on enabling legislation, policy making and regulation.
  6. India needs to be an active player in the debates and deliberations on the global commons, especially in relatively uncharted areas.(How New Body would achieve this goal is not clear !)
  1. India’s pool of entrepreneurial, scientific and intellectual human capital is a source of strength -it needs to be leveraged through appropriate policy initiatives. (That was pretty much within scope and mandate of planning commission).

Does NITI Aayog address the deficiencies of Planning Commission?

  • To some extent it does. But not entirely. It’s too premature to judge at this stage , how it would address the above deficiencies of planning commission.
  • Tough it promise to adopt decentralised approach to planning but planning infrastructure and capacity is non-existent at local despite efforts of planning commission (though without sincerity and lack of political will are most crucial factor for this weak link).
  • Diagnosis of ills of Existing models of planning seems correct when it say “Development model has to become more consensual and co-operative. It must embrace the specific demands of states, regions and localities.” But how far the newly constituted body would achieve the aim is still a open question.

What NITI Aayog plans to do to achieve aims of Cooperative Federalism, Consensus based National Agenda and establishing TEAM INDIA?

  • In order to Promote Cooperative Federalism it promised to “Replacing a centre-to-state one-way flow of policy by a genuine and continuing partnership with the states.”
  • To maintain a state-of-the-art Resource Centre, be a repository of research on good governance and best practices in sustainable and equitable development as well as help their dissemination to stake-holders.
  • To actively monitor and evaluate the implementation of programmes and initiatives, including the identification of the needed resources so as to strengthen the probability of success and scope of delivery.
  • To focus on technology upgradation and capacity building for implementation of programmes and initiatives.

What Does Cabinet Resolution on NITI Aayog Says on Important Issues?

  • On Agriculture: move from pure food security to a focus on a mix of agricultural production as well as the actual returns that farmers get from their produce.
  • Villages (Gram) continue to be the bedrock of our ethos, culture and sustenance.
  • India has more than 50 million small businesses, which are a major source of employment creation.
  • But it’s silent on Human Capital, education, health and social security. Nor does it elaborate on specific sectors of economy. That is something which NITI Aayog need to outline its vision in coming days, months and years.

What are Focus Areas Outlined in Resolution?

Focus Areas outlined for New Bodies includes – Poverty elimination, Urbanisation, Agriculture, Skill Development to leverage the demographic dividend, involvement of NRI , India’s Interaction with Global institutions, Transparency in governance , Technology and Knowledge Economy.

Who has been appointment at NITI Aayog?

Former Member of Planning Commission, Arun Maira, has remarked that finding people with adequate expertise and skills to man this body would be challenge. It seems to be real issue.

Government has appointed  Shri Arvind Panagariya as vice Chairman along with full time Members Shri Bibek Debroy & Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Former Secretary Defence R&D (which shows focus on newly added area of focus of National Security).

But overall these appointments don’t inspire confidence. Body need to have much wider representation, not only restricted to the economist and retired bureaucrats, from different cross section of society. The government need to widen it’s net for selection of remaining panel and give representation to people with grassroots experience (e.g. Bankim Roy, Prof. Anil Gupta come to mind) to leveraging the diverse talent pool and not resort to importing talent from foreign universities.

What will happen to the 12th Five Year Plan? Will it be scrapped?

Speculations on the fate of 12th Five Year Plan are live as its fate would be decided by NITI Aayog in coming days.  Half of plan period is already gone but nothing substantial have happened. Even the earlier government has not paid proper attention to it with plan being approved by Parliament after almost 2 year of start. New government doesn’t seem to in mood to carry out the plan in letter and spirit though to avoid criticism it may not out rightly scrap or abandon it. Most probably it would die a slow death without anyone to take ownership or it would remain 12th player in 11 member team!  

Performance of NITI Aayog So far

Recently Prime Minister has asked the body to evolve a coordinated strategy for tribal development. The success of body to evolve a comprehensive developmental strategy for most underdeveloped areas, one of most backward groups and insurgency affected region would be crucial parameter to judge the efficacy and efficiency of new body.

Prime Minister has correctly advised NITI Aayog “to involve relevant research institutions, and eminent experts in all aspects of planning for tribal areas.”  If this advice is followed in true letter and spirit then it can set a new paradigm in India’s approach to Public Policy making. Also we need to involve the local community, civil society and common people in consultation before finalizing the policy for particular social group. It would ensure they own the policy and ensure effective implementation in their own interested.

Can NITI Aayog bring a conversance between different departments(Tribal Development, Forest, Rural Development, Health , Education etc.) & various governmental levels (Central, state , PRI and Autonomous Councils) to evolve a comprehensive strategy for tribal development ?  Can nudge from Prime Minister ensure that required impetus and focus are put into action to ensure that last mile issues are addressed to provide real benefits of growth to the most marginalised section of society?

And Final Verdict

On Broader level, Can NITI Aayog ensures that ‘Cooperative federalism’ is put into practice? Will it be able to address the issues of ‘Policy Paralysis’ & ‘Implementation deficit’ in Public Policy? Will it be able to handle the issues of monitoring, evaluation and Coordination to plug the ‘developmental deficit’? Can it serve as repository of best practice in governance and help to replicated best models of services delivery across the country? Can it serve as effective medium for knowledge sharing, exchange and capacity building across the state ruled by different political parties?  Will it be able to build the consensus on issues of Development, Welfare, National Security and International Trade?

These are some of mute questions whose answer would unfold as time progress and then people will start pouring judgement on the appropriateness or usefulness/adequacy of new architecture. Till then, NITI Aayog can enjoy its Honey Moon Period!

Reference –NITI Aayog Summary of Government released on 9th February


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