All eyes were on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who chaired the first ever meeting of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog in New Delhi on 8 February. The NITI Aayog replaces the Planning Commission of India through a cabinet resolution after Modi announced scrapping of the entity under the pretext that it had lost its relevance.
With the Prime Minister as its chairperson, like in case of the erstwhile Planning Commission, the Aayog comprises a governing council of chief ministers and lieutenant governors of all states and Union territories respectively. The institution also has a vice-chairman, two full-time members, part-time members and ex-officio members. A secretary-level officer is appointed as the CEO of the institution. It has the mandate to function in “close cooperation, consultation and coordination” with the central ministries and state governments.
Modi’s address was crucial to outline his vision as the first Chairperson of the Aayog about the new policy panel and the takeaways his dream panel offered. He expressed hope that through the mechanism of the NITI Aayog, India could move away from “one size fits all” schemes, and “forge a better match between the schemes and the needs of the states”— a pointed reference to the attributes that caused failure of the erstwhile Planning Commission.
Modi set the ball rolling by forming sub-groups of chief ministers under the NITI Aayog to:
- Suggest further rationalisation of 66 centrally funded schemes
- Take a call on whether to bring down the number of such schemes, or even transfer some of them to the states.
- Recommend how the Aayog can “promote skill development and creation of skilled manpower within states”
- Decide on “institutional mechanisms to be evolved” and technological inputs needed to make Swachh Bharat a part of long-term commitment.
Modi wants Aayog to play the role of a think tank that ensures a better state-centre relationship to:
- Forge a model of cooperative and competitive federalism “whereby the Centre and the States – Team India – can come together to resolve differences and chart a common course to progress and prosperity.”
- Advance the national cause by jointly defining it.
- Work in the spirit of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.”
- Aim at high growth rate and eliminate poverty.
It may be mentioned that the Planning Commission had failed to check the frequent delays in project implementation in the absence of timely decision. The new commission offers scope to expedite project implementation through proposed appointment of an officer in the state governments to monitor and ensure a smooth resolution of pending issues.
Besides, setting up of Regional Councils under NITI Aayog would help forge cooperation among two or more states “facing common set of problems or amicably settle disputes that delay progress”. With specific mandates for specific time periods, these councils “could catalyse” tourism-related joint projects across member states.
NITI Aayog will house a number of specialised wings, including:
- Research Wing to develop in-house sectoral expertise
- Consultancy Wing to provide “a marketplace of panels of expertise and funding for Central and State Governments to tap into”
- Team-India Wing comprising representatives from every state and ministry to serve as “a permanent platform for national collaboration”
Yet, not all Chief Ministers were on the same footing with regard to the shape to be given to the NITI Aayog. Consider the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s criticism of the Aayog’s focus on market economy than plans! Many Congress chief ministers, in fact, wanted to revert to the Planning Commission-type set up, particularly for determining annual plans and transfer of funds to states. Several state governments have raised their voice against arbitrary cuts in Centrally Sponsored Schemes.