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Toothless tiger

Ahead of the Centre’s first full year budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday chaired the maiden meeting of ‘think thank’ NITI Aayog, a body that has come to replace the Planning Commission. Modi sought ideas from various economists on how to create jobs, attract greater investments and finance infrastructure to put India back on the path of high growth. Suggestions were also made on how to boost domestic savings and the state of the agriculture sector, besides discussing ways on how to effectively implement many of the government’s flagship schemes. On the question of whether statutory status would be given to NITI Aayog, however, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely said that no such provision shall be made.

This assertion does not bode well for the new body.  On the first day of the New Year Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the replacement of the 64-year-old Planning Commission (Yojana Aayog) with the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. The government claims that the new body would be more like a think tank, providing crucial inputs that will lead to decentralisation in its plan-making and implementation process. The government’s statement also makes a very pronounced reference to ushering in cooperative federalism for greater cooperation between States and the Centre. The now defunct Planning Commission too drew from the spirit of cooperative federalism. The 9th Plan document on centre-state relationship states, “Harmonious and cooperative relations between different States are as important as that between the Centre and the States for the healthy functioning of our federation.” The new body proposes to address these fractious issues through a governing council, which would have all the chief ministers and lieutenant governors on board. 

The older body too was answerable to the National Development Council (NDC), which had a similar composition to the governing council of the NITI Aayog. The NDC remained ineffective as the government intended to have it that way. The accountability of the Planning Commission towards the NDC was only in word and never in spirit. The challenge before the new body would also be the same. The biggest concern is that the new body does not have the power to allot funds and approve schemes, which may mean the same being concentrated into the hands of the union government. Without statutory powers the NITI Aayog will continue to remain a toothless tiger.
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