By Pradeep S Mehta and Amol Kulkarni
The Plan panel needs to reinvent itself as a professionally run organisation providing inputs to states
The new government means business and many of our institutions will be restructured. Empowered states would mean that the Planning Commission in its present form will undergo an overhaul to enable every state to grow without depending upon the mercy of the Central government. However, shutting down the Plan body will be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Just before the end of Congress rule, the Planning Commission underwent some soul searching but it was a perfunctory exercise. Five years ago when Arun Maira was appointed, he was asked to prepare a blueprint to turn the Plan body into a systems reform commission. His efforts did not succeed because of inertia and status quoism.
While reviewing the performance of the Commission, two fundamental issues strike upfront. First, is it efficiently carrying out its assigned roles? And second, are the roles attuned to the political and economic realities of the country? The answer is ‘no’ on both counts.
Far from cerebral
In its formative years, Planning Commission advisers were domain experts chosen through a stringent selection process. Now, bureaucratisation has become the norm. It has become a ministry without accountability to Parliament. The deputy chairman is a ‘minister’ with independent charge, with an secretary. Members are ranked as ‘ministers of state’ for protocol purposes and have no say in the personnel management of their divisions. It’s only when good, qualified advisers and staff are appointed that the Commission’s efficiency can improve.
Since it is run like a government department, the Commission’s members, staff and officers remain unaccountable and are not subject to performance evaluation and review. There is no attempt to adapt to changing realities. So, while the market structures and processes have marched ahead, the Commission remains stuck in the Central planning and state control warp.
The Modi Government has realised that there is an urgent need for the Commission to reform itself into a high quality, action oriented organisation. This will not be possible without integration of several vital institutions within the Commission.
Rigorous selection and evaluation processes must be put in place. Independent professionals should be allowed to compete with civil servants for appointments, and retired civil servants must be declared ineligible. A cadre of permanent staff and Members with deep understanding of specific areas must be developed to ensure high quality outputs.
The performance of Commission must be evaluated against a set of pre-determined identifiable targets. This would help in improving the efficiency of the Commission. The Commission should be capable of evolving with the needs of the economy, and its actions must be open to public scrutiny. The Commission should shift its focus from simple top-down planning to perspective planning based on a bottom-up approach. It should transform into an independent expert body working closely with central and state governments to analyse, evaluate and implement policies in relation to critical economic issues.
It also needs to function as a repository of knowledge across various areas of governance and critically the States.
To do all this, it needs to become a smaller tech-enabled Reforms and Development Commission with regional centres in our states. Through this network-based structure it could also facilitate cross fertilisation of both good and bad practices from one to the other state.
Only when Yojana Aayog is transformed into Sudhaar and Vikas Aayog can its place in the prevailing political-economic scenario be justified.
Mehta is the secretary-general of CUTS International, where Kulkarni is a policy analyst