RSS' economic wing questions NITI Aayog's contribution and difference it has made in 2 years

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) economic wing — Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) — has questioned the role and two-year contribution of government’s policy think-tank NITI Aayog. As a conclusion of the day-long round table of its review meeting on the performance of NITI Aayog in New Delhi on Tuesday, SJM asked, "What differences has NITI Aayog made in these two years?"

While reviewing NITI Aayog's work in the areas of agriculture, GM seed, health care and poverty alleviation, the RSS affiliate made scathing remarks.

"There seems no synergy between the political leadership (NDA government) and the Aayog. The pro-poor approach that Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised upon while announcing the setting up of NITI Aayog, is nowhere visible in Aayog’s functioning," SJM national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan told Firstpost, after the meeting.

Besides raising red flag over NITI Aayog’s handling of core issues like agriculture, health and poverty, Sangh parivar’s economic wing also questioned whether the Aayog had succeeded in honoring the spirit of its basic principles as laid down by Modi while forming the policy think tank.  

“The prime minister replaced Planning Commission by NITI Aayog, as he wanted to bring in innovative and out-of-the-box thinking, cooperative federalism, bottom-to-top approach, rather than having an outdated bureaucratic system, where decisions were taken inside air conditioned chambers, divorced from reality. This roundtable was a stock-taking of the working of the Aayog and after the initial reviews, it seems that NITI Aayog is living in the shadow of erstwhile Planning Commission and globalisation,” Mahajan, who chaired the meeting pointed out.    

Five key takeaways from Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s review

On GM seed:

NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya. PTI

NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya. PTI

SJM observed that the policy think tank in its paper had mentioned that use of GM Mustard seed won’t have any adverse impact on health and environment.    

“BT Cotton farmers committed suicide, which led to a debate about the suitability of BT Cotton and GM technology in India. It is expected that the GM technology should be banned, but, surprisingly, Aayog has suggested that India should adopt it,” SJM observed.

Mahajan questioned: “NITI Aayog in its paper has blindly supported the use of GM Mustard seed. Not a single state has supported it and it’s still under discussion. Parliamentary Standing Committee has already opposed it and the matter is in the court. Scientific findings have proved GM mustard as bad for human health, environment and for the farmers. Are we subservient to multi-national companies (MNCs) pushing for GM seeds?”       

On healthcare:  

SJM observed: ‘NITI Dialogue Paper on Health Sector shows the NITI Aayog is not in favour of free healthcare and strongly recommends dismantling the price control of essential medicines, higher role of private sector and insurance-based model to be offered by private players for health services to the people’.

“The views in the paper are in contrast to the redrafted National Health Policy, which proposed free healthcare. On the one hand, we talk about reducing prices of drugs, and on the other, the Aayog says take away drug price fixing powers vested in the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. Of the total Indian population, 30% still can’t buy a low-priced Paracetamol tablet. Should we allow our medical and healthcare system to be completely market-oriented, so as to get more FDIs and let people die in the name of growth?” asked Mahajan.

On poverty alleviation:

SJM in its review alleged that NITI Aayog has defended Tendulkar Committee’s benchmark to define poverty, rather than working out afresh.

“It’s like old wine in new bottle. NITI Aayog has defended Planning Commission’s poverty determinant. Earlier, the BJP had strongly opposed the then Planning Commission under UPA II that pegged the ‘Below Poverty Line’ at Rs 32 per capita per day, but now Aayog is speaking like Montek Singh Ahluwalia. There is no novelty in their approach and those who’re into policy formulation are unable to feel what poverty is,” remarked Mahajan.

On agriculture:

SJM alleged that NITI Aayog has no roadmap on ‘doubling farmers’ income.

“They have no roadmap for doubling farmers’ income or on how we can have agricultural growth. Instead the way they are pushing for the GM seeds, shows them as supporters of globalization,” the SJM observed.

On employment generation:

Mahajan questioned, “Why the SD Gupta committee report prepared during Atal Bihari Vajpayee government on employment generation and mentions in detail about industrialization to bring growth in jobs, hasn’t yet been implemented? What’s the role of NITI Aayog in this direction?”   

The roundtable

Besides SJM, the roundtable was participated by former CAG VN Kaul, noted economists, policy analysts, environment activists, BJP leaders, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and NITI Aayog representatives.

“NITI Aayog stands for National Institution for Transforming India, but its 7 Pillars of Effective Governance approach seems to be a failure, as it couldn’t yet bring the required transformation. The body has failed to live up to expectations towards India's economic planning by making it more indigenous,” the SJM observed.     

What Niti Aayog says?

While, NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy briefly attended the pre-lunch session, its vice chairman Arvind Panagariya in a mail expressed his inability to participate in the wake of budget preparations. “I look forward to meeting you in the future to hear about the deliberations,” he said in his mail.

“Besides, a task force preparing a report on poverty alleviation, various stakeholders have been consulted in preparing the draft of a land leasing policy, and a farmer friendly Bill, which will be tabled in the next session of Parliament. NITI Aayog will come up with a comprehensive digital economy initiative soon,” a NITI Aayog representative told Firstpost.

What’s next?

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch will send the performance review report to the PM and organs of the government. It was suggested that the RSS affiliate should have quarterly meetings with NITI Aayog to review its working and Aayog’s members should be present.   

“Nobody is talking about the working vis-à-vis performance of NITI Ayog. This is the duty of the political class, but they are talking about other things like demonetisation. Our review meeting was not to criticize the Aayog, but to find a way forward through a democratic process of discussion,” added Mahajan.