Narendra Modi to rev up things at NITI Aayog with crucial meeting Thursday

In what can be seen as a major leg up for the NITI Aayog – to assume a greater role in governance – Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend a high level meeting with the think-tank on Thursday, to take stock of its varied assignments. His interaction with mandarins of the Aayog would largely focus on fine-tuning the 15-year vision document, that envisages long-term planning for the country.

The 15-year vision document – that will be enacted in the beginning of 2017-18 fiscal year – will replace the earlier five-year planning system, that has been followed for over six decades.

In effect, Modi’s second visit to the Yojana Bhavan – after he wound up its forerunner, the Planning Commission – is clearly aimed at turning the body into a “systems reform commission”. The meeting will also serve a secondary purpose – it will effectively put to rest all speculations about the possibility of vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya, being shifted to head the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Indeed Panagariya is saddled with far too serious tasks these days.

 Narendra Modi to rev up things at NITI Aayog with crucial meeting Thursday

File image of Narendra Modi. Getty Images.

A cursory look at the works assigned to the Aayog would be in order to ascertain the growing importance of the body in governance. For instance, the Aayog has been drawing a vision document which would set the guidelines for the country’s development. “We have been making plans that will take care of short term and long-term objectives,” said a senior official involved with the drafting of the vision document.

At the same time, the Aayog has been assigned the job of identifying the “structural bottlenecks” and devise a way to overcome them. In sectors like education, health, labour, agriculture, infrastructure and disinvestment of the Public Sector Units (PSUs), the Aayog’s role is becoming increasingly critical. The vision document will now also include internal security and defence – as they were not part of the earlier five-year plans.

The fact that the government is heavily banking on the Aayog’s brain-trust to devise and induce reforms, in order to create a healthy competition among the various states, speaks volumes of the body's growing importance.

For example, the Aayog has come up with a plan to measure a state’s performance on the basis of certain parameters – education, health, and basic necessities like drinking water and sanitation. Shortly, the states will be appraised on the basis of their performance. The details of their appraisal would be made public, like the report cards of students.

Though the performance will not be initially linked to the devolution of funds, the criteria can later be used to reward the performing states and penalise the non-performing states.

Apparently, the NITI Aayog will become a forum for regular interaction with the states, which may seek its support as a neutral umpire to advocate its case with the Centre. Though the Aayog does not have any influence over the devolution of funds, its prescription would have significant bearing on the manner in which funds would be allocated to the states. The Aayog would, at the same time, goad states to initiate reforms in land acquisition and labour laws to facilitate industrial growth.

In the agriculture sector, the Aayog has been pushing the states to initiate land reforms and digitisation of land records in order to avail the benefits of crop insurance and government’s assistance to improve farming. In certain states, the prevalence of share-cropping by tenants proved to be a major handicap to assist those who sustain on agriculture. The Aayog has been preparing a guideline for the states to initiate measures to help farmers, to get maximum benefits from the government’s schemes and improve their earnings.

The Aayog has also been particularly working overtime to create world-class university campuses all over the country. Officials of the Aayog are working in tandem with the University Grants Commission (UGC) to pave the way for foreign universities to invest in India, and set up campuses which can be comparable internationally. Similarly, the Aayog has been working on a comprehensive package to improve the quality of medical education in the country, by removing hurdles created by the likes of the medical council of India (MCI).

Another important task assigned to the Aayog is to find a transparent and effective way for the disinvestment of PSUs and to introduce efficiency in their functioning. By all indications, the government has been widening the mandate of the newly created institution, which is built on the ruins of the all powerful Planning Commission.

Quite unlike the planning body, the Yojana Aayog has now been modelled on the “systems reform commission” to identify and plug loopholes on a perpetual basis, and to act like a think-tank for the government. Modi’s meeting on Thursday would only reaffirm the growing importance of the Aayog.

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Updated Date: Jul 27, 2016 12:34:24 IST