In his farewell speech to the Planning Commission, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said India’s growth story is “work in progress” and there is still a long way to go.
“India’s development story is a work in progress…But there is a lot of distance that is still to be covered,” he said in his last interaction with members of the Planning Commission.
Singh, who is Chairman of the Commission, made a case for reorienting the body to remain relevant in the globalised world.
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“With an increasingly open and liberalised economy with a greater reliance on market mechanisms, we need to reflect on what the role of the Planning Commission needs to be in this new world,” Singh said while recalling his long association with the Commission.
Expressing satisfaction over the working of the Commission during the UPA’s 10-year rule, the Prime Minister hoped the panel would “subject itself to a critical review and will continue to play a leading role in the policy debate in government and in the development of our nation.”
The Commission, Singh said, needs to evaluate its approach to problems and challenges in the evolving economic scenario.
“Are we still using tools and approaches which were designed for a different era? Have we added on new functions and layers without any restructuring of the more traditional activities in the Commission?” Singh asked as he flagged some of the issues.
Singh’s association with the Commission started in April 1980, when he became a member-secretary. He was also Deputy Chairman of the body when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister.
Recalling his days as Finance Minister between 1991 and 1996, Singh said he had received the “unstinted support” of the then Planning Commission Deputy Chairman and current President Pranab Mukherjee.
“This was a period of tumultuous economic change, with the opening up of our economy, and there could have been no one better placed than Shri Mukherjee in leading this institution at that point,” he said.
During the past 10 years of UPA rule, the Commission had helped the government in charting a new growth path, improving efficiencies and building consensus.
“It has also helped shape many a debate, both in the Centre and at the state levels,” he added.
Lauding the initiatives taken by the Commission to reduce the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CCS), Singh said there was a need to prune them further.
“I believe that there is a strong case for restructuring CSS schemes to eliminate or minimise Central Government micro-management,” he said, adding the newly set up Independent Evaluation Office would generate evidence to better assess and restructure programmes in future.
Singh also recalled the work done by the Commission in generating consensus over various policy issues.
“In the context of a coalition government, the consensus building and problem resolution function of the Planning Commission has been a growing resource for the government,” he said.
The Commission, he added, also played a significant role in generating new ideas, resolving inter-ministerial differences and pursuing public-private partnerships as a strategy for infrastructure development.