Setting the stage for a prolonged confrontation, the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states on Sunday aggressively opposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to replace the Planning Commission with another body. They called the proposal “half-baked” and the move “unilateral” and argued that the plan panel — a symbol of Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist approach to economic development — is not a “socialist hangover” as it being made out to be.
“The perception that the Planning Commission is a socialist hangover and has no role in a market economy is not correct,” Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said. Similarly, his Uttarakhand counterpart Harish Rawat said, “Even in a market economy, there are aspects that need planning as they require cooperation of multiple layers of government cutting across different sectors as also the private sector and the civil society.”
“Perhaps, what is required is to reorient and reform the Commission to meet the needs of the current era. I would like to emphasise that such replacement, without carefully devising the new structure to meet the obligations of our polity and economy, is likely to do more harm than good,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
The Congress and its chief ministers accused the BJP government of announcing the decision unilaterally which they said went against the grain of the federal structure.
“The central government’s arbitrary decision to dismantle the Planning Commission, without convening a meeting of the NDC or consulting the states undermines the federal structure,” Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said and called the proposal “half baked”.
Rawat said, “One of the ostensible reasons was to promote greater federalism and grant autonomy to the states. However, it would have been a better convention if the states had been consulted before making such announcement.”
While the opposition of the Congress chief ministers was on expected lines, it seems the party high command had provided them the counter points as there was an amazing similarity in their views, not just on broad ideas but also in sentence construction.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma called the move short-sighted and dangerous. “There may have been shortcomings of the Planning Commission but it also had inherent strengths. What the Planning Commission needs is re-orientation and not renaming or a political burial,” he said. Sharma warned that the move will have long term adverse impact on Central-State relations.
Apart from opposing the move, the Congress chief ministers also went into the nitty-gritty. Rawat said, “In the social sector, issues of women and children cannot be assigned to a single ministry. Any single ministry on its own cannot bring down infant mortality rate or maternal mortality rate… The proposed move to distribute the functions of Planning Commission to Ministry of Finance and Subject Matter Ministries will only result in loss of overarching vision and perspective.”
The ministries in their silos, he said, will not be able to appreciate anything beyond their vision. The Planning Commission, he said, provided the checks and balances. Rawat suggested that the instead of creating a new body, the Planning Commission be given statutory status, states be given proper representation in it and dispute resolution mechanism be inserted.