The prime minister spoke from the ramparts of the Red Fort this morning, putting to rest all speculation about the future of the Planning Commission. I write as a member of 10 years standing of this apex think-tank. The Planning Commission was the brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru, who created it by cabinet order; it has no legislative sanction.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the country’s highest platform, its 68th Independence Day, to announce a new paradigm for this “institution”. He carefully avoided the use of the word “commission”, thereby removing the nomenclature of “Planning Commission” from government files. The new forum, he said, will be formed with states as primary stakeholders in the grand project of planning for the country. He was categorical that the old structure will not serve in the new world, where states are powerful entities and all have to pull together. In 2014, the Centre can no longer retain the driver’s seat.
When I look back at the last decade, I see evidence of the commission’s phenomenal output, especially in reports of ground realities and what needs to be done. These were not produced in the air-conditioned rooms of Yojana Bhavan or other boardrooms, but in the remotest parts of India: in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu; Kokrajhar, Assam; Halol and Kalol, Gujarat; Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh; Alwar, Rajasthan; Bilaspur, Chhatisgarh — I could go on and on. In his speech today, the prime minister also spoke about “another India” that he wants to see integrated with the rest of India, across the digital divide.
Whether it is time to change the aakaar of the Planning Commission was feverishly discussed within Yojana Bhavan during our term in UPA 2. Blueprints were drawn, experts consulted, papers written. We ensured that the process was inclusive; it involved members, senior officers, researchers — anyone from within the system and many from outside, such as NGOs, corporations and above all, the states. At joint meetings of the Planning Commission and state planning boards, we discussed alternative paradigms. At his last meeting with us, then prime minister Manmohan Singh asked us for new thinking and new directions in planning to meet contemporary challenges.
This is a watershed time for the commission. It is also time to reflect on its role, especially in the 10 years I witnessed its operations from the inside, and what needs to be retained within whatever form the new entity takes. The Planning Commission was to be an “essay in persuasion”, as Manmohan Singh said, for the states and sectoral ministries. Several platforms for this were provided within its framework. There were annual plan discussions with the states, quarterly continued…