Sending ripples across sectors, Arvind Panagariya resigned Tuesday as vice-chairman of the Niti Aayog. The 64-year old economist is learnt to have requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relieve him of his duties by August 31 to allow him to return to Columbia University as a professor of economics. The exit of Panagariya, who joined as the first vice-chairman of Niti Aayog in January 2015, is the second by a high profile academic-economist after former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s decision to quit as India’s banking regulator to return to academics in the US.
Speaking to reporters, Panagariya said the university was not giving him further extension and he would be leaving Niti Aayog on August 31. He said he had met Modi two months ago to convey the situation, but was in touch with the authorities there to try and get his leave extended. With the university not agreeing to his requests, Panagariya said he had decided to return. “If I were at 40, then I would have got a job anywhere… the kind of job I have at Columbia is almost impossible to get at this age,” he said.
Professor of Indian Political Economy and Economics at Columbia University, Panagariya was on a leave for a period of two years, which the university extended it by another one year. Incidentally, his CV posted on the Columbia University website saw a recent updation in April 2017. He became the first vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, which was created in January 2015, replacing the 65-year-old Planning Commission. Panagariya was, however, appointed without a fixed tenure.
In case of the erstwhile Planning Commission, the term of deputy chairman was co-terminus with that of the Prime Minister, chairperson of the body. Initially, the newly-created position of vice-chairman was of a minister of state, which was subsequently upgraded to a cabinet rank.
Unlike the Planning Commission, while the Niti Aayog no longer gets involved in resource allocation for development programmes, the body functions as a link between the Centre and state governments in planning and implementing reforms.
Under Panagariya’s watch, Niti Aayog had prepared a 15-year vision document in April this year, setting economic and social goals for the Union and state governments and a three-year action plan that proposed executive action across sectors. Before he took up the Niti Aayog assignment, Panagariya was a professor at Columbia University and a chief economist at the Asian Development Bank. A PhD in economics from Princeton University, Panagariya was a protege of trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati and had earlier worked for the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.