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Plan panel may see Modi-fication

Plan panel may see Modi-fication
Highlights

Plan Panel May See Narendra Modi-Fication. For all the frenzied speculation in media and in political and business circles, the Planning Commission, is not likely to be scrapped. Its role may be changed, even watered down. But a closure of the Yojana Bhavan is not on the cards.

No move to close down Yojana Bhavan

New Delhi: For all the frenzied speculation in media and in political and business circles, the Planning Commission, is not likely to be scrapped. Its role may be changed, even watered down. But a closure of the Yojana Bhavan is not on the cards.

Informed sources say the new government may throw light on the issue in Parliament. It is likely that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may make a mention of it in the annual budget.

The reasoned political assessment as of now is that despite their known criticism of the role the Plan Panel has played, the new leadership is unlikely to sweep out an institution that has been established in 1952 in accordance with Article 39 of the Constitution which is a part of Directive Principles of state policy.

That the Plan Panel has for the first time been excluded from the budget-making exercise has given spurt to the speculation. But it is more likely that the new government proposes to restrict its future role.

Neither PM Narendra Modi nor Jaitley is known for rash decisions. It was being surmised that they would rather be seen as institution-builders, not breakers, said a political analyst. Much of the speculation has been sourced to some officials with perceived leanings towards the ruling BJP who may have gone overboard in their enthusiasm while leaking the information to select media.

These officials, it may be recalled, had consistently fed the media with documents, reports and statistics that painted the UPA-II in a negative light for long and went fast-forward during the election campaign earlier this year.

With the UPA government no longer in office, the new dispensation, while applying the correctives, would not be rash. “You do not throw the baby with the bath tub. That is the rationale behind the continuance of the plan body in a role that reflects the needs of the present and the future,” said an official who did not want to be named. Sources point to the “Western bias” in some of the reports, one of them circulated by an international wire service that talked of India’s “attempts to mimic the Soviet command economy during the infancy of its Independence.”

The “cold war” touch in narrating India’s past efforts at development is evident in welcoming a decision that is yet to be taken “as the starkest symbol yet of Modi's determination to junk the Fabian socialist-leaning economic policies set in train by the first PM Jawaharlal Nehru.”

There has undoubtedly been criticism of the Commission playing favourites in the past. But those who have seen it at work point out that Gujarat, to which Modi belongs, and Punjab, from where Jaitley hails, were among the long-time ‘favourites’, irrespective of the political dispensation in power.

They got more funds because they could spend. They would go to the Commission with well-conceived proposals and with evidence of past allocations well utilized.

The criticism of these two states, besides Maharashtra and TN being ‘favoured’ is not new. It has come from the populous Hindi heartland that has not always succeeded in utilizing the plan funds that were allocated in the past.

Among the alleged “holy cows” are J&K and the northeastern states for whom the Commission has in the past gone out of the way to allocate funds and approve projects to accelerate development in areas that are afflicted by militancy.

The Plan Panel recently came under severe criticism for the alleged use of large funds to renovate two toilets in Yojana Bhavan and when Dr Montek Singh Ahluvalia, the last Deputy Chairman justified low per capita income of the poor in urban and rural areas.

The bashing of Yojana Bhavan has also come from pro-reform lobbies and the business houses who have opposed any type of planning and restrictions placed on their projects on the basis of environmental concerns and unrestrained exploitation of natural resources – both key areas under the plan body.

Aware of these lobbies and pressure groups, and the role they have played in the past, the government is unlikely to oblige them by abolishing an institution that has done some good work in the past, with potential for the future.

Moreover, it has been a repository of long-term visualisations and assessments that are often ignored in day-to-day management and short-sightedness of the political class. A well placed source surmised that what was not attempted by the Atal govt for six years would not be sought to be rushed into by the Modi Government.

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