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Remedy worse than malady

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Remedy Worse Than Malady. In scrapping Planning Commission without an alternative in place, Modi has prescribed a remedy that is worse than the...

In scrapping Planning Commission without an alternative in place, Modi has prescribed a remedy that is worse than the malady. He further compounded this original mistake by going public to seek people’s suggestions about the shape of the new institution

There would be hardly anyone who would claim that the Planning Commission did not need reform. Given the changed socio-economic circumstances, and the challenges that India faces in the 21st century, this institution mooted in the 1930s by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in the pre-independence days had to be reformed.

This need was also expressed by the former Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, who had described it as a “bit flabby.” But in deciding to completely abolish it without an alternative in place, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prescribed a remedy that is worse than the malady. Then he has compounded this original mistake by going public to seek people’s suggestions about the shape of the new institution. We have seen that this Arvind Kejriwal route to governance with people’s participation is a sure recipe for disaster. In a democracy, the people express their opinion once in five years to elect their representative, and after that the representatives have to govern.

More so with Modi, who had presented himself to the people all through the triumphant election campaign that he has all the answers to the people’s problems. So, whatever the rhetoric associated with people’s participation in governance, ab initio the decision to invite people’s suggestions is by itself a clear admission that the decision-makers find themselves at a loss to come to the desired conclusion on their own. Clearly, when he announced that drastic step from the ramparts of Red Fort, Modi did not have a clear-cut alternative in place. The right course of action would have been to create an alternative institution before going public with the decision to abolish Planning Commission.

This is not an ordinary administrative decision like replacing one bureaucrat with another, but a major step that has far-reaching consequences for the economy and the centre-state relations. When Netaji mooted the Planning idea, he had appointed a committee under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to study the issue, and on becoming the Prime Minister the latter implemented the idea. Great minds like Meghnad Saha, P C Mahalanobis, D R Gadgil have made invaluable contributions to the planning process and the resultant economic growth. The checks and balances, and as well as the independent evaluation processes instituted by them have played a major role in eliminating a lot of discrepancies that would have otherwise distorted the economic development of the country.

The Planning Commission’s major power is the allocation of plan resources among states, and without this power any other structure in place would be like just another think-tank. Modi’s imperative to do away with a Nehru-era institution is quite understandable. His ideological mentor, the Sangh also has a pathological antipathy against all things Nehruvian. But then going ahead without creating an alternative is not exactly the kind of administrative response that is expected from someone who had ruled a state for 12 years with a steady hand. After denouncing his predecessors, Modi has set the bar a bit higher for himself.

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