I had earlier written a book on Indian development planning as an invited fellow at the World Institute for Development Economics in Helsinki. It was reasonably well received, running into a reprint and paperback. I was under pressure to revise it. The Planning Commission has been abolished. I thought it more appropriate to write a book on Indian economic policy for the current generation of students to prepare them for work in the economy as it unfolds. We need to develop a responsible critical tradition to analyse the policy stance of the current NDA government and earlier governments, as stated in official documents, and to see if actual policies have relationship with past statements in terms of concepts or programme details. The NDA government released, after considerable examination, the NITI Aayog’s Vision Statement up to 2020. The story in the main is that ‘Everything Changes; Nothing Really Does’. Well, almost. But politics does matter.
The growth strategy of the NDA is clearly stated. It is unequivocal and unconditional. The NDA was elected on a promise of abolishing planning. Strangely, the then Planning Commission decided to hold a meeting to which ‘experts’ were invited. I was also on the list. When I said I did not consider it a very useful way of spending my time to come for a meeting with necromaniacal intentions, I was told somewhat severely by the senior lady civil servant at the other end that the PMO had decided who should attend the meeting. Being somewhat traditional, I accepted, because in our day if the PMO asked you to do something, you fell flat on your face and did it. Sometime before that meeting, I had delivered the Invited Raj Krishna Memorial Lecture at my alma mater, the University Department of Economics in Jaipur, where both Raj Krishna, a well known agricultural economist with a global reach and me had taught, and past students and teachers included both of us, Raja Chelliah, who was a colleague, and others who had followed me in the Planning Commission, like C Rangarajan, GS Bhalla and Arvind Panagariya, among others.
A number of us argued that reform of the Planning Commission was an ongoing issue, in an economy following the Manmohan Singh 1991 liberalisation path. A more focused body concentrating on issues like energy, water and demographics, which have a long-term perspective, should be the agenda of the new body, as in China, after the State Planning Committee was replaced by the National Economic and Social Development Commission. The Planning Secretary put all this in a two-pager, which we understand was to be discussed in the NDC. In the Raj Krishna Lecture, I gave my take on what the work of the new body should look like if it was not decided to abolish planning. But, in fact, it was decided to abolish planning after a hurriedly called chief ministers’ meeting. The new body, called NITI Aayog, had a very amorphous agenda. To sum up, if the NITI Aayog was to be taken seriously, its agenda was, in my opinion, to be in demographics, energy, land and water, and like in China, it should also allocate resources for the long-term plan, which it was not mandated to.
The NITI Aayog, interestingly, decided that resource allocation or not, it would do planning, and in spite of planning being abolished and the finance minister allocating resources amongst states in his government’s schemes which now in the annual Budgets aim to allocate more money than by the UPA, it prepares three-year and seven-year plans. On rare occasions, the PM makes some resources available to them and asks them to allocate those. But most of the time, its advise is not contaminated with filthy lucre.
I have no problems with all this. But as an emeritus professor, I would be happy if I could write a chapter on planning in a textbook clearly. Neither the UPA nor the NDA helped me in being fair to the next generation. After all, we professors have to earn our pension.