Insights into Editorial: Is NITI Aayog relevant?
The Government had replaced Planning Commission with institution NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India). The reason had mentioned that Specific to the planning process, there is a need to separate as well as energize the distinct ‘process’ of governance from the ‘strategy’ of governance.
An important evolutionary change from the past will be replacing a centre-to-state one-way flow of policy by a genuine and continuing partnership with the states.
The institution must have the necessary resources, knowledge, skills and, ability to act with speed to provide the strategic policy vision for the government as well as deal with contingent issues.
Arguments that supports NITI Aayog relevance:
- The NITI Aayog was formed to bring fresh ideas to the government. Its first mandate is to act as a think tank.
- It can be visualised as a funnel through which new and innovative ideas come from all possible sources — industry, academia, civil society or foreign specialists — and flow into the government system for implementation.
- Initiatives like Ayushmaan Bharat, our approach towards artificial intelligence and water conservation measures, and the draft bill to establish the National Medical Commission to replace the Medical Council of India have all been conceptualised in NITI Aayog, and are being taken forward by the respective Ministries.
- Acted as an Action Tank:
NITI Aayog acted as an action tank rather than just a think tank. By collecting fresh ideas and sharing them with the Central and State governments, it pushes frontiers and ensures that there is no inertia, which is quite natural in any organisation or institution.
NITI Aayog also work to cut across the silos within the government.
For example, India still has the largest number of malnourished children in the world.
NITI Aayog is best placed to achieve this convergence and push the agenda forward in the form of POSHAAN ABHIYAAN.
NITI Aayog is also bringing about a greater level of accountability in the system.
NITI Aayog has established a Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office which collects data on the performance of various Ministries on a real-time basis. The data are then used at the highest policymaking levels to establish accountability and improve performance.
This performance- and outcome-based real-time monitoring and evaluation of government work can have a significant impact on improving the efficiency of governance.
Using such data, we also come up with performance-based rankings of States across various verticals to foster a spirit of competitive federalism.
NITI Aayog play an important role of being the States’ representative in Delhi, and facilitate direct interactions with the line ministries, which can address issues in a relatively shorter time.
The Atal Innovation Mission, which is also established under NITI Aayog, has already done commendable work in improving the innovation ecosystem in India.
It has established more than 1,500 Atal Tinkering Labs in schools across the country and this number is expected to go up to 5,000 by March 2019.
It has also set up 20 Atal Incubation Centres for encouraging young innovators and start-ups.
Arguments against for the NITI Aayog:
- NITI Aayog cannot transform a deeply unequal society into a modern economy that ensures the welfare of all its citizens, irrespective of their social identity.
- It has no role in influencing public or private investment.
- It does not seem to have influence in policymaking with long-term consequences. For instance, demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax.
- If it is a think-tank, it has to maintain a respectable intellectual distance from the Govt. of the day.
- Instead, we see uncritical praise of the Govt-sponsored schemes / programmes.
- It is not able to answer specific questions like, why 90% are working in unorganised sector? and more over as on date, more and more informalisation is taking place in the organised sector.
- Labour force participation rate of women is also declining, when neighbours like Bangladesh are registering an increase.
NITI Aayog is supposed to be a think tank. This implies that while generating new ideas, it maintains a respectable intellectual distance from the government of the day.
Some of Questions need to be answered:
- How can a country like India transform itself with new ideas and strategies if it doesn’t have a paradigm of planning for development? How can it lift its poor?
- How can we ensure that every working member of the Indian population has a decent job with at least a minimum wage and social/employment security?
- Why doesn’t it occur to the political leadership to ask why more than 90% of those in the workforce slog in the unorganised sector in small farms and tiny non-farm establishments with two-thirds of the total being working poor?
- Why don’t they ask why more than half the workers in the organised sector end up as ‘insecure’ or ‘informal’ labour?
- Why is the labour force participation rate of women so low and declining when neighbours like Bangladesh have registered an increasing trend?
- Why do the Dalits and Adivasis continue to be at the bottom of the ladder in every conceivable social and economic indicator of well-being?
- Why do regional, gender and other inequalities based on social identity keep increasing?
(The above raised questions can be used in various critical evaluations that will enhance critical appraisal.)
India requires planning that addresses social justice, reduces regional and gender inequalities, and ensures environmental sustainability.
Need of the hour is NITI Aayog will need to evolve into a much stronger organisation than it is now.
Planning for a developing economy can be abandoned, but only at its own peril. The implication for a complex country like India that became an industrial economy late is that planning would, and should, remain a central function of the state in the medium run.
However, we would contend that the Planning Commission, unfortunately, did not fulfil its function adequately. NITI Aayog will need to evolve into a much stronger organisation than it is.
Learning from the experience of the now-industrialised countries, the Chinese state ensured that its State Planning Commission became more powerful in the state apparatus.
China became the “factory of the world” — backed by an industrial policy driven by the National Development and Reforms Commission.
Similarly, in all East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, industrial policy was planned and executed as part of five-year or longer-term plans.
While East Asian and Southeast Asian countries still had, and have, five-year plans, what was also integral to their planning was productive use of labour, their most abundant factor, through an export-oriented manufacturing strategy.
It was this strategy that was lacking in India’s planning.
Way Forward: Two changes required are:
If NITI Aayog is to implement such a strategy within a planning framework in India, two major changes in governance structures are needed.
First, planning will have to become more decentralised, but within a five-year plan framework.
Second, bureaucracy will need to change from generalist to specialist, and its accountability will have to be based on outcomes achieved, not inputs or funds spent.
NITI Aayog should spell out how these reforms will be implemented.
If it succeeds, NITI Aayog could emerge as an agent of change over time and contribute to the government’s agenda of improving governance and implementing innovative measures for better delivery of public services.
With its unique and vibrant work culture, NITI Aayog remains an integral and relevant component of the government’s plans to put in place an efficient, transparent, innovative and accountable governance system in the country.