NEW DELHI: The Centre is likely to make sweeping changes in the upper echelons of the NITI Aayog, the premier planning think tank, in order to sharpen its focus on the economic agenda. This could happen when the Union Cabinet is expanded, which is expected to happen after the monsoon session of Parliament.
The Narendra Modi government aims to fill long-pending vacancies in NITI Aayog and carry out a performance-linked reshuffle and expansion.
“Sluggish industrial output and dipping employment have sounded alarm bells in the administration. Knowing that the two parameters are electorally sensitive, a vigorous search is on for a suitable person to be appointed as member of NITI Aayog,” sources said.
Currently, NITI Ayog is one short of its mandated four members. The recent controversy over taxing agriculture income that emanated from the think tank is learnt to have miffed the Prime Minister. One existing member is expected to be dropped as a result.
Sources said a leadership change is also likely, with vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya shifting to an exalted position in North Block. Significantly, the corridors of power are abuzz with the prospect of chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian becoming vice-chairman of NITI-Aayog. His term ends in October.
The tea leaves are being read about a government move to hand over NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant’s pet digital transaction project to the Ministry of Information and Technology. Sources said he could even be replaced with a senior bureaucrat with proven credentials in dealing with economic issues.
When NITI Aayog was constituted to replace the Nehru-era Planning Commission — but without the power to allocate funds to states — it was expected to provide the intellectual backbone to the musculature of central and state government execution mechanisms. The PM had hoped it would bring in true cooperative and competitive federalism in the country.
The think tank was established with much fanfare by an executive order which envisaged a two-tier structure: the PM as chairman; and a Governing Council comprising all chief ministers and members. However, the Governing Council has met only twice since the NDA government came to power.
The executive order had mandated that NITI Aayog will have a full-time vice-chairman and four permanent members. However, for the first two years it has had only two members: Bibek Debroy and Ramesh Chand.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) chancellor V K Saraswat joined as a member, thus forcing him to shoulder two responsibilities. This is likely to change soon.