NEW DELHI: Did NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya quit following a complete breakdown of his working relations with the think-tank panel’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Amitabh Kant? Multiple sources in the panel confirmed that the two top leaders hardly worked in tandem and thus, created competitive power centres.
The simmering discord within was laid bare on April 23 when Rashtrapati Bhavan hosted the third Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog. At the meeting, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar created a flutter when he asked: how the Governing Council could approve the ‘Three Years Action Plan’ when the members had not been given its copies in advance? Prime Minister Narendra Modi at that point intervened, after he noted that the action plan was just a draft awaiting further discussions, sources said.
At the third Governing Council meeting of NITI Aayog, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to sources, had noted that the action plan was just a draft awaiting further discussions. “By late evening there was a commotion as an order was issued to destroy all copies of the action plan since ‘draft’ wasn’t mentioned on them.
But it was too late in the day for course-correction,” a highly placed source in the government said. He added the team under Panagariya had prepared ‘Three Years Action Plan and Seven Years Perspective Plan’, which didn’t find favour with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “The end result was a hurriedly-prepared Three Years Action Plan, which didn’t please any and exposed two years of wasted time of the NITI Aayog,” sources said.
Multiple sources noted that while the office of vice-chairman should have commanded loyalties of all the members and bureaucrats, the office of CEO created a parallel power centre in the panel. “The CEO apparently created the impression that he had direct access in the PMO which helped him command the loyalties of the bureaucrats. Panagariya was seen too soft to give a unified command line. Thus, Kant steered NITI Aayog to works like promotion of digital payment and other short-term event-oriented issues, which didn’t help the think-tank panel to deliver on the challenges given to it by the PM—giving the economy a solid direction,” added sources.
The mother of all defects in the NITI Aayog is probably the manner in which it has been constituted. Its predecessor, the Planning Commission was constituted through executive resolution and with this came into being the National Development Council (NDC) comprising all the Chief Ministers and administrators of Union Territories (UTs) with Prime Minister being its chairman.
The NDC, being the highest decision-making body of the country on economic matters, was vested with the power to dissolve itself. “The government scrapped Planning Commission, but the NDC exists as no meeting has yet been called for its dissolution. Until that happens, NITI Aayog cannot get functional power,” sources said.
NITI Aayog without any real power drew all its authority from the Prime Minister and his office. “Thus the actual problem began, which stunted Aayog’s growth. Whoever had better access to PMO and the Prime Minister and those who could flaunt it better had upper hand in the functioning of the NITI Aayog, which made it an ad-hoc body. The CEO proved smatter and dominated the panel, squeezing space for the academician Panagariya,” sources added.