NEW DELHI: The Centre is likely to make sweeping changes in the upper echelons of the NITI Aayog, the country’s premier planning think tank in order to sharpen its focus on the economic agenda.
This could happen at the time of the Cabinet expansion, expected to happen after the Monsoon Session of Parliament ends on August 11. The Narendra Modi government aims to fill up long-pending vacancies in NITI Aayog and carry out a performance-linked reshuffle and expansion.
“Sluggish industrial outputs and the dipping employment scene have sounded alarm bells in the administration. Knowing that the two are electorally sensitive, a vigorous search is on for a suitable person to be appointed as a Member, thus filling a crucial vacancy,” sources explained.
Currently, the NITI Aayog has only three members instead of the mandated four. The recent controversy over taxing agriculture income, which emanated from the NITI Aayog, is learnt to have miffed the PM. Hence, an existing Member could be dropped.
A leadership change in NITI Aayog is likely, with vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya shifting base to an exalted position in North Block, sources said. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s focus has never been needed so much on national defence with the India-China border stand-off weighing so highly on the PM’s mind. Significantly, the corridors of power are abuzz with the prospect of Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian becoming the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog. His term ends in October.
Tea leaves are being read in NITI Aayog about the government’s move to hand over CEO Amitabh Kant’s pet digital transaction project to the Ministry of Information and Technology. Sources also said he could even be replaced with a senior bureaucrat whose credentials in dealing with economic issues are proven.
When the NITI Aayog took the place of the Nehru-era Planning Commission—but without the power to allocate funds to states—it was expected to provide the intellectual backbone to both the Central ministries and states for the socio-economic wellbeing of the people. The PM had hoped it would bring in true cooperative and competitive federalism in the country.
It was established with much fanfare by an executive order which envisaged a two-tier structure with the PM as its Chairman and the 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 mandated NITI Aayog will have a full-time vice-chairman and four permanent Members.
However, for the first two years it had only two—Bibek Debroy and Ramesh Chand. Former DRDO chief VK Saraswat, who joined as a Member only in January 2015, was made the chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University this year thus forcing him to share two responsibilities. This is likely to change soon.
NITI Lags On
■ Long-term, medium-term and short-term vision documents (works still in progress despite termination of 12th Five Year Plan on March 31, 2017)
■ Fresh Industrial Policy (Work still in progress)
■ National Energy Policy (still at consultation level)
■ Vacuum in Centre-state coordination on economic issues
■ Agricultural Reforms