NEW DELHI: NITI Aayog, the successor of yesteryear’s Planning Commission, could be slowly and steadily losing its prominence as India’s premier think tank. The Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to Prime Minister, by picking up 10 issues of broader significance, has emerged as a competitor to it.
While the EAC to PM chairman Bibek Debroy sought to downplay concerns by stating that he would seek to supplement and compliment efforts of others, there are no takers for it in NITI Aayog. “The EAC to PM has stated that it would be giving recommendations which will be reflected in the upcoming Budget. It has picked up issues that have been deliberated within NITI Aayog, on which recommendations have been shared with the government. NITI Aayog, on PM’s directions, is working on issues identified by the EAC. What is it supposed to do now?” asked a top official of the think tank.
In an indication that the two panels would be competing, Debroy said the government should stick to fiscal consolidation, in contrast to NITI Aayog vice-chairman’s reported stance that fiscal target could be relaxed. “There is no harm in relaxing fiscal target to allow more capital expenditure,” Dr Rajiv Kumar had stated after taking over from Arvind Panagaria.
The 10 issues the EAC has taken up include economic growth, employment and job creation, informal sector and its integration, fiscal framework, monetary policy, public expenditure, institutions of economic governance, agriculture and animal husbandry, patterns of consumption and production, and social sector.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has constituted a task force on employment under Kumar; the EAC has also taken up the same issue for deliberation. The EAC will call experts from sectors whom NITI Aayog also banks on for preparing reports.
NITI Aayog under Kumar has been readying an action agenda to spur the economic growth and has prepared recommendations in areas to be deliberated upon by the EAC. Finance Minister Arun Jaitely had unveiled the Three Years Action Plan prepared by NITI Aayog under Panagaria, which included plans of actions on almost all issues, including doubling of farmers’ income.
In a further indication of NITI Aayog shrinking its domain, sources said the think-tank panel has shut down 15 regional offices, which monitored and evaluated schemes the Centre implemented in partnership with state governments. “The offices in Thiruvananthpuram, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Shimla, Lucknow, Patna, Kolkata, Guwahati and Ahmedabad have been shut down. Officials were asked to report to Delhi by October 3,” sources said.
A NITI Aayog official said that since a number of Centrally-sponsored schemes have been phased out on the recommendations of the CM's panel headed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the regional offices were not left with much responsibilities.