In 2004, when UPA 1 came to power former prime minister Manmohan Singh asked deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia to create a delivery mechanism to ensure that the government’s economic programmes benefit the poor. Ten years down the line even the panel would agree that it has not been able to fulfil that mandate, though it cannot be solely blamed for such a result. However, along the way, the plan panel, which was set up in 1950 to advise and provide guidance for the formulation of India’s five-year plans, annual plans and state government plans, has been accused of creating hurdles in the path of India’s progress. The naysayers not only include Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also some of the former ministers in the UPA. On Monday, the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), which ironically is attached to and funded by the plan panel, asked the Prime Minister’s Office to abolish the Commission and instead set up a ‘Reform and Solution Commission’ as a government think tank through an Act of Parliament.
Calling the plan panel a “control panel”, the IEO echoed the current government’s view on the matter, saying that the Commission “in its current form and function” is a “hindrance not a help” to India’s development. The IEO feels that the panel is a parking slot for bureaucrats who don’t have domain knowledge and should be replaced by experts. While it is bit drastic to say that bureaucrats don’t have domain knowledge, the larger view that the plan panel needs to be shaken up is acceptable.
Having said that, however, one must acknowledge the fact that all institutions — be it the existing plan panel or its new avatar — will always depend on what the government of the day wants it to be. If at all a new panel comes into being, the NDA should be very clear from the word go what it expects of the organisation and also ensure that its performance is measurable against some standards.