For decades the Planning Commission served as India’s main policy laboratory. The commission would more often be called upon to write the first draft of prospective policies before these paced through ministries. It also had a significant influence over states’ annual plans as also the gross budgetary support (GBS) — a key metric that measures funds allocated for various welfare schemes, among others. In all likelihood, this is set to change. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the government would replace the Commission, founded in 1950, with a new body.
For the first eight plans the emphasis was on a growing public sector with public investments in basic and heavy industries. In recent years, however, the commission had come under scrutiny, with many experts questioning the body’s role in a market-economy in which private enterprises are the primary growth engines. The need for a change in role was raised by the commission itself in 1992.
For obvious reasons, the group of states led by the BJP is in favour of a new body while the Congress-led states have questioned the need to pull the curtains down on the commission. Politics aside, there, however, are a few unanswered questions. For instance, what will happen to the National Development Council, which was set up in 1952 and has a special place in India’s federal polity and Centre-State development matters? Will the plan panel’s successor be a policy-making body? Will it also be called upon to play the role of an arbitrator or a go-between in instances of inter-state disputes such as river-linking and water sharing? What kind of autonomy will it enjoy? Also, ideally any such body should be headed by a technocrat with a distinguished career in public life, who should be able to get things moving on sticky issues. The role and powers of the new body need to be clearly defined. Otherwise it carries the risk of drifting away into a similar state of anachronism like its earlier avatar.