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Planning Commission in a spot

India's topmost planning body, the Planning Commission, is in a spot over appointment of consultants and allowing discretion to each of its members to spend Rs one crore every year.

delhi Updated: Jul 09, 2011 20:54 IST

India's topmost planning body, the Planning Commission, is in a spot over appointment of consultants and allowing discretion to each of its members to spend Rs one crore every year.

Plan panel member secretary Sudha Pillai has taken exception to both.

At a recent meeting of Group of Ministers on corruption, Pillai admitted that there were certain exceptions in appointment of consultants at senior levels without approval of the Prime Minister, who heads the plan panel.

It was brought to the notice of GoM that the panel was restoring to engagement of consultants at senior levels without approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet even though it does not enjoy discretionary powers.

There were 51 consultants in the Plan Panel in May 2011 and the plan panel, in a RTI reply, admitted that it changed rules to accommodate those whose appointment was in violation to the existing parameters.

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At the time senior bureaucrats are scared to take sensitive decisions in wake of 2G and CWG scams, all eyes are on the incumbent Central Vigilance Commissioner Pradeep Kumar to restore some confidence among the top bureaucracy.

The bureaucrats expect Kumar to reform the extremely slow vigilance machinery of the government to weed out black sheep from the government. The CVC has recommended inquiries against certain officials but it has taken a long time to end the inquiry and initiate disciplinary action.

“Quick action on part of CVC can help in fight against corruption from within,” a secretary level official said.

On highlight the issue, GoM chairperson Pranab Mukerjee was of the view that the matter needs to be further discussed with the plan panel. It was apparently to end claims of lack of transparency in these appointments.

Pillai has also sought a review on the commission’s decision to allow members to spend Rs one crore every year for the work they consider necessary to restructure the panel into “real” think tank.

In an internal circular dated May 25, the Planning Commission has split research needs into two categories based on the fee to be paid to the consultant: up to Rs 25 lakh, and beyond Rs 25 lakh and up to Rs 1 crore. To avoid criticism, the circular does specify a modicum of screening but the power to appoint vests largely with the member concerned.

But the panel’s bureaucracy believes that the interim order can result in trouble. Panel’s financial advisor in an internal note had raised certain objections to the decision allowing members the discretion to select agencies for conducting studies saying it is not as per laid down government procedures.

Following the note, plan panel officials say Pillai has now decided to review the circular.