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Planning Commission in consultancy mess

India’s top most planning body, the Planning Commission, is in a spot over appointment of consultants and for giving each of its member the discretion to spend Rs 1 crore every year. Chetan Chauhan and Nagendar Sharma report.

delhi Updated: Jul 11, 2011 00:09 IST

India’s top most planning body, the Planning Commission, is in a spot over appointment of consultants and for giving each of its member the discretion to spend Rs 1 crore every year.

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

At a recent meeting of the 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 the GoM that the panel had been resorting to the engagement of consultants at senior levels without the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet—even though it does not enjoy such discretionary powers.

There were 51 consultants in the Plan Panel in May 2011. The panel, in its reply to an RTI application, admitted that it changed rules to accommodate those whose appointment was in violation of the existing parameters.

Highlighting the issue, GoM chairperson and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was of the view that the matter needed to be further discussed with the plan panel.

It was apparently done to end the allegations of the lack of transparency in these appointments. Pillai has also sought a review of the Planning Commission’s decision to allow members to spend Rs 1 crore every year for the work they consider necessary to restructure the panel into a “real” thinktank.

In an internal circular dated May 25, the Planning Commission had split research needs into two categories based on the fee to be paid to the consultant: the first going up to Rs 25 lakh, and the second 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.

The panel’s financial advisor, in an internal note, had raised certain objections to the decision to allow members the discretion to select agencies for conducting studies. The note said that it was not as per the laid down government procedures.

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