Arvind Panagariya says he’s leaving Niti Aayog by Sept to return to academics
Arvind Panagariya who was appointed as Niti Aayog vice chairman in January 2015, will return to Columbia University as professor of economics.Updated: Aug 01, 2017 22:00 IST
Indian-American economist Arvind Panagariya is stepping down as vice chairperson of Niti Aayog, the government’s policy think tank, and returning to academics in New York’s Columbia University.
The 64-year-old professor of economics was picked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2015 to head the National Institution for Transforming India, better known as Niti Aayog, which replaced the Planning Commission.
“I have requested the Prime Minister to relieve me from my responsibility as my leave in Columbia University is coming to an end on September 5 and I have decided to join back,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “The PM has agreed after listening to me.”
He will serve the think tank till August-end.
According to government sources, Modi wanted him to stay but relented when Panagariya told him that his wife too wants to be with their children in the US.
Panagariya said he informed the Prime Minister, who is the ex-officio chairman of Niti Aayog, about his decision about two months ago after Columbia University refused to make an exemption for him and extend his two-year, public-service leave.
“There is nothing unusual in this. Henry Kissinger returned to Harvard after his leave was not extended,” he added.
Modi chose him to head the new think tank to decide policies for accelerating India’s growth after his government dismantled the Soviet-style Planning Commission that functioned for 64 years.
Panagariya, who is standing down after two-and-a-half years in the job, said he is satisfied with the stint in which his team built the organisation’s foundation and forged ties with the Centre and states.
“Many states adopted our land leasing law bill. Over 400 schools have Atal Tinkering labs and we promoted digital economy in a big way.”
He is the second economist after former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan to quit a top job in India and return to academics in the US. Rajan resigned after a three-year term in 2016 to rejoin Chicago University.
At US universities one can teach as long as health permits.
Panagariya said: “I would not have got a similar job. There is no retirement and one can work till his or her body and brain functions.”
He holds a PhD from Princeton University and worked with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, IMF and UNCTAD.
The economist wants to write the next edition of India: The Emerging Giant, his 2008 book that describes India’s contemporary economy.
Niti Aayog advised the government to sell sick public sector units, including national carrier Air India, and proposed new regulators for education and health. It also recommended minimal government intervention in agriculture and replacing the minimum support price for farmers with a deficiency payment.
But the think tank had its fare share of criticism. Some of its reform-oriented proposals were not accepted, or appreciated either.
The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmer union affiliated to the ruling BJP’s ideological mentor RSS, called several Niti Aayog proposals anti-farmer and anti-labour.
“There is poor response (from the government) to labour and services sectors. Following the advice of Niti Aayog, the government is moving towards contractual employment, relaxing labour laws to benefit industry,” CK Shaji Narayana, the union’s president, said some time ago.
The organisation’s performance has been sketchy and change incremental. So far, it has only circulated a draft of a proposed three-year Action Agenda.
Panagariya said a seven-year strategy and 15-year vision for India is “80-85%” ready.
A recipient of the Padma Bhushan in 2012, India’s third highest civilian honour, he expects a successor to be named soon to complete the work.
(With agency inputs)