NITI Aayog needs to get rid of its excess baggage and adopt a ‘less is more’ approach
With recent changes in its composition, one hopes for a more energetic and focused approach which will allow NITI to discard the excessive baggage of “yojana” and embrace a modern “less is more” philosophy.
In 2014, PM Modi announced the creation of the NITI Aayog. It was described as the “think tank of the government – a directional and policy dynamo”. India needed to live fiscal federalism – allowing local governments the freedom and resources to perform. Its task was to gaze into the future and come up with clear objectives on which government policymaking could be based.
Over three years, NITI undertook many initiatives – but there was a persistent feeling that it could do more, that it was unable to establish its identity and clear role. With recent changes in its composition, one hopes for a more energetic and focused approach which will allow NITI to discard the excess baggage of yojana and embrace a modern less is more philosophy.
Arvind Panagariya’s report discussed cooperative federalism, assistance in policymaking, state reform, privatisation, agriculture marketing, world class universities, lecture series and a tinkering lab. Add commentary from NITI on artificial intelligence, innovation, cyber-security etc. and we have a feast of issues to work on, and a famine of bandwidth to tackle them. Perhaps, it needs to be recognised that the various activities enumerated while launching NITI were suggestive, and didn’t have to be pursued simultaneously.
NITI can look at a 15-year horizon and pick five priorities. Then, it can convert these priorities into missions – delving deep to create a blueprint for policymaking and execution. Finally, through an inverse funnel approach, broaden the impact of the missions by syndicating them to ministries as action programmes. This creates multiple streams all contributing towards the mission objectives.
Meriting consideration for mission status are (i)Agricutural reform: Productivity, farmer returns, employment, (ii)An education platform to realise our demographic dividend and mitigate unemployment, (iii)Empowerment of local government for improved governance and service delivery, and (iv) Using technology to improve the data used for policymaking – thereby releasing human resources for better policy execution.
NITI should follow the private sector’s asset light model. India is blessed with great depth in human capital — theoreticians and practitioners in almost every field. NITI must reduce the permanent set of experts to a minimum and instead invest in the right people for the right subject and for the right period of time on a project basis instead of permanent staff whose expertise may no longer be relevant for the missions at hand.
India desperately needs NITI to be the game-changer it is meant to be. A less is more approach will help NITI get there.
S Misra is Delhi-based fund manager
The views expressed are personal