One of the major decisions taken by Narendra Modi soon after becoming the Head of Government in May 2014 was to replace Yojana Aayog with Niti Aayog. It reflected not only Modi’s lack of understanding of governance but his ignorance of Hindi language also. Niti in Hindi means policy. Taking policy decisions is the responsibility of the constitutionally formed government which works through its Council of Ministers. This responsibility cannot be entrusted to a non-statutory body which is more like a club of a few hand-picked economists.
Yojana Aayog, on the other hand, was meant to work like a limb of the government. Yojana means planning. Yojana Aayog or Planning Commission had the responsibility to plan out for proper implementation the policy decisions taken by the government. When the government, for instance, took the policy decision to create irrigation facilities in the country, the Planning Commission would work like a task force assessing the needs and resources of each State and how best to implement the policy decision of the government.
Set up in 1950, the Planning Commission was entrusted with the following tasks: make an assessment of the material, capital and human resources of the country, including technical personnel, and investigate the possibilities of augmenting such of these resources as are found to be deficient in relation to the nation’s requirement; formulate a plan for the most effective and balanced utilisation of country’s resources; on a determination of priorities, define the stages on which the Plan should be carried out and propose the allocation of resources for the due completion of each stage; and indicate the factors which are tending to retard economic development and determine the conditions which, in view of the current social and political situation, should be established for the successful execution of the Plan.
The guidelines further said: determine the nature of the machinery which will be necessary for securing the successful implementation of each stage of the Plan in all its aspects; appraise from time to time the progress achieved in the execution of each stage of the Plan and recommend the adjustments of policy and measures that such appraisal may show to be necessary; and make such interim or ancillary recommendations as appear to it to be appropriate either for facilitation the discharge of the duties assigned to it, or on a consideration of prevailing economic conditions, current policies, measures and development programmes or on an examination of such specific problems as may be referred to it for advice by the Central or State Governments.
The first Five-Year Plan was launched in 1951 and two subsequent Five-Year-Plan were formulated till 1965 when there was a break because of the India-Pakistan war. After three Annual Plans between 1966 and 1969, the fourth Five-Year Plan was started in 1969. The emphasis, initially, was on a growing public sector with massive investments in basic and heavy industries which provided the country a sound economic foundation.
Started on January 1, 2015, Niti Aayog has no concrete goals before it. Its pronounced objectives are mired in a jumble of high-sounding words and phrases. For instance, it ‘aims to build strong States that will come together to build a strong India’. It does not say how? Nor is there visible on the ground what steps it had taken towards that goal in the two and a half years. In fact, Niti Aayog describes itself ‘Think Tank’ of Government of India to provide ‘both directional and policy inputs’. It further defines its role as ‘designing strategic and long term policies and programmes for the Government of India’. Designing policies, whether short-term or long-term is clearly the prerogative of the Government, and not of non-statutory body.