The honorable Prime Minister announced to the Nation in his independence day address that, “we will replace the Planning Commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilization of resources, utilization of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure. Very shortly, we are about to move in a direction when this institute would be functioning in place of Planning Commission.”
The abolition of the Planning Commission means that there will be no National five year plans, no annual plans related to it or flowing from it, and no meetings of Chief Ministers in Delhi to discuss “State Plans.” Correspondingly there will be no ‘plan allocations’ or financial approvals (by the erstwhile PC or the new institution). The mandate of the National Development Council would have to be modified (perhaps) by replacing “Plan” by “Policies” and “Planning Commission” by BVNS/IDPI). The distinction between Plan and non-plan expenditures will also dis-appear and needs to be replaced by the economic (functional) distinction between “consumption” and “investment” expenditure, with ‘repair and maintenance” of assets, included in the latter. Its treatment as “revenue” expenditure in government budgets leads to neglect and deterioration of physical assets. By definition, “current” expenditures have a ‘short’ and “investment” a ‘long’ time horizon.
The Finance Commission, set up under the constitution, with a fresh set of members every five years, to recommend the division of tax revenues between Center & States and Grants in Aid from the Center to the States, focusses on economic & social needs during the five years. Though “Grants in Aid” can cover “capital” Grants, these are based on demands put forward by States, comments by Center (with inputs from the Planning Commission), and any expert who wants to depose before the FC or is requested by the FC to do so. With the abolition of the PC, inputs based on systematic research and integrated analysis of long term issues and problems would be reduced or eliminated.
The ministries of government, including the Finance Ministry, are usually consumed by short term issues with a horizon of a few years and are looking for quick answers. They do not have the time or capacity for medium-long thinking or for obtaining an input from a wide variety of relevant sources on a continuing basis. The new institute is designed to fill this gap in government operation. Its experts can act as a bridge between the routinized political or occasional crisis driven, operation of most government Ministries and Departments, and the new ideas and thinking across the country and World.[i] Global experience shows that there is little or no transfer of new knowledge from Universities, research institutions and scholars to Government decision makers, unless there are experts within the government who can understand and appreciate new thinking and research and translate it into practical policy advice and programs.
The new institute would combine three overlapping elements,
a) National Think Tank that does ‘policy oriented’ research on important national issues,
b) Policy Planning: An organization for holistically examining Central Government (CG) objective, goals, policies, institutions and programs, suggesting improvements/changes and doing “operational” planning to achieve Central Government goals, with respect to the Central list & part of concurrent list, that come under the purview of CG ministries and departments. [ii] The Ministries would be required to give to IDBI, all data required to fulfill this role!
c) Federal Forum for States to contribute to and gain from analysis of development goals and problems related to the States (State list and part of concurrent list handled by States) and solutions thereof.
Unlike the Planning commission, which formally approved the detailed allocation of “Plan funds” on an annual basis, the BVNS/IDPI‘s recommendations relating to Central government ‘investment’ and CG “capital grants” to, and debt market borrowing limits for, States for their ‘investment’, would be advisory. This would provide to the PM a considered view independent from the parochial views of the Central Ministries and Departments. The formal financial allocation process would be undertaken by the Finance ministry, in the light of Finance Commission recommendations “Grants in Aid” to States for Investment and the directions of the PM.
The national mandate of the BVNS/IDPI could include;
Future Challenges & Opportunities
1. Analysis of economic, demographic, environmental, social & international trends and forecasting potential problems and opportunities, which will affect the Nation or a group of States (over different time Horizons ranging from 4 to 20 years). Working out and disseminating potential solutions to problems and ways of exploiting new opportunities through appropriate Policies, institutions. laws or initiatives.
Current goals & problems
2. Definition of national and States’ goals (development, growth, employment opportunities, poverty elimination, public health, basic education & skills) in operational terms, analyzing current national, regional and States’ problems and searching for approaches/methods that have succeeded in achieving goals most efficiently (in India or in other countries). The analysis would relate to policies, institutions or programs and the most effective mix of government, private and non-profit/non-govt. organizations (including PPPP). Disseminating “best practices” to States and red flagging methods and approaches that have failed.
Past Review & Learning
3. Reviewing and analyzing Central and State Government institutions, policies, programs and projects and analyzing the reasons for their successes and failures. Drawing lessons for the future and devising ways to improve current & future programs and projects.
Resources: Optimal Use
4. Policies and institutional structure for the optimal use of natural resources (land, minerals, oil, water, energy) and human resources (job skills & education, public health). Policies and institutional structure to promote efficient and effective use of capital resources (domestic and foreign, government, market & NGOs-NPOs). The institute on Public Private Partnership, “3P India” proposed in the budget, could be a part of the BVNS/IDPI or an affiliated institute.
5. Interact with States Governments & experts working on States’ problems, with a view to identifying issues and problems that they are seeking answers for. Searching for solutions among other States and globally. Working with States to adapt, operationalize these solutions. For this purpose it could carry out case studies or pilot projects in States. Seek the active participation of States to meet national development goals. Devising mechanisms & institutional structures to stimulate and sustain States active participation on a continuing basis.
Advisory Bodies/Mission Groups
The Institute would set up a number of Advisory Boards on complex issues (e.g. climate change) or issues that required detailed knowledge or expertise (e.g. legal ambiguities in tax laws, PPPs or supply contracts) or which required continuous interaction (creation employment opportunities, “Ease of doing business”). The institute could also appoint task specific advisory committees (e.g. defining the parameters of a “smart city”, propagating specific policy conclusions).
The new Institute should immediately set up the following groups for translating the PM’s vision, as suggested in the BJP manifesto and the subsequent statements of the Government (Presidents’ address to new Parliament, Budget Speech of FM & Independence day address of PM) into concrete policies, institutional changes and programs.
Digital India Group
This group would prepare a vision, an integrated Plan and related polices for extending the broadband network to every corner of the country and using it to provide E-gram, e-governance solutions, E-education, E-skilling, E-Public health, E-medicine, E -commerce related to agriculture, etc.
Swach Bharat Group
This group would prepare national approach to Sewage, Sanitation, Public Toilets, Water pollution and the creation of a solid waste disposal grid and a waste treatment and disposal grid. It would prepare a plan for creating a clean India with the participation of all citizens of India, including issues like public education on health and cleanliness and using the advertising industry and other private groups to promote cleanliness.
Smart Cities, 100 Cities Group
New Cities/smart cities to create jobs and employment opportunities, efficient use of energy and water, land use planning to minimize transport costs and traffic congestion, integration of public transport, cycling and walking. Cost efficient ways of using technology in a lower middle income country with a population of 1.2 billion. It would also address the issue of why India has slums instead of rental housing for low income people (as in developed countries) and how to change this.
Ease of Doing Business Group
This group would document the jungle of controls that hamper business and commercial activity and job & employment creation. It would develop comprehensive strategies, legal, regulatory, administrative and political, for cutting oppressive controls and identify detailed action at every level.
National Water Grid
This would cover issues of connectivity of rivers, depletion of underground aquifers, spatial agricultural policies for optimal use and conservation of water, supply of clean drinking water to all citizens. Use of flood plains of monsoon fed and seasonal rivers to store and supply drinking water. Supply and pricing of water for commercial and industrial use. Use of waterways for internal transport. Cross border transport and to transit across neighboring countries.
Sagar Mala Project Group
Use of major and minor ports to promote, international and national trade and commerce, to reduce transport costs and energy used in transport. Policy and institutional changes needed for achieving objectives(eg in Port Trusts Act and the structure and management of Port Trusts). Promotion of economic integration of all coastal areas as well as the coast with the hinterland through integrated road-rail-river connectivity.
Public Security Group
Reexamine all aspects related to public safety security of citizens, particularly that of Women and Children in a changing social context of greater mobility(from ancestoral village to other rural & urban areas) , the move from joint families to nuclear ones, girls studying at distances from home or in other village/city, greater number of women working outside the home, young men disconnected from family and childhood support structures. Work out legal, judicial, police and other reforms. Develop ideas for community social, sports and activities and community structures and institutions to support them.
A radically different structure can be envisaged in which there would not be one, but two separate institutions.
I. A Development Policy Institute combining the role of a policy oriented think tank and the role of the Economic Advisory council to PM. Thus the PMEAC could become the Governing Board of the Think Tank and its chairperson the primary economic advisor to PM. This would cover all national issues and problems that the Central Government has to address and decide on.
II. An Inter-States Forum which is a re-designed ‘Inter State Council’ with its own research Staff and research departments, dealing with issues on the States list of the Constitution and parts of the Concurrent list that are under States’. This body would have much greater representation from the States, Staff with experience in States and Experts on State level issues.
Appendix: Conventional Structure?If a conventional approach is adopted, the institutional structure could be as follows: The Institute would be managed by a Deputy Chairman/Managing Director/CEO and overseen by a governing board, with PM as Chairmen and the DC/MD/CEO as ex-officio member-secretary. Members heading the three to five overarching departments of the BVNS/IDPI(below) would also be ex-officio members of the board of governors. The governing board would have representation of Chief Ministers/State Ministers and Central ministers (current of former). A dynamic former CM/State minister could head the Department dealing with States’ issues. It could also have a couple of active business persons, familiar with the difficulties of investment, job/employment creation and production as members. The rest would be macro-economic, sector, industry or other experts, who head the departments of the institute.
The organization below the board level, managed by the DC/MD/CEO could have either of the following structures:
A. Three major departments, headed by Board Member/Directors, corresponding to the three broad objectives outlined under the “Scope” section: (a) A department corresponding to a high quality “think tank”, (b) A policy planning department for analyzing & suggesting Central Govt. policies, institutions and resource allocations and assisting Central Govt Ministries in “operational planning”[iii] (c) A department dealing with Issues of interest to the State, particularly those on the States list and parts of the Concurrent list. Each of these could have a number of divisions dealing with different subjects/issues/goals (eg Transport, Energy, Sanitation & Cleanliness). This may require a seven person governing board.
B. Five departments headed by Board Member-directors corresponding to the five mandates: (1) Future challenges and opportunities, (2) Present objectives and problems, (3) Evaluation of Past experiences, successes and failures, and lessons thereof. (4) Optimal use of the Nation’s natural and human resources, and (5) Strengthening the Federal Structure and greater participation of States in development. This may require a nine or ten person governing board.
A version of this article appeared under the banner, “What the Modi Government’s Mandate for the New Think Tank May Include,” on 23rd August 2014 at http://ow.ly/ADChr .
[i] It is assumed that the Economic Advisory Council to PM (PMEAC) will be folded into the new Institution, while the “Inter State Council” would continue, perhaps in a modified form!
[ii] Arvind Virmani, “Planning for Results: Public Accountability Information System,” Working Paper No. 1/2007-PC, Planning Commission, March 2007. http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/wrkpapers/rpwpf.htm
[iii] Virmani (2007) op cit.