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Manmohan Singh ordered Planning Commission panel revamp, Congress dumped blueprint

Monday, 18 August 2014 - 4:55am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

After being sworn in for a second consecutive term in 2009, prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh had ordered a revamp of the Planning Commission, so it could meet the new challenges in a changing world.

In a year's time, a blueprint for a slimmer, more federal and inclusive body was submitted to the prime minister.

His UPA-II government had won a resounding majority and it did not have to worry about opposition from the Left Front. But, apparently, Dr Singh didn't anticipate the opposition from within the Congress party which would not accept any tinkering with the body, a relic of the Nehruvian socialist economy.

The central plan panel with 30 divisions manned by 109 officers and more than 800 staff is close to be dumped by prime minister Narendra Modi, who hinted as much in his address to the nation on Independence Day.

"The move was dumped as it didn't find favour with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her advisors. They found it too radical to move away from the Nehruvian model," said sources who worked with Dr Singh.

Records reveal that Dr Singh had agreed to reform the commission based on four key ideas that emerged from brainstorming sessions.

Foremost was the removal of flab and inclusion of experts from outside that could make it less bureaucratic. It was suggested that the making of five-year plans be done away with and instead solutions be worked out for different economic scenarios.

An important suggestion was that dictating to state governments should be avoided and their expenditure plans approved. Instead, the body should work along with the states to deliver on schemes and projects.

Dr Singh had also approved making the commission a coordinating agency, by including representatives of the Centre, state governments and the private sector, for major projects.

On Friday, Modi spoke along similar lines, even mentioning the need for representation of the corporate sector in a new body that could be rechristened as National Development and Reforms Commission.

"In April 2010 we told the prime minister that we had done the preparatory work for reform. But nothing moved after that. The reforms were not even discussed within the government," said a former member of the Planning Commission who had interacted with Dr Singh on the matter.

Experts point out that the Chinese transformed their Soviet-era planning commission into the National Development Reforms Commission in the late 1980s, when they initiated economic reforms.

According to a government note, the new plan body will be responsible for costing, vetting and monitoring mega projects, like the proposed smart cities, inter-linking of rivers, building river ports, international railway lines and expressways linking India with its neighbours and Southeast Asia.

The body would work in tandem with ministries and states on the nitty-gritty for mega industrial clusters, as well as regional development projects proposed in Naxal-affected states. Some existing functions like funds allocation to state plans and monitoring utilization would be transferred to the finance ministry's expenditure department.

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