Wednesday, September 19, 2012

some questions about the Planning Commission

Every other day, we hear a sage pronouncement from Montek S Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The learned Deputy Chairman has a prescription for each and every ill that besieges the Indian economy. The problems that beset us are many, of varied hues, of varying intensity. They are to do with inflation,  unemployment, farmer suicides, environmental degradation, crumbling health care systems, illiteracy, mal nourishmnet, poor roads, erratic power supply, lack of drinking water, pathetic sanitation facilities etc etc. The Deputy Chairman has a solution for each of these problems. What is common to his prescriptions is that the USA, the World Bank/IMF, MNCs, unscrupulous businesses and corrupt politicians love them, but the aam aadmi does not, the lakhs of Indians and innumerable organisations working for equitable, sustainable growth do not. What is also common to all these prescriptions is that they involve a total disregard for decentralised solutions, for community level action, for traditional wisdom.Yet, these are the very prescriptions which are increasingly becoming the corner stone of government policy, and the so called reforms that will supposedly reignite the growth story. 

What strikes a dissonant note is the fact despite its a- finger-in-every-pie approach, the Planning Commission is a body created neither by statute nor by the Constitution. Although its role is as significant as that of the Comptroller and Auditor General, or the Election Commission of India, or the Central Vigilance Commission, it has no statutory or constitutional authority or responsibilities and  can assume whatever functions and tasks the government of the day is agreeable to.

The Planning Commission website says it works under the supervision of the National Development Council (NDC). Interestingly, the NDC too is an extra statutory, extra constitutional body, comprising the Union Cabinet and Chief Ministers. The manner in which it "supervises" the Planning Commission is a little mystifying, because the NDC can only "advise" the Planning Commission,  it has no veto powers whatsoever.

We do not know either the eligibility conditions/qualifications for being appointed the Planning Commission's Deputy Chairman.It is important, of course, to be on the right side of the powers- that- be, but other credentials have not been spelled out anywhere, despite the fact that the Deputy Chairman is de facto head of such an important policy making body of the government.

No less discomfiting is the fact that the Deputy Chairman is appointed by the Union Government without any broad based consultations about the likely candidates. Given the far reaching significance of the Deputy Chairman's responsibilities, should we not adopt the same mode of appointment as for the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, namely, a committee that includes the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha?

The Deputy Chairman is neither an elected representative, nor a civil servant, so the mechanism whereby he can be held accountable to the people is ambiguous, if one exists at all. There is no provision in the law either (at least, none that I am aware of) for his removal on such grounds as incapacity although such procedure exists for the CVC, ECI etc.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission holds the rank of a Cabinet Minister, with all its perquisites and privileges, and in the Warrant of Precedence , he ranks above the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner, and the Chiefs of Staff, holding the rank of General (or equivalent). 

Is it any wonder then that in the Deputy Chairman's pronouncements, one only senses an overwhelming arrogance and indifference to public opinion?

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