‘To say plan panel is outdated is to say India has achieved inclusive growth’

'A country with a population of more than 1.2 billion, with diversity needs planning'

As talk of scrapping the Planning Commission gained momentum after PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech, former member of the panel, Syeda Hameed, tells Mukesh Ranjan that it is a decision taken in haste and that in the absence of the Planning Commission, the PMO will be overburdened.

How do you react to the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Planning Commission will soon be replaced by a think tank to meet newer challenges?
The decision to scrap the Planning Commission has been taken in haste since no considered view has emerged from the government’s side on its alternative. To my mind, a country with a population of more than 1.2 billion, having acute social and economic diversity, still needs planning. Rather, I would say, it is essential.

But the government’s argument is that the institution has outlived its utility.
This is an absolutely wrong perception and conclusion. To say that the Planning Commission of Nehruvian era of the 1950s has outlived its utility is to say that the country has achieved inclusive growth.
The argument and the perception emanate from the fact that tribal women from Mayurbhanj district of Orissa are as empowered as Ambanis and Adanis of the country. The fact is the opposite; so we need to plan for the country.

However, arguments are put forward that the Planning Commission acted as a roadblock in the path of development.
You must know that the Planning Commission has all along performed the role of a platform for multi-sectoral action. If it is scrapped, who is going to fulfil this role? The most intractable issues of governance and development can’t be resolved by one single ministry or the Prime Minister’s Office alone. When the plan panel invited ministries for any issue, for example, on how to reduce infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR), several of them came together. The issue was not left to women and child development ministry alone. The issues were of equal concerns to ministries of agriculture, rural development, health, labour, environment and science and technology. In fact, I must say that no sector of development could remain aloof of the issue of empowerment and development of women and children. As a consequence of multi-sectoral approach, it was possible for the UPA-1 and 2 to reduce IMR and MMR, which is otherwise the most difficult area to achieve. Now if the plan body won’t be there, who will do this job?

It’s been said that the financial clout given to the Planning Commission proved to be an impediment.
In fact, it was the financial clout that empowered the panel to call every body to come on one platform and address the issues confronting the nation.

In the recent past, several Chief Ministers expressed their displeasure over the Commission’s role. How do you react to their criticism?
As I understand, again the panel provided platform for states to exchange their views with the Government of India. I know that the chief ministers lamented the fact that they had to come and beg. But given my 10-year tenure as a member in the panel, I must refute this and tell the fact — that reality was the opposite of the chief ministers’ accusations. In most of cases, chief ministers used to come and give us their perspective, and in most cases allocations were finalised on the basis of mutual consent.

Don’t you think that because of centralised planning a one-size-fits-all system has taken root in the country?
It could be. But in the last 10 years, on account of continuous dialogue, a lot of flexibility has been brought into the system.
Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana is the perfect example of this. Under the plan, which is fairly successful, states have been given flexibility in terms of crop, irrigation, crop diversification, etc.

Another criticism is that India adopted top-to-bottom planning.
No, it is not correct. We prepared the 12th Five-Year Plan. We had more than 900 consultations all across the country with a variety of people, including civil societies. We had the realisation that unless people’s voice is heard no plan could be effective.
This realisation helped us in involving NGOs and do bottom-up planning for the country.

Once the Planning Commission is scrapped, who will convene the meeting of National Development Council, which is statutory at least once a year?
I don’t know. However, in the absence of the plan panel, the only authority that is empowered to do so is the PMO. But is it feasible for the PMO to do so?
We cannot overburden the PMO, as every institution has its own limitation.

Do you think that giving responsibility of the expenditure side of the annual Budget exercise to the finance ministry would be prudent?
No. It will be fatal for the social sector.
If the finance ministry, esponsible for arranging resources, is also given the responsibility of expenditure, then it will have the tendency to curtail expenses instead of applying its mind to increasing revenue.
The easiest sector for curtailing expenses would be the social sector — health and education.
I think there has always been healthy tension between the finance ministry and the Planning Commission during preparation of an annual Budget.

( Source : dc )
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