In his parting speech to the erstwhile Planning Commission on 30th April 2014, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated, “Are we still using tools and approaches which were designed for a different era? Have we added new functions and layers without any restructuring of the more traditional activities in the Commission?” Therefore, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his maiden Independence Day address on 15th August 2014 that he intended to replace the Planning Commission by a new body, he was giving expression to a shared sentiment. Subsequently, on 1 January 2015, he announced the creation of the National Institution for Transforming India or NITI Aayog. Two weeks later, I was privileged to join the new institution as its Vice Chairman. Following the practice under the Planning Commission, the Prime Minister serves as the Chairman.
Compared to the Planning Commission, which was 64 years old at its closing, NITI Aayog is in infancy. But expectations from a high-profile institution, regardless of its age, are always high. Therefore it is no surprise that all those who had watched with admiration the courageous action of Prime Minister Modi are keen to know the activities and accomplishments of NITI Aayog as it celebrates its first anniversary. While many reports on what the institution has been doing have appeared in the press and I have proactively described them in my recent media interviews, the anniversary offers an opportunity to provide a more detailed and systematic account of how far the Aayog has come in one year.
On the organizational front, NITI Aayog had inherited from the erstwhile Planning Commission about 1255 positions of which approximately 800 were actually occupied. In view of the mandates of the new institution, it was felt that on the one hand it needed to be slimmer while on the other it also needed to induct new staff with a different mix of skills than the existing staff. Accordingly, we have now transferred a large number of staff members to other parts of the government with the number of positions in the institution trimmed to 500. We have also begun hiring new outside staff with one economist having already joined and several young professionals and officers on special duty expected to join in the near future. We have also adjusted the structure of the institution to better fulfill its mandates, dividing the staff into two large hubs. One hub is called the Knowledge and Innovation hub and the other the Team India hub. The former has the responsibility to create, accumulate and disseminate knowledge while the latter serves as the link between states and ministries at the Centre. The Knowledge and Innovation hub has a dozen verticals tasked with developing expertise in different sectors such as trade and macro, health, agriculture, rural development, education and skill development. The primary task of the Team India hub is to serve as coordinate between states, central ministries and the Knowledge and innovation hub. The two hubs are expected to work closely with each other.
From the beginning, the Prime Minister has wanted the NITI Aayog to be a driver of cooperative, competitive federalism. He himself set the tone for it at the First Governing Council meeting on 8 February by accepting the suggestions by chief ministers to form smaller groups of chief ministers to draw the roadmap for major central initiatives. Accordingly, he announced the formation of three subgroups of chief ministers under the auspices of the NITI Aayog to advise him on Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), Skill Development and Swachh Bharat. At the same meeting, he also advised that NITI Aayog to form two task forces, one on Poverty Elimination and the other on Agricultural Development, with parallel task forces formed in each state and Union Territory on the two subjects.
During the year, the NITI Aayog worked diligently with the subgroups of chief ministers, facilitating, steering and nudging them towards consensus. State officials were closely involved in the ensuing consultations. In a reversal of one-way traffic of the past, the Aayog organized six regional consultations in the states with the NITI Aayog officials going to those states. In turn chief ministers put the national and collective state interests above the narrower interests of their individual states to produce excellent reports on the three subjects. These reports have now been submitted to the Prime Minister. Some recommendations including on sharing pattern of expenditures between the central government and states under the CSS and a 0.5% Swachh Bharat cess have already been implemented while others are under active consideration.
In a similar vein, the task force on Agricultural Development consulted with the states and worked on suggestions for raising productivity and ensuring that farmers receive lucrative prices for their produce. An occasional paper based on the work of the task force has been recently released by the Aayog and can be downloaded from its website. The paper identifies five major areas in which interventions can offer high returns.
The NITI Aayog has also been called upon to lead the way on innovation and entrepreneurship under the auspices of the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) and Self-Employment and Talent Utilization (SETU). To take these subjects forward, we appointed an Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship under the chairmanship of Professor Tarun Khanna of Harvard University. The committee met several times and has submitted its report in record time. The report is now available on our website and, drawing on it, we are on our way to giving shape to AIM and SETU. As per the recommendations of the committee, a Mission Directorate and Mission High Level Committee will soon be appointed.
Since October 2015, I have also served as the G20 Sherpa of India. In this capacity, I have participated in the Sherpa meetings that took place in Ankara and Antalya in October and November, respectively. At the latter meeting, I also led the negotiations on behalf of India for the G20 Leaders’ Communiqué. After two days and three nights of tough negotiations involving give and take, we ironed out an agreement that promoted India’s national interests and provided solid foundations for the climate change and trade negotiations that followed in Paris and Nairobi, respectively.
We have nearly completed the Midterm Appraisal of the Twelfth Five Year Plan. After wide consultations with think tanks and industry experts, we are feverishly working on the first draft of the National Energy Policy. Using a similar approach, are also poised to soon draft a Make in India Electronic Products Policy. Quarterly presentations on progress on infrastructure by the NITI Aayog have played an important role in debottlenecking many important infrastructure projects. Careful steering by the Empowered Committee on Innovative Projects under my chairmanship has also helped pave the way for the launch of the High Speed Rail between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The Aayog has also launched a large survey of 3,500 firms in collaboration with think tank IDFC Institute to measure the ease of doing business in different states. The results of the survey are expected in August 2016.
We have also been working with the states to initiate reforms on the subjects under the State and Concurrent Lists of the Constitution. An important initiative in this respect has been in the areas of land leasing. A committee appointed by the Aayog under the chairmanship of economist Tajmul Haque will soon be finalizing a model land-leasing act that interested states may use to create a better framework for land leasing. NITI Aayog Members have closely worked with states. Among other things, initiatives have been launched on assessments of departments, schemes and laws. In the area of remunerative prices for farmers, discussions have been initiated on deficiency payments and transgenic seeds.
These are some of the highlights of what we have been doing at NITI Aayog during its first year. The highlights, of course, cannot substitute for a more detailed account of the numerous other activities that our hardworking Members and staff members undertake on a daily basis. Recognizing this, we also propose to give more detailed accounts in documents to be posted separately on this website. Our New Year’s resolution is to build on the work we have begun this past year while also launching new initiatives to make the dream of the Prime Minister a reality.
Disclaimer: NITI blogs do not represent the views of either the Government of India or NITI Aayog. They are intended to stimulate healthy debate and deliberation.