Scrapping Planning Commission

Congress has now something to talk about—scrapping of Planning Commission by the Modi Government. In truth Commission was originally conceived by Subhas Bose during freedom struggle way back in 1938. And it was set up in the fifties by Nehru to give direction to the developmental activities. The Commission was to ensure that policies implemented by different Ministries should not work at cross purposes. The Power Ministry, for example wants to cut the forests for generation of electricity while the Environment and Forests Ministry does not want to cut them for conservation of biodiversity. The Planning Commission was expected to synchronize such policies. The Commission has generally been successful in doing this as seen by the strides the country has made since Independence. Indeed, the Commission may have exceeded the scope of its authority by exercising undue influence on the allocation of funds to the state governments. But such exceeding the scope should not be read as failure; rather it may be a product of overreach fostered by personal equations that the likes of Montek Singh Ahluwalia enjoyed with Manmohan Singh. The Commission has become progressively cut off from the people and deeply connected with invisible bureaucratic and corporate interests. The world, however, is moving in the opposite direction.

At the annual Central Economic Conference in 2012, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee as he was then, demanded establishing decision-making consulting mechanisms and developing think tanks that are capable of assisting decision-makers and researching topics before practical needs emerge. Just one month after he was elected president, Xi expressed his approval to a proposal of building think tanks with Chinese characteristics. The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in November 2013 decided to establish a complete consulting system for decision-makers.

The National Planning Commission of South Africa released its vision statement and plan on its website, and then invited people to participate in the Plan's formulation online. The Commission set aside 72 hours to interact with members of the public. Minister Trevor Manuel sat at the laptop answering questions and taking on discussions with people.

Looking backwards, this demand for increased consultation is a new stage in development of governance. In 1750 only England and the Netherlands had placed limits on the powers of the king. All the other rulers of Europe, the Muslim Empires, and China had absolute power. The situation changed dramatically with the on coming of the Industrial Revolution. The economic changes lifted the standard of living and education of the masses. People began to question the assumptions of absolute governments. The new idea was that people can figure things out, and they can come up with better decisions. In the 1600s John Locke wrote that a ruler's authority is based on the will of the people. He also spoke of a social contract that gave subjects the right to overthrow the ruler if he ruled badly. The worldwide spread of democracy was thus directly an outcome of the technological changes that came with the Industrial Revolution.

The fundamental problem is that the Government is being run by a combine of foreign-, business- and bureaucratic interests. They have no interest or concern for the people. The country wants deeper and tangible changes in the way the government runs. Scrapping the Commission and establishing a Think Tank in its place will not serve any purpose. What is needed is to change the mindset of the bureaucrats. Mere changing names will not do.            [contributed]

Vol. 47, No.8, Aug 31 - Sep 6, 2014