The masters of planning- Were they truly effective?

The change of administration at the center is much likely to bring in healthier changes in the organizational structure as well as the working culture of the think tank of the nation, the planning commission. It is for sure that the veteran administrator, Narendra Modi, who has exceptionally been advocating a comprehensive overhaul of the commission, would favor quick amendments. Vital to note, even the UPA reign PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh acknowledged that the commission had been working unproductively, and to match steps with the dynamic economic circumstances changes are necessary. Dr. Singh emphasized that the new world is distinctive hence the traditional sets of rules and regulations of the commission are futile.

Let us analyze the role of the commission in nation building since its inception. With a view to providing requisite pace to the economy and uplifting the rate of development, the GOI in the year 1950 came up with a proposal of setting up a body of intellectuals that could device plans recognizing the available resources and allocating these in the best possible manner to extract maximum utility. Inflationary pressures, scarcity of resources, deficiency in the supply of foodgrains, move of people inside the borders of India in search of home and shelter, and balance of payments disparities were the concerns that led to the formation of Planning Commission. The body was bestowed upon with the task of framing feasible and effective plans, without worrying about the day-to-day administration tasks.

The directive principles of the state policy as enumerated under the constitution of India sets guidelines and mission for the government, and demands for adequate means of livelihood for men and women, proficient use of material resources of the country, and justifiable distribution of wealth and means of production. To uplift the standard of living of the Indians and to provide satisfactory earning prospects, the planning commission was to play a key and intelligible role. Ever since then, the commission has been equipped with workforce that has a proven track record so as to analyze the bottlenecks, recognize the opportunities, and formulate policies that could ensure prosperity and utmost utilization of country’s resources.

Let us briefly know what is expected out of the commission. The foremost task remains assessing the capital, material and human resources of the nation, and augmenting these with respect to country’s needs. The intellectuals are expected to devise plans and define step-by-step implementation process so as to help achieve best outcomes. The commission is also looked for ascertaining factors that restrict the economic development and for determining the nature of machinery that is necessary for successful execution of the devised plan. Thereafter, the commission must appraise the progress of the plan and suggest measures to ensure that the anticipated and achieved results are the more or less the same.

Now let us review the economic development of the nation which was expected to boom post the constitution of the planning commission. The limited resources of the nation were allocated under the licensed framework. Prices were administered, distribution was controlled, and production and imports were licensed, which resulted in economic as well as social unrest. The ones who were able to secure licenses and means of production flourished, leaving aside the rest to struggle. Nor was the objective of eliminating the curse of poverty and unemployment paid heed to. Rather than building durable assets, the government created artificial earning prospects that though were able to create prompt difference, however were a curse for long-run.

Until now, the ever-prevailing concerns of lack of drinking water and health facilities, mounting infant mortality rate, restricted literacy level, regional disparities, and rising unemployment are waiting to be dealt with. The urban infrastructure is not matching steps with the rise in the rate of urbanization. The mismanagement of natural resources viz. land, water, and minerals is known to all. Unequal distribution of national income remains a primary distress. Furthermore, the ever-high fiscal deficit, rise in prices, mounting public debt, and critical balance of payments circumstances have not just made the life of a common man miserable, they have also lessened the scope of procuring funds for the Indian concerns.

What can the solution be? Urban infrastructure has to match steps with the rate of urbanization. Development institutions in the backward regions of the country and their delivery system have to be strengthened. Economic diversification is the need of the hour. Special needs of capital, processing, and marketing for small land holdings have to be paid heed to. Wastelands have to be recovered and green cover to be extended with incentives to promote efficiency in the use of natural resources. The interests of the poor and underprivileged have to be protected. Above all, top to bottom restructuring of the economic management is necessary with a view to providing requisite pace to development rate. Deficit financing in terms of government’s borrowings from the RBI has to be checked.

The planning commission that works as the body to formulate plans needs to think more than just allocation of resources. Efficient utilization of the allocated resources too has be paid attention to. The commission will have to play an integrative role and will have to coordinate the working of the central and state governments to bring in cost efficiency and productivity. Social infrastructure and human development are the areas of urgent attention too. Schools, hospitals, and scientific research institutions have to be encouraged, along with establishing a sound system of education and knowledge enhancement. While on one hand, market mechanism can serve as the tool for economic dexterity, planning in terms of scarce resources and social goals can assure development of all.

Considerable to note, the work of planning commission has been criticized by multiple committees. In the month of August 2011, the report tabled in Lok Sabha by a panel headed by Yashwant Sinha portrayed the failure of the commission ranging from delay in preparing the approach paper for 12th five year plan to wide imbalance in development across and within states. The futuristic vision, which shall be the core of planning, was absolutely missing. The panel realized that there was broad disconnect between planning, budgeting, and adequate monitoring and control functions. Can the nation expect timely economic and social reforms owing to the fact that the 12th five year plan, which was due to be commenced from April 2012, was approved by the apex policy making body, NDC in December 2012?

The UPA reign PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh realized the urgency of restructuring the working and accountability of the commission, though he was quite late. The failures of the government in almost every sector made the PM comprehend the fact that the think tank was employing same old techniques of planning in the era of changed social and economic circumstances. Worried about the future, Mr. Singh had asked four questions to the commission so as to undertake the work of streamlining. Ranging from the approach of the commission and new functions added to additional roles in light of the new economic world, the questions though have been answered by the commission’s members, nothing could be attained. The puzzled and sterile members could not deliver anything more than mere plans.

The nation and the economy can expect much from the tested brain of the new administrator, Mr. Modi. His visionary capabilities and quick decision-making attribute are what that can bring in requisite modifications in the working ability of the commission. Planning Commission too will have to realize the strengths and opportunities presented by the internal as well as the global environment, along with paying requisite heed to threats and weaknesses of the economic system. Since decades, five year plans have been embracing the same goals, however nothing much has been achieved. Time has come to think out of the box and come up with groundbreaking concepts. Surely, the members of the new commission formed post the polls would realize their actual task of nation building and will deliver the anticipated outcomes.

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