National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog)

Arvind Panagariya stepped down as the Vice Chairman of the Indian Government’s think tank body, National Institution for Transforming India or the NITI Aayog. This marks the exit of a second policy maker in two years, the first one being Raghuram Rajan; who was the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Let us see what NITI Aayog is all about.

The NITI Aayog was created on 1st January 2015, it had replaced the 65 decade old Planning Commission. The two bodies are completely different in functioning, structure and even their composition.

The main objective of the NITI Aayog is to create an atmosphere of Centre-State coordination. This body ensures that even the State governments of India are included in the decision making. India has a history of disagreements between the Central and State governments and this body ensures that no such issues arise as it allows full integration of state governments into the decision making.

This body (NITI Aayog) is headed by the Prime Minister of India and is given the title of ‘Chairperson.’ The Chairperson has the power to appoint the Vice-Chairperson, who up till now was Arvind Panagariya. The Chairperson also has the power to appoint the CEO of the NITI Aayog, who is usually an Indian Administrative Service officer (IAS) and has the same rank as that of the ‘secretary to Government of India’ and is appointed for a fixed tenure by the Chairperson. Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors of all States and Union Territories respectively are members of the NITI Aayog. Along with them are 4 Union Ministers who are nominated by the Prime Minister. There are also specialists and experts of relevant fields who are members of the NITI Aayog and are invited by the Prime Minister, usually they are members for a tenure of 2 years and are kept on rotational basis; however their tenure can be extended if the Prime Minister wishes to do so.

The NITI Aayog also consists of ‘NITI Lectures.’ These lectures consists of talks by intellectuals from across the world with diverse background which allows for more innovation and intellectual input in the governing and planning of the country.

Planning Commission worked on developmental model of top-bottom (Centre to Village), Whereas the NITI Aayog is the opposite of it. It works on a bottom-top (Village to Centre) developmental model, which gives a more focused approach towards local issues. The Planning Commission would create plans which would be unifiorm for all State and Union Territories, but now the NITI Aayog creates plans which are State specific and region specific, so that issues are more effectively tackled. How does the NITI Aayog achieve this? It has region specific committees which look after the planning of their respective areas, this was an essential feature which was lacking in the Planning Commission.

Unlike the Planning Commission, the NITI Aayog is completely an advisory body, this means that it can only ‘advise’ the government on the course of development the government should take. Also, the Planning Commission had powers to distribute and allocate funds to the state, ministries and departments of the government. This is a power which the NITI Aayog does not have due to its ‘advisory’ nature.

There have been vast number of criticisms by the opposition and many citizens about the NITI Aayog, that it is the Planning Commission; only that it has been renamed to something else. However, it (NITI Aayog) is very different from the Planning Commission as I have stated above.  It improved Centre-State relations by making planning more transparent and co-operative. With inclusion of field specific specialists and experts, the body also has an intellectual side to it which is one of the most positive aspects of the body. The NITI Aayog was a step in the right direction.

Priyamvad Rai

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