At a unique conclave of Chief Ministers called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to replace the Planning Commission in Delhi on Sunday saw a consensus that more power and planning should be devolved to states, but Congress strongly opposed dismantling of the existing 65-year-old body established by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Following up on his Independence Day announcement from Red Fort that the Planning Commission would “soon” be replaced by a “new institution”, Modi was with Chief Ministers for nearly seven hours at his residence deliberating on what should be the future shape of the body.
Modi pushed for an effective structure, which strengthens “co-operative federalism” and the concept of ‘Team India’, and even cited his predecessor Manmohan Singh, saying he too had said on April 30 this year that the current structure has “no futuristic vision in the post-reform period”.
Except Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Mizoram and poll-bound Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand, CMs from all other states attended the meeting where Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh were also present.
Briefing the media, Jaitley later said there was a “larger consensus” that the “context” has changed and there is a “need to decentralise both power and planning”.
Noting that “there cannot be a universal scheme that suits all states,” he said “it is a fallacy that one size fits all in case of implementation of central schemes”.
The strategy should be to empower the states to enable them to meet their own specific needs, he said.
He gave no timeline about when the new body will be announced, saying the Centre will take a “considered view after consultations are over. However, there were indications that the shape of the new structure, which could also see the involvement of the private sector, may be firmed up by January 26 next year.
Congress Chief Ministers opposed disbanding of the Planning Commission and wanted a revamp of the existing body.
Congress Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told reporters that dismantling the Planning Commission would be “unwarranted, shortsighted and dangerous” as it will have long-term adverse effect on Centre-state relations.
He said the Planning Commission needed a “reorientation” and not “political burial”.
The Prime Minister said the question of role, relevance and restructuring of the Planning Commission had been repeatedly questioned for more than two decades.
Underlining that it was impossible for the nation to develop unless states develop, he told the meeting that the process of policy planning needs to change from “top to bottom” to “bottom to top”.
The states should have a key role in the new body, Modi said, adding that “states sometimes feel there is no platform to express their views…there should be an effective mechanism to address inter-state disputes.”
“Can we develop a new mechanism that plans according to India’s strengths, empowers states, and brings on board all economic activity, including that which happens outside the Government,” he asked while setting the tone for the meeting.
Pushing for “co-operative federalism”, he said the current global scenario offered a chance for India to take a big leap forward.
This, he added, was possible by formulating a suitable replacement to the Commission with a view to suitably harnessing the strengths of the country.
At the meeting, Congress-ruled states supported the idea of revamping the Planning Commission set up in 1950 but disfavoured its scrapping as they felt it can be “evolved”.
However, NDA states and some of those ruled by parties like AIADMK and TRS wanted immediate disbanding of the Planning Commission.
Opposing the move to disband the Planning Commission, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki described the body as a single window for small states to air grievances on issues like regional aspirations and Centre-state disputes.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said there is no merit or justification in the decision to dismantle the existing one created six decades ago.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik supported the initiative “aimed at transforming India’s co-operative federalism”, saying inequitable distribution of resources in the past had caused imbalances in development across states.