Thursday, September 4, 2014

Unlamented demise of India's Planning Commission

Shiv Vishwanathan, an intellectual and a social scientist, in his article on 26th August in the prestigious newspaper The Hindu eulogised the Planning Commission. He is sorry to see it go without any funerary lamentations for its demise. While he may be right but the Commission had in a last few decades been functioning with a disconnect with ground realities. It, in fact, had become more an agency for distribution of largesse to the states than for planning for poverty alleviation, leave alone prosperity of the country.

 It was a relic of Nehruvian Fabian socialist phase of our economy which neither made us socialists nor capitalists. It left us eventually as a pseudo-socialist economy that made rich richer and left the middle classes and the poor where they were – struggling for survival in a regime of escalating prices and rising frustrations. Strangely, the Commission did not even manage to identify the poor. It came up from time to time with some weird figures for identifying the urban and rural poor.

With the Commission’s planners flying high up in the stratosphere making economic models for development that neither enabled the country to prosper nor eliminated widespread poverty in the sixty years of its predominance in economic planning for the country. In 1961 our Economics professors in the National Academy Administration would wax eloquent on how the country was poised for the “take-off” stage. From all evidences, even after more than fifty years the country is yet to take off, with so much poverty and pervasive malnutrition.

 Twenty years later, in 1980 while plying the participants in the advanced course in Public Administration in the Indian Institute of Public Administration with complicated mathematical economic models, Prof. Sukhomoy Chatterji, the then Member of the Planning Commission, was asked whether any provision was made for “Garibi Hatao”, Indira Gandhi’s slogan that swept her to power in 1971, in the economic model he promptly answered in the affirmative and pointed at the addition made in it. “Garibi” persists even thirty years after that, although millions were lifted from poverty after the economy was freed from controls in 1991 –not by courtesy of the Commission.

That the Yojana Bhawan will now not be the haunt of dreamers, econometrists and the unlikely bureaucrat should be a happy augury. For sixty years the country carried on its shoulders a mammoth monolith without much returns. Now that it is gone, it is a good riddance, perhaps a time to celebrate.    
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