Do we need a planning body? Wind up the panel, it's an anachronism.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Parth J Shah
The Economic Times

The licence-permit-quota raj and the high walls of tariff were the ubiquitous instruments of Indian central economic planning. We have buried them for good. But we still keep brooding over what to do with the master who wielded these instruments. It’s a typical Indian existentialist angst in dealing with change.

Creative destruction is becoming the life of Indian companies, but for Indian government old is still gold, or even family heirloom. Just like the Indian firms, the government needs to understand and adapt to change, look at the future and not at the past. The Planning Commission symbolises the old approach to economic management.

It represents an antiquated economic philosophy and an antediluvian mindset. We need a clean break from that approach, philosophy, mindset. Let’s be unambiguously clear about India’s future path. The civil service, judiciary, and even the ministers from UP and Bihar should have no doubts about the broad path that will lead India into the 21st century with peace and prosperity.

With the burial of the instruments of central planning, the primary task left for the Planning Commission — of plan allocations — would become largely redundant if Mani Shankar Aiyar is successful in transferring finances along with functions and functionaries to local governments. The approach of top-down allocation of funds now belongs to history books.

Bury the Planning Commission along with the idea it represents — that government planners know better than people (markets) about most productive employment of society’s resources. If the government wants a think-tank, then let it create one. Do not struggle to shuffle around pieces of the old skeleton and strive to breath a new life into it. Create a council of economic advisors with a new mandate, a fresh vision and a modern structure. Give the chairperson of the council a Cabinet status, if you may.

I hope that the re-assembled ‘reform dream team’ will seize this opportunity to make a bold political statement by abolishing the Planning Commission. It will complement and reinforce their courageous economic programme.