ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Old Wine, New Bottles

Mihir Shah’s article on “The ‘New’ Planning Commission” (EPW Web Exclusives http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/”new’-planning-commission.html, 30 August 2014) has done an admirable job of listing out the various functions of the erstwhile planning institution, under as many as seven heads. Rather than a twofold classification between positive and negative power, there may actually be four combinations: positive power to do good, positive power to do bad, negative power to prevent good, and negative power to prevent bad. For the country or polity as a whole, there may be a need for an institution that can act, like the Planning Commission (at times) as the author says, “with sagacity in checking profligacy of funds and schemes”. Often there is need for the smoothening and soothing hand of the technocrat or bureaucrat to rescue the government from its own single-mindedness, essentially for the rescuing act of preventing bad. The device of the ostensibly independent statutory body may be useful to protect the chief executive from the obligation of taking each and every decision on the allocation of resources and identification of implementing agencies on their own.

It is said that a new ruler starts with rearranging his generals, and the declared demise of the Planning Commission as we know it may just be showing this desire for a clean new start. However, the new prime minister also wants one or more “think tanks” to advice him on policies and strategies, which takes us back to the National Advisory Council of the previous government. The trouble with depending only on picked advisors of one ideology is that the agenda may be pulled too much in one direction, which makes it all the more desirable that there are diverse bodies.

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