Why Revival of Planning Commission Should Get More Attention in Election Debates

Planning Commission

While a wide range of issues are being discussed in the ongoing election debates in India, one issue which has not received the attention it deserves relates to the possibilities of reviving the Planning Commission.

The idea of planned economic development was discussed even in the course of the freedom movement of India by such stalwarts of the independence struggle as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose.  Soon after independence the Planning Commission was set up at the Centre while state-level Planning Commissions were set up subsequently in various states. As many as 12 Five-Year Plans were subsequently prepared in the period up to the decade of the 2010s, with only a very short ‘planning holiday’ in between.

While no one will argue that the planning process was perfect or that it did not have its share of problems and flaws, on the whole this planning made an important contribution to the economic development of the country. However soon after the NDA government assumed power in 2014, without much ceremony or preparation it abolished the Planning Commission. What was most surprising was the haste with which such an important decision was taken so soon after assuming power, as though this was a pre-determined decision.

Surely the least that was expected in the context of such an important decision was that there would be a widespread process of consultation with state governments, experts and people, officials in the Planning Commission and state planning commissions, but this was neglected.

Had planning suddenly become less important for economic development? In fact it can be argued that on the contrary, planning has become even more important now with the deepening of the environmental crisis. To give an example, earlier the basic issue revolved around meeting the needs of all people within certain resource constraints. Now there is the additional important issue of how this is to be achieved while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly this calls for more detailed and careful planning, not less.

It is increasingly realized that fast increasing inequalities constitute a very serious problem of Indian economy. Reducing inequalities on a sustained basis is also best achieved in conditions of planned economic development.

The existence of the Planning Commission had also provided a means of increasing possibilities of certain correctives being applied or at least flagged whenever wrong decisions were taken or things started going wrong.

Due to these and other reasons there is a strong case for the revival of the Planning Commission as well as the preparation of Five-Year Plans to guide the process of planned economic development in the country.

Of course by revival we do not mean the re-creation of the Planning Commission and the planning process exactly as it was. In fact if proper conditions emerge for reviving the Planning Commission, then it would be best to take up this in a significantly reformed way so that even better results can be achieved. Over the decades, the Planning Commission had become too involved in working in a routine way so that truly innovative and liberating economic reforms were rarely on its agenda in more recent times. On the other hand, at the international scene, in several countries we see several exciting experiments being made and some very refreshing efforts of re-imagining economic development which are quite different from conventional thinking.

In particular, the Planning Commission and the planning process should be much more committed to inclusive development and to increasing equality at various levels in more sustainable ways.

In addition there is very exciting work waiting to be done in the context of incorporating various environmental concerns, particularly those relating to climate change, in economic development. As Sunderlal Bahuguna used to say in his inimitable way, ecology is permanent economy (economy of permanence).

The importance of incorporating longer-term concerns in economic development cannot be over-estimated. The Planning Commission and the planning processes can make a very important contribution to this.

This is a time of re-thinking and re-imagining economic development in keeping with the needs, very urgent needs, of contemporary times. These concerns are going to become even more important in the near future. Hence it will be very useful to bring back a significantly reformed Planning Commission and the planning process to guide India’s economic development in the near future.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Hos recent books include Man over Machine, When the Two Streams Met, A Day in 2071 and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.

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