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Plan panel keen to reinvent itself

December 21, 2009 16:06 IST

Montek Singh AhluwaliaOne of the key tasks before the India's top think tank Planning Commission, which witnessed return of Montek Singh Ahluwalia as deputy chairman for a second straight term, would be to reinvent itself and make the planning process more relevant and contemporary.

Besides undertaking the routine work, Ahluwalia entrusted the task of revamping the Commission to new member Arun Maira, formerly with the Boston Consultancy Group. "We cannot work is silos. We need better lateral inputs," Ahluwalia had said at a recent internal meeting of the commission.

The commission, which was reconstituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after United Progressive Alliance returned to power for the second term, began the exercise of moderating the 11th Plan's growth projections in the wake of the global economic meltdown.

In addition to providing policy input to the government to neutralise the impact of the global financial crisis, triggered by fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the plan panel began the customary mid-term review of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012).

The ambitious Plan, which sought to raise the economic growth to 10 per cent by the terminal year of the 11th Plan (2011-12), was hit by the global financial crisis and the growth projections are likely to be moderated to a more realistic level as part of the mid-term appraisal of the Plan.

The new team, however, does not include Kirit Parikh, V L Chopra, B Mungekar, B N Yugandhar and Anwarul Hoda. Besides Ahluwalia, those retained were Abhijit Sen, B K Chaturvedi and Syeda Hameed.

The reconstitution process started immediately after the UPA government came back to power in May.

In July, speculation was rife that the government would take on board India's IT posterboy Nandan Nilekani. But he was later appointed as the Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India.

A senior adviser of the elite Boston Consulting Group Arun Maira and former chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation K Kasturirangan joined as the new members of the Commission.

The new panel was called by the prime minister for a full Planning Commission meeting on September one to discuss the state of economy and review implementation of the integrated energy policy.

In his opening remarks, the prime minister had noted that the global economic downturn was coming to an end and there was a slow return to normalcy.

Singh had then said, "We have been through a difficult year because of the global economic downturn which is only now coming to end with a slow return to normalcy in the months that lie ahead. Besides members of the Planning Commission, the first meeting of the full panel in the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government was attended by more than a dozen ministers, including finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and home minister P Chidambaram.

Facing the ripple effects of global financial crisis, India's economic growth slipped to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 from about 9 per cent in the previous fiscal.

During the meeting, the Planning Commission tabled its assessment of economic growth. It estimated, the economic growth to fall further to 6.3 per cent in the current fiscal.

The review of the economy, Singh said, was important 'not only because we are starting the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government, but also because we are exactly at the mid-point of the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12)'.

Singh also underlined the need for rational energy policies saying "energy is vital for our economic growth and this is the area where we are a deficit economy. We import over 70 per cent of our petroleum energy needs and are also moving to a deficit position in coal".

Rational energy policies, the prime minister added, were also critical for rational responses to the threat of climate change.

"This is a new compulsion and we need to asses whether we are on track in critical aspects of our energy policies," he had said.

Noting that there is no symmetry in energy policies as different segments are under different ministries, Singh said, "IEP. . . approved by the Cabinet in December 2008 contained a number of recommendations covering different sub-sectors. . . it would be useful for the Planning Commission to present an assessment on how these recommendations have been implemented."

Image: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

K K Shankar and Chandra Shekhar in New Delhi
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