The need for adherence to the spirit of cooperative federalism topped the agenda as Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the seventh meeting of the Governing Council of Niti Aayog, at Rashtrapati Bhawan Cultural Centre in the national Capital on August 7.
With the notable exception of Telangana Chief Minster K Chandrashekar Rao, almost all the chief ministers, including West Bengal’s Mamata Banneree, were in attendance at the meeting.
As PM Modi pointed out at the outset, this was the first highest level physical meeting of the Aayog postpandemic and cooperation of all the states and other stakeholders was required at a time when India was facing global headwinds due to disastrous impact of Covid-19 and Ukraine war.
The last governing council meeting was physically held in February 1919. The council meeting was not convened in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since the meeting was in progress at the time of going to the press, the details of discussion were not available. The agenda included achieving self-sufficiency in oilseeds, pulses and agri-commodities, National Education Policy and crop diversification, including other things.
Unfortunately, while most non-BJP CMs participated in the deliberations, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao struck a discordant note by abstaining in protest, ques prising since even Mamata Bannerjee, who had emerged the most vocal critic of the Centre’s alleged breach of the spirit of cooperative federalism and not attended Niti Aayog’s meetings in the past, participated after a one-to-one meeting with Modi.
Responding to the KCR’s letter to PM Modi, Niti Aayog, in a statement, said the institution has already taken a number of measures to work closely with the states. It also highlighted the Centre’s financial assistance to Telangana and claimed that KCR’s allegations were false.
Independent observers have observed that despite occasional criticism of the Niti Aayog, the organisation had played a key role in steering the national policies for development of inclusive growth across all sectors and regions. In his first I-Day address in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the replacement of the 64-year-old Planning Commission with a new institution “having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country…”
And the new direction was to be based on “creative thinking, publicprivate partnership, optimum utilisation of resources, utilisation of youth power of the nation” to empower the state governments and the federal tioning the relevance of the Niti Aayog itself in a statement issued on the eve of the meeting. This was rather sur structure. Accordingly, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog was formed on January 1, 2015. Since then, every significant Government policy has had the definitive stamp of the Niti Aayog.
In the last six years, the Aayog has come up with reports and targets on a range of subjects — doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022, holding simultaneous elections in 2024, a 100 per cent shift to electric vehicles by 2030, rolling out a ‘One Nation, One Health System’ policy by 2030, which would merge allopathy, homoeopathy and Ayurveda into one system, raising the investment rate in the country from 29 per cent of GDP to 36 per cent by 2022, and making India malnutritionfree by 2022, among several others.
The Niti Aayog’s biggest contribution comes in terms of its ability to draft and recommend policies in a way that breaks the silos in which ministries often operate, bring ideas from across the world and evaluate their suitability for India, and plan in a long-term, disruption-friendly way.
One of the biggest achievements of the Aayog with regard to states has been its aspirational districts programme, started in 2018, which seeks to transform 115 districts with the least progress, across 28 states, along certain development parameters like health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion, skill development and basic infrastructure.
Hailed as one of the biggest governance reforms pushed by the Aayog, the initiative involves the thinktank ranking the aspirational districts through a public ranking system,thereby instilling a sense of competitiveness among local-level governments to bolster development.