The Statesman, 06 Oct 2014
"An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man", Emerson had observed. Undoubtedly, the Planning Commission was nurtured under the overstretched shadows of the socialist ideals of Nehru. While the Modi Government's decision to consign it to the dustbin of history was most welcome, one cannot but look without apprehension into the government's consideration to create a replacement institution. Institutions have a life of their own, and once established, they cannot simply be wished away. If its replacement inherits any of the weaknesses that had made the Planning Commission such a dysfunctional but growth-obstructing institution, the substitute will also continue to corrupt our governance system for a long time. We ought to be very careful in resurrecting it in another form, without adequate thought and clarity about its intended role and purpose.
With its unrestrained powers and authority, the Planning Commission was serving powerful interests that ensured its survival for such a long time. Its abolition is no guarantee that these interests will let go of their privileges so easily ~ they are more than likely to stage a come-back, albeit in a different guise. This chain needs to be broken irrevocably, before history repeats itself. History is replete with examples of new incarnations of old institutions having inherited the character and shortcomings of those they have replaced. As a nation with an abundance of talent and entrepreneurial capacity, we need to consider if we really need another institution in place of the Planning Commission to guide the nation by their own ideas.
It may be interesting and instructive to draw from the experiences of other countries in this regard ~ for example, the BRICS countries India is often grouped with. In the erstwhile Soviet Union, the State Planning Committee, known as Gosplan, was responsible for central economic planning since its inception in 1923, till the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gosplan was responsible for creation and administration of a series of five-year plans governing the economy of the USSR, much like the Planning Commission in India during 1950-2014, or the State Planning Commission in China during 1952-1998. But after the break-up of the Soviet Union, countries that rose from its debris have shifted determinedly from planned economies to market economies by adopting liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation as the only way forward, and some of these countries, like Estonia, have registered GDP growth exceeding 8 per cent, transiting into advanced economies. Russia does not have a centralised planning system anymore; the state control that had marked six decades of overwhelming dominance of all investment, production and consumption decisions by the Communist Party is now a nightmare of the past. The country is grappling today with the decrepit legacy of its earlier centralised planning system.