The 12th and last five year plan of India was completed on March 31, 2017. With this, the five year plans have become a thing of past. It was already announced that there will be no more five year plans. In August, 2017, NITI Aayog has come up with a new idea of planning for future development of India. The core idea is that India has still not abandoned the process of planningand the country still has planned development in action. However, the only difference is that the process of planning is entirely different. The first major difference is that instead of a single five year plan, the country will have three plans spread over three different time periods.

  • First is a 15 year “Vision” that encompasses overall goals and objectives of the country for next 15 years.
  • Second is a 7 year “Strategy” which lays the roadmap of development for next seven years dividing those goals and objectives into two parts.
  • Third and Final is a “Three Year Action Agenda” which states the tasks and targets to be accomplished in next three years time frame, further dividing the strategy into two parts.

NITI Aayog was in process of working out the above plan since May, 2016. A draft was placed in third Governing Council meeting of NITI Aayog on April 23, 2017. Governing Council of NITI Aayog comprises of all States Chief Ministers, so the central government including prime minister accord it much priority.

Key Features of 15 Year Vision

NITI Aayog has drawn up a list of no less than 300 specific action points covering wide range of sectors under the 15 year vision document, though specific details of the same are not available.

  • This document had a seven-year strategy document for 2017-24 as the “National Development Agenda” and separately is a three-year ‘Action Agenda’ from 2017-18 to 2019-20. The three-year agenda is further divided into seven parts, with a number of specific action points for each part to boost India’s development.
  • This document has a vision not only to ensure “access to two-wheelers or cars, air-conditioning, and other white goods for nearly all” and but also includes internal security and defence.
  • In 15 years, India aims to get triple size of its economy; its GDP to grow from Rs. 137 Lakh Crore now to Rs. 469 Lakh Crore in 2032. Per capita GDP and per Capita Income is also slated to increase by three times in this period.
  • With GST in place and “one nation, one aspiration, one determination” philosophy, the states’ role in overall development of the country is to rise exponentially.
  • By 2031, India’s urban population is expected to increase by 22 crores. Taking a clue from China’s long-term urban development agenda, the vision documents lays emphasis on urban development.

We note here that in May, 2017, NITI decided to combine the 15-year vision document with 7-year medium-term strategy paper to again bring out a comprehensive roadmap to accelerate the economic growth.

Salient Features of Three Year Action Agenda

The three year action agenda is touted to be the first step towards attaining the envisioned outcomes by 2031-32. The document is divided into 7 parts with 24 chapters. The key points from this document are as follows:

Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF)
  • This document analyses the forecast of the revenue of the government and then proposes a sector wise expenditure allocation for three years. It also proposes reducing fiscal deficit to 3% by 2018-19 and revenue deficit to 0.9% of the GDP by 2019-20.
  • The major focus is on certain high priority sectors such as health, education, agriculture, rural development, defence, railways and other categories of capital expenditure.
Doubling Farmers’ income by 2022
  • The action agenda seeks to double farmers’ income by several means including reform in APMCs; raising productivity through enhanced irrigation; faster seed replacement rates; precision agriculture; and a shift to high value commodities, horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries etc.
Job Creation in Industries and Services
  • The document moots the idea of Coastal Employment Zones to boost exports and generate high-productivity. It also proposed enhancing the labour market flexibility through reforming the key laws.
  • It emphasizes addressing the NPAs of banks and supports auction of larger assets to private Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs). It also makes pitch to strengthen the SBI led ARC. It has outlines certain action points on specific sectors also.
Urban Development
  • This includes bringing down the land prices to make housing affordable through increased supply of urban land; flexible conversion of land use; release of land held by sick units; generous Floor Space Index; reform of rent control act on the lines of Model Tenancy Act; promotion of dormitory housing; City transport and waste management.
Regional strategies
  • This includes targeted development of North East; Coastal Areas & Islands; North Himalayan states; Desert and Drought prone states; Transport and Digital Connectivity. It also emphasizes on Railway Infrastructure and security; inland waterways; civil aviation etc. Other points included here are ensuring last mile connectivity; E-governance, financial inclusion; simplifying payment structure and improving literacy.
  • Facilitate Public-Private Partnership by reorienting the role of the India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd. (IIFCL); introducing low cost debt instruments and putting National Investment Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) to work.
Energy Sector
  • The document emphasizes to adopt consumer friendly measures such as provision of electricity to all households by 2022; LPG connection to all households and elimination of black carbon by 2022; extension of city gas distribution programme to 100 smart cities; reducing cross subsidy in the power sector; reforming the coal sector etc.
Science & Technology
  • This includes creating a comprehensive database of all government schemes and evaluating them for desirable changes; developing guidelines for PPPs in Science & Technology to improve education and industry-academia linkages for demand driven research.
  • Create a National Science, Technology & Innovation Foundation to identify and deliberate national issues, recommend priority interventions in S&T and prepare frameworks for their implementation; streamline the administration of the patent regime
  • Towards governance, the action agenda calls for recalibration of the role of government by shrinking its activities that don’t serve public purpose and expanding its role in areas that necessarily require public works.
  • Closing the loss making PSEs and strategic disinvestment of 20 identified CPSEs.
  • Expanding the government’s role in public health and quality education. Strengthening the civil services through netter HRD management, E-Governance, addressing anomalies in tenures of secretaries and increasing “lateral entry”.
Taxation and Regulation
  • This includes tackling the tax evasion, expanding the tax base, simplification of tax regime etc.
The Rule of Law
  • This includes undertaking significant judicial system reforms including increased ICT use, structured performance evaluation and reduced judicial workload
  • The document also makes suggestions to states regarding legislative, administrative and operational reforms of police are suggested to the states.
Education and Skill Development
  • This includes quality of school education; moving away from input-based to outcome-bases assessments; rank outcomes across jurisdictions; judicious use of ICT; revisiting the no-detention policy and focus on creating and funding public universities under World Class Universities Programme.
  • This includes focus on public health through significantly increasing government expenditure on it; establishing the focal point and creating dedicated cadre; generating and disseminating the periodic, district level data as per uniform protocols; formulating a model policy on human resources for health, implementing bridge course of nurses and AYUSH practitioners in primary care; reforming the IMC act; and various acts governing the homeopathy and Indian systems of medicine.
  • Other points include launch of National Nutrition Mission, and a comprehensive Nutrition Information System.
Building an Inclusive Society
  • This includes enhancing the welfare of women, children, youth, minorities, SC, ST, OBCs, differently abled persons and senior citizens; developing a composite gender-based index to reflect the status of women; introducing skill-based education and extra-curricular activities as a mandatory part of school curricula; designing innovative conditional cash transfer schemes to encourage girls’ education.
Environment and Water Resources
  • This includes adopting sustainable practices and streamline regulatory structures to support high economic growth; adopting measures to tackle city air pollution; revisiting policy towards felling of trees on private land and transport of trees; and promoting sustainable use of water resources by improving groundwater management, adopting smart water meters for specific industrial units and enhancing the regulatory environment in the sector.

The Three year Agenda of the NITI Aayog has noble ambitions for accelerating the economic growth and increase employment opportunities; though most of them are not new.

Difference between Old and New Strategy

The key question is – What is the material difference between the new development agenda by NITI Aayog in the so called “vision”, “strategy” and “action agenda”? The difference is as follows:

1. The new approach is more democratic and federalist

We have already discussed that the Planning Commission had some fearsome powers to force state chief ministers be there in Delhi with their caps in hand, to get their state plans approved – this was a painful bureaucratic process. Further, most of the expenditures were divided into planned and non-planned developments and there existed a sense of Stalinist approach to development. All that is now part of history. India is no longer “officially” a planned economy. The chief ministers don’t need to come to Yojana Bhawan. They are treated as equal partners in the development projects. This naïve yet innovative federalist conception of planning can be said to be the first major difference between old and new processes.

2. The new approach has no plan and non-plan expenditures outlays imposed from top

With not as much as authoritative powers in hand, NITI Aayog works as a think tank and truly advisory body whose main job is to set priorities and instrumentalities to achieve those priorities. These documents provide only a broad roadmap to the government and have not detailed any schemes or allocation, because there are no financial powers with NITI Aayog. Government has already done away with the planned and non-planned development and the documents of NITI Aayog have no financial roles, they can be best called policy guide-maps.

3. The new approach is flexible and suitable for liberalized environment

Going with the NITI Aayog view, there was a need to rethink the tools and approaches to conceptualize the development process in an increasingly open and liberalized economy. The NITI Aayog maintains that the new plan would allow the government to better align the development strategy and changed reality of India. The agenda has covered the wide range of sectors including agriculture, industry and manufacturing. It has discussed the policies necessary for urban and rural transformation and a range of growth enabling ingredients including transport, digital connectivity, entrepreneurship etc.

4. Successive Governments can carry forward the work of previous governments

The electoral cycles don’t synchronise with the five year plans and quite often, this results in the loss of accountability for the outgoing government and rests on incumbent government. If there is a continuous plan, then, the successive government takes ahead the works left by previous government. Thus, whichever is the ruling dispensation at centre, the agenda makes the government more directly accountable for implementation of these plans.

5. Allows course correction and flexibility

A shorter period of three years gives government an improved prospect to make corrections and adaptations during its own term in office. The 3, 7 and 15 years plans allow flexibility to adapt to the changing circumstances and exogenous variables. This would enable the government to look into future, particularly at evolving technology, demography and ecology, and accordingly align the policies. 15 year vision document is also somewhat coterminous with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN.

How can this Agenda be realised?

There are several proposals by print media commentators. For your examination, the below suggestions would be helpful to add value to your answers. First, there can be a separate parliamentary committee to meaningfully engage with NITI Aayog about its policy prescriptions. Second, state level sub-institutions can be created (Su-NITI). Third, there is a need of taking states together and giving them wider say.

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