NITI Aayog turns one; Focus on ‘think-tank’ role in New Year

New Delhi :Having completed its first year with focus on being an enabler for creating ‘Team India’ of states, NITI Aayog will now look at strengthening its role as a ‘think tank’ of the government in the New Year.

“First year was about setting up of the institution NITI Aayog. Next year, we will focus on building the think tank function of the organisation,” NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya said.

The National Institution for Transforming India, or NITI Aayog came into existence on January 1, 2015 through a Union Cabinet resolution, while replacing the nearly five-decade old Planning Commission of Yoyana Aayog.

In 2016, the Aayog will mainly focus on increasing its talent pool to prove its mettle as a think tank for Central as well states to improve the quality of policy making and monitoring of the government schemes and programmes.

It will also hire experts in various areas from outside the government system for development of its think-tank capabilities. The process for hiring Officers on Special Duty, Consultants and Young Professionals has already begun.

NITI Aayog spent a considerable part of its first year on restructuring the setup it had inherited from the erstwhile Planning Commission.

Following the spirit of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’, the number of sanctioned staff in the secretariat was reduced from 1255 to 500 with several persons repatriated to other arms of the Government.

Apart from reducing headcount to make it a leaner organisation, NITI Aayog undertook a restructuring of its divisions/verticals.

At the core of the exercise was the creation of two hubs Team India and the Knowledge and Innovation Hub each led by an officer of Additional Secretary level.

While the Team India Hub leads the engagement with states, the Knowledge and Innovation Hub is for building NITI Aayog’s think-tank capabilities.

NITI Aayog is also looking to become a repository of best practices and data from across the country. Recently, it released a Good Practices Resource Book 2015 which focusses on delivery in the social sectors in India.

Panagariya said, “There was a lot of learning in the first year after creating NITI Aayog. The think tank function of the institution is very important (in view of its new role envisaged by government).”

He also said that the three sub-groups of chief ministers have already submitted their report Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), Skill Development and Swachh Bharat and the report of two task forces on Agriculture and Poverty are expected in 2016.

Asked whether there could be any new subject on which a Chief Ministers’ Sub-Group can be constituted during 2016, he said, “Agriculture is one of those subject.”

The Aayog’s expert group on agriculture has recently floated a discussion paper with a set of ideas, including exploring use of genetically-modified seeds and minimum crop support price (MSP) reforms, for broader discussion.

In the course of its first year, NITI Aayog has set a new benchmark for cooperative federalism in which the Union and states work together as equals, as part of Team India.

In the spirit of federalism, NITI Aayog’s own policy thinking will be shaped by a ‘bottom-up’ approach rather than a ‘top-down’ direction.