An assessment of the Planning Commission by the Independent Evaluation Office has found that the plan body exceeds the scope of its authority by acting as a "control commission", particularly its influence on the allocation of funds to the state governments even though it was set up in 1950 as a recommending body by a Cabinet Resolution. This raises constitutional concerns as the framers of the Constitution created the Finance Commission for this very purpose, a constitutional body with several checks and balances says the assessment note.
"Since the Planning Commission has defied attempts to reform it to bring it in line with the needs of a modern economy and the trend of empowering the States, it is proposed that the Planning Commission be replaced" says the assessment. It goes on to recommend "that the Planning Commission’s role as an allocator of resources to the States should be taken up by the Finance Commission and the allocation of resources amongst the Central Ministries should be carried out by the Finance Ministry."
This independent assessment of the Planning Commission was sent to the Prime Minister by the Director General of Independent Evaluation recommending that a new think tank be set up staffed by experts with domain knowledge to replace the plan body. This new think tank should be tasked with giving recommendations and with providing a road map of priorities to Central and State Governments, to Parliament as well as to the private sector. It should report to the Prime Minister but also have a defined relationship to Parliament.
This think tank of the government can be called the Reform and Solutions Commission to highlight its role as a driver of new and dynamic thinking. It should perform three main functions: serve as a solutions exchange and repository for ideas that have been successful in different aspects of development in various states and districts and in other parts of the world; provide ideas for integrated systems reform; and Identify new and emerging challenges and provide solutions to pre-empt them.
The assessment finds that the opaqueness in the functioning of the Planning Commission is a matter of concern considering its role as a major allocator of resources to states and central ministries. The appointment of the Deputy Chairman by the Prime Minister, the lack of Parliamentary oversight over its leader and the lack accountability of the members of the Planning Commission are also singled out in the assessment.
“It is clear that the Planning Commission in its current form and function is a hindrance not a help to India’s development. In my experience it is not easy to reform such a large ossified body and it would be better to replace it with a new body that is needed to assist states in ideas, to provide long term thinking and to help cross cutting reforms” said Ajay Chhibber, Director General Independent Evaluation in releasing the report to the public.
Staffed largely by non-specialist bureaucrats the plan body lacks the expertise to act as a think tank to identify emerging issues or serve as an oversight body to review implementation of programmes and policies in the states.
The Independent Evaluation Office began functioning in February 2014 to independently assess the effectiveness of government programs, institutions and policies and make its findings available to the government and place them in the public domain.