What did the recently concluded Niti Aayog meet chaired by the Prime Minister achieve in real terms? How many of its recommendations from the past four meetings were considered by the Union government and real help extended to the States, which are described by the Prime Minister as members of Team India? The council, the apex body of the Niti Aayog, includes all Chief Ministers, Lieutenant Governors of Union Territories, several Union Ministers and senior government officials.
Headed by the Prime Minister, the Governing Council meets regularly, and its first meeting took place on February 8, 2015. In it, the Prime Minister laid down the key mandates of Niti Aayog such as fostering cooperative federalism and addressing national issues through active participation of the States. The second meeting on July 15, 2015, reviewed the progress made by the three sub-groups of Chief Ministers and the two task forces.
Just on Paper
In the third meeting on April 23, 2017, Prime Minister Modi pitched for conducting simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies and shifting to a January-December fiscal year. The fourth meeting on June 17, 2018, deliberated on measures taken to double farmers’ income and the progress of government’s flagship schemes. None of the outcomes of these meetings took real shape in effect.
The fifth meeting, on June 15, 2019, among others, discussed subjects including major issues concerning water management, agriculture, and aspirational district programme. Besides, the council also deliberated on security issues in districts impacted by Left-wing extremism in States like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The best example of flouting Niti Aayog recommendations is in the case of Telangana. Despite it recommending a grant of Rs 24,000 crore for Mission Bhagiratha and Mission Kakatiya, the Centre did not give a single rupee. Even for the world’s largest multi-stage lift irrigation Kaleshwaram project, which will provide assured irrigation to 45 lakh acres in Telangana besides meeting drinking water and industrial water requirements, the Centre has not given a single rupee despite the Niti Aayog’s recommendation.
Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao during the third meeting pitched for various measures to address agrarian distress and to revamp the rural economy by reviving traditional activities such as sheep rearing, fisheries and dairy. Rao sought Centre’s support for these initiatives. But nothing happened thereafter.
In the fourth meeting, Rao asked the Centre to encourage fast-growing States such as Telangana by granting tax incentives, if additional devolution of funds linked to performance is not possible as the prosperity of the country lies in the growth of States. The Chief Minister also wanted to link the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to agriculture as part of the need to focus on agriculture and allied activities as an integrated sector.
Stressing the need for cooperative federalism, often talked about by Prime Minister Modi, the Chief Minister wanted more freedom to States in the implementation of schemes in areas such as health, education, urban development, agriculture and rural development. He also focused on Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu scheme. No concrete steps were initiated to take cognisance of these suggestions.
In fact, Rao while participating in a discussion on ‘Emerging Markets at Cross Roads’ at the World Economic Forum Meeting in China in September 2015 strongly supported the initiatives of the PM and his concept of Niti Aayog. He said, “In place of the earlier Planning Commission, an organisation called Niti Ayog consisting of all the Chief Ministers of all the States with Prime Minister as its Chairman has come into existence. We call this as Team India. With Prime Minister as Chairman and CMs as members, we all together plan the development of country as a whole and also the States’ development.”
Same Old Story
Against this background, the fifth meeting was held. It was attended by 26 Chief Ministers and others. The Telangana Chief Minister did not attend, maybe due to preoccupation with prior commitments. As usual, the Prime Minister spoke about the Team India concept and highlighted it with all lofty narratives such as the importance of Niti Aayog meet as a platform to inspire cooperative federalism, to collectively combat poverty, unemployment, drought, pollution, pockets of underdevelopment and all such factors that constrain India’s progress.
This time too, the Prime Minister welcomed discussion and suggestions made by various Chief Ministers and assured the Council that these would be seriously considered. There was broad consensus on reducing water wastage, promoting efficient water conservation practices, with rainwater harvesting to be undertaken at the household and community level with proactive policy and investment support.
Various Chief Ministers presented best practices from their respective States, which can serve as templates for replication across the country. The council also deliberated on the closely related issue of drought management and associate relief measures. It also reviewed the implementation of the Aspirational Districts Programme. The Prime Minister also reaffirmed the commitment of the government to combat Left-wing extremism.
As usual, courtesies were exchanged and the Prime Minister reiterated that the Centre is keen to partner with the States, and work together for India’s development.
The Niti Aayog, which is mandated with fostering cooperative federalism through structured support initiatives and mechanisms with the States on a continuous basis recognising that strong States make a strong nation, has not been successful in its objective. Though it seeks to design and assist the implementation of strategic, long-term policy frameworks and programme initiatives of State governments, it never gives any proper directive to the Union government to make them happen. The Governing Council, which is supposed to embody objective of cooperative federalism, seldom adheres to it.
(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)