India's finance minister Arun Jaitley said that most chief ministers have favoured replacing the Planning Commission with an alternative structure which has representation from the central government and the states and expert participation also.
Briefing reporters after the meeting of chief ministers called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss reshaping of the Planning Commission, Jaitley said that most chief ministers were also of the view that the new institution should not be a "merely central government structure".
"Most favoured an alternative structure where the Centre, states and experts participate... A very large majority was in favour of changed structure," he said.
Without naming the Congress or its chief ministers, Jaitley said some chief ministers wanted that revamp should be carried out within the existing body. "A few, while agreeing with the general principles of change, felt if the present Planning Commission could evolve into that structure," he said.
Jaitley said the meeting was followed by a retreat where the prime minister and chief ministers had "an informal meeting" with no bureaucrats present. He said there was no specific agenda for the retreat and any issue could be discussed. Answering a query about the final decision of the government on reshaping the planning panel, Jaitley said it will "take a considered view after consultations are over". He did not specify a time frame.
The minister said there was a large consensus at the meeting that "the context has changed and there is need to decentralise both power and planning". He said there was also a large consensus that states have to be strengthened. He said most chief ministers felt that there was a fallacy that "one size fits all" and the requirement of each state was different and the states know what suits them the best.
Jaitley said the chief ministers felt that the strategy has to be to empower the states and strengthen federalism. Most states favoured a system which strengthens their ability to deliver and wanted more flexibility "rather than a controlled and command structure", he said.
He said Banerjee West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee, who did not attend the meeting, sent a letter to the prime minister favouring decentralisation and strengthening of states. She had also suggested enhancing role of inter-state council and giving it a role in the planning process. He said the issue of five-year plans will be addressed once the government takes a final decision on reshaping the Planning Commission.
Jaitley also said the prime minister in his remarks at the meeting said that the plan panel would have to reinvent itself to remain more effective and relevant in the present context. Modi, in his speech, cited his predecessor Manmohan Singh's remarks made in April that the commission has no futuristic vision in the post-reform period. Modi said the panel should be replaced by an organisation which can strengthen the federal structure and energise states.
According to Modi, the process of policy planning has to change from "top to bottom" to "bottom to top", the finance minister said. "The prime minister also noted that in countries such as the US, think tanks that function independently of the government have a major role in policy-making," he added.
"The prime minister said that when he was chief minister of Gujarat, his heart was with the chief ministers and he had felt the need for a better platform to articulate the view of states," Jaitley said.