This is the full text of my proposal that appeared in NITI Central. This is in response to the invitation by the Prime Minister to propose suggestions for the new body to replace the Planning Commission.
This note assumes that the strong mandate received by the Prime Minister in the elections held in May 2014 is a vote for a complete overhaul of the goals and methods of governance that have been in place for the last six decades and more. The country has progressed but has not been able to keep pace with, let alone get ahead of, aspirations and the mounting challenges of public health, sanitation, education, environment, urbanisation, safety and security of its citizens. Hence, dramatically new thinking is needed. The mould has to be broken.
Name and Structure
The new institution – to replace the Planning Commission of India – shall be named theDevolution, Decentralisation and Development Commission of India (DDDCI).
The rationale for the name
India is huge and diverse. Development challenges may be the same across States but the solutions have to be varied, depending on the policy path adopted thus far, social norms and culture, the political context, the level of skills, maturity and resilience of public policy institutions in each State. Therefore, it is better to make States both the owner and thekarta of economic and social development of the State.
Over time, the Centre shall become solely responsible (only) for foreign policy, national security, management, sharing of national resources, fiscal redistribution, related economic matters and international economic relations. In other areas, it shall convert itself actively into being a facilitator, laying down recommended guidelines and framework for policy, where necessary. It shall be an advisor and a sounding board – at the request of the States – for States in many areas of social and economic development.
Through its work, the new Commission – DDDCI – will be responsible for giving concrete shape to the new role that is envisaged for the Central government. For example, given that there is huge variation in the capabilities and the willingness of various States to pursue development goals, the Commission will be responsible for drafting the minimum standards, the processes and the protocol for the devolution and de-centralisation of development agenda to the States.
With the Prime Minister as the Ex-Officio Chairman of DDDCI, it shall have a Deputy Chairman who shall act as its CEO. The goals and responsibilities for the CEO shall be finalised in a discussion with the Prime Minister and made public (this is not necessary but can be considered actively).
Given that Article 263 of the Constitution permits the creation of an Inter-State Council through executive order (with Presidential assent), the Inter-State Council or its variant, the National Development Council with State Chief Ministers can be the Governing Body for the DDDCI.
The CEO, in turn, will assign goals to the Five ‘Advisors’ who will report to him. Each advisor shall be responsible for two policy areas. There will be an annual performance review with one or more interim reviews. Each Advisor will have an adequate staff of researchers, field officers and interns and administrative support.
Responsibilities and tasks of DDDCI (indicative and not exhaustive)
(1) The Commission will choose ten priority areas from the Concurrent List – in consultation with the Prime Minister – to commence work. In these areas, it will work to devolve (financial and other resources) and decentralise authority and administration for their implementation by States. It will identify legal and regulatory hurdles, if any, that would impede the transfer of authority, responsibility and resources for the States to take ownership of these priority areas.
(2) It will work with the States to initiate multiple pilot schemes – taking into successes and failures from the past, among other things- in each of the priority policy area. Review and consultation with States and course correction are expected to be part of this. The Commission will guide the Centre in the funding of these pilot schemes/policy experiments.
The assumption here is that no one size fits all problems and all States. Even within States, multiplicity of approaches and solutions may well be needed. This is also based equally, if not more, importantly on the extensive research and its documentation oninherent human limitations in decision-making*. We need to adapt our decision-making processes recognising the findings of such research.
Of course, acceptance of this approach and its practical implementation will not be easy. This is where the Commission will have its role cut out. The main challenge before the Commission is to help all the stakeholders deal with the complexity of managing de-centralised and a diverse approach to economic and social development.
(3) It will conduct workshops, for groups of bureaucrats and Ministers or individually. What is envisaged here is on the lines of ‘Coaches’ who currently mentor many corporate executives and leaders.
(4) Among the ten policy priorities that the DDDCI will take up, one will be management of India’s mega cities. The top 10 Indian cities will have to have a completely different administrative structure, competence, authority and financial resources. They are bigger than many countries in the world. Chennai and Bangalore are twice the size of Singapore and Delhi and Mumbai are four times the size of Singapore. They urgently need attention and management lest they become irredeemable disease and death holes.
(5) DDDCI will act as a ‘Sounding board’ (Devil’s Advocate) for the Prime Minister. In fact, the vigour and rigour of their challenges to Prime Minister’s ideas and proposals should form part of their goals and annual evaluation.
(6) Through its work, the Commission will create policy case studies for discussion in India’s premier public policy and management education institutions to enrich their content and to enrich its own work, in the process.
(7) The Commission may consider exchanging experiences and information with similar bodies in other countries for cross-fertilisation of ideas, methods and goals.
* For a somewhat light-hearted treatment of the endemic mental blind spots that we humans have when it comes to decision-making, this video is recommended. For a slightly more serious treatment of the matter, Dan Ariely’s ‘Predictably irrational’ and Jason Zweig’s ‘Your money and your brain’ are recommended. For a scholarly treatment, read Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.