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Top Modi expert: Niti Ayog to keep critical policy issues in "private domain"; its think-tank role is yet to begin

By Our Representative
A top economist close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bibek Debroy, believes that, whenever the Government of India refers issues needing analysis of the Planning Commission successor Niti Ayog, they would not be made public. One of the three members so far appointed, Debroy said the think-tank has already begun to gets such “issues”, which are referred to it by the government.
“That has started to occur", he said in a recent Government of India blog, adding, though, "But will necessarily be in the private domain, not made public.” And what would go in the public domain? Debroy suggests, that would be assertion of government policies, which the think tank would pick up "suo motu, through a series of working papers”.
A controversial statement coming from a senior expert-turned-government official, Debroy’s idea about Niti's role has come at a time when already strong questions are being raised against different Government of India departments for concealing facts which should be put in the public domain as part of the Right to Information Act’s voluntary disclosure provision.
Senior RTI activist with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Venkatesh Nayak told Counterview that this type of behavior is “so typical of this government”, adding he is approaching the Chief Information Commission, the RTI watchdog of the Government of India, about “about lack of transparency in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, etc.”
Deboy admitted, even 11 years after the Niti Ayog was formed, replacing the Planning Commission, it yet to begin its function as a think-tank, because it does not have “in-house experts.” He said, this would happen “soon”, as recruitments take place, he regretted this is not being fully appreciated: “Unfortunately, people often begin to judge an organization without bothering to check information that is already in the public domain” on its website.
Pointing out that “different people mean different things” when they refer to Niti’s role as a think-tank, Debroy said, “It is not a think tank that dabbles in the abstract and the esoteric. It is interested in policy and suggesting better policy options, with networking with other such organization, including those that are outside government.”
However, he added, “For this, Niti has to acquire some in-house expertise. Not many people know that the number of positions in Niti has been slashed from around 1250 in the former Planning Commission to around 600. These are positions, with vacancies. Niti doesn’t begin to function only because there is a vice chairman and three members. We are gradually advertising for these positions -- they won’t only be filled from within government.”
Insisting that it would be better to ask what the Niti (which stands for National Institution for Transforming India) Ayog, formally set up on January 1, 2015, is going to do, than what it is doing, Debroy predicts, the think-tank function of the organization will begin in 2016-17, “not before”.
Stating that in 2015-16 “transition” is taking shape, Debroy said, “A large part of Niti’s mandate is the evaluation of public expenditure schemes, the examination of delivery and the linking of these schemes with tangible improvements in outcomes, difficult though this may be for social sectors, especially health.”

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