Make National Development Council matter

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The Economic Times, October 25, 2011

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s fervent plea to political parties to strike a balance between adversarial political positions and cooperation on the long-term national agenda is bound to strike a chord with readers of this paper. Especially since it comes in the backdrop of paralysis in policy-making during the past few months.

The forum could not have been more apt: the meeting of the National Development Council (NDC) in the Capital this Saturday. The NDC was set up in August 1952 to “strengthen and mobilise the effort and resources of the nation in support of the Plan, to promote common economic policies in all vital spheres, and to ensure the balanced and rapid development of all parts of the country”. It is a true all-India body that reflects the federal character of our Union.

The first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru described it as a forum for ‘intimate cooperation’ between the central and state governments in the task of national development. Thus, apart from reviewing the working of the National Plan, the NDC is charged with considering important questions of social and economic policy affecting national development and recommending measures to achieve the aims and targets set out in the National Plan.

That is on paper. In practice, the NDC’s role has steadily eroded. Today, it is reduced to a pale shadow of what was envisaged back in 1952. Part of the reason lies in the declining importance of the Five-Year Plans in the postreform era. But an equally-important reason has to do with the rise of extra-constitutional bodies like the National Advisory Council whose views and debates on developmental issues have dominated the government’s agenda, unlike the views of the NDC or of the Inter-State Council.

This is not to dispute the wisdom of the policy initiatives that have emerged from the NAC ? whether it is the Right to Education Act or the proposed Food Security Act. But the success of any policy is assured only when people, and their elected representatives, own it. The Centre would do well to bear that in mind and restore the NDC to its past position of eminence

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