NITI Aayog’s Assessment

The Aayog seeks to evolve a shared vision of national development priorities sectors and strategies with the active involvement of States in the light of national objectives

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[pib] SDG India Index, 2021

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SGG India Index

Mains level : Sustainable Development Goals

The third rendition of India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index will be launched by NITI Aayog today.

First launched in December 2018, the index has become the primary tool for monitoring progress on the SDGs in the country and has simultaneously fostered competition among the States and UTs.

SDG India Index

  • The index measures the progress at the national and sub-national level in the country’s journey towards meeting the Global Goals and targets.
  • It has been successful as an advocacy tool to propagate the messages of sustainability, resilience, and partnerships, as well.
  • From covering 13 Goals, 39 targets, and 62 indicators in the first edition in 2018-19 to 17 Goals, 54 targets and 100 indicators in the second; this third edition of the index covers 17 Goals, 70 targets, and 115 indicators.

Aims and objectives

  • The construction of the index and the ensuing methodology embodies the central objectives of measuring the performance of States and UTs on the SDGs and ranking them.
  • It aims at supporting States and UTs in identifying areas which require more attention; and promoting healthy competition among them.

Methodology and Process

  • The index estimation is based on data on indicators for the first 16 goals, with a qualitative assessment for Goal 17.
  • The technical process of target setting and normalization of scores follow the globally established methodology.
  • While target setting enables the measurement of the distance from the target for each indicator, the process of normalization of positive and negative indicators allows for comparability and estimation of goal wise scores.
  • The composite score of a State is derived by assigning each goal the same weight, keeping in mind the indivisible nature of the 2030 Agenda.
  • The selection of indicators is preceded by a consultative process undertaken in close coordination with MoSPI, Union Ministries and stakeholders from States and UTs.

Highlights of the 2021 Report

*The launch has been postponed due to model code of conduct by the Election Commission.

Its significance

  • The index represents the articulation of the comprehensive nature of the Global Goals under the 2030 Agenda while being attuned to the national priorities.
  • The modular nature of the index has become a policy tool and a ready reckoner for gauging the progress of States and UTs on the nature of goals including health, education, gender, economic growth and climate change and the environment.

Back2Basics: Sustainable Development Goals

  • The UN General Assembly in its 70thSession considered and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years.
  • The 17 SDGs came into force with effect from 1st January 2016.
  • Though not legally binding, the SDGs have become de facto international obligations and have potential to reorient domestic spending priorities of the countries during the next fifteen years.
  • Countries are expected to take ownership and establish a national framework for achieving these Goals.
  • Implementation and success will rely on countries’ own sustainable development policies, plans and programmes.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[pib] National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP)

Mains level : Data Analytics and its applications in governance

 

NITI Aayog has released its vision for the National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP).

National Data and Analytics Platform

  • The platform aims to democratize access to publicly available government data.
  • NDAP will host the latest datasets from various government websites, present them coherently, and provide tools for analytics and visualization.
  • It will spearhead the standardization of formats in which data is presented across sectors and will cater to a wide audience of policymakers, researchers, innovators, data scientists, journalists and citizens.
  • It will follow a user-centric approach and will enable data access in a simple and intuitive portal tailored to the needs of a variety of stakeholders.
  • The development of NDAP will take place over a period of one year. The first version of the platform is expected to be launched in 2021.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)

Mains level : Not Much

Alcohol manufacturers citing a shortage of domestic supplies have sought a reduction in import duty of Extra Neutral Alcohol to make it cost-effective for them to import from global markets.

Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)

  • Like ethanol, ENA is a byproduct of the sugar industry and is formed from molasses that are a residue of sugarcane processing.
  • It is the primary raw material for making alcoholic beverages.
  • It is colourless food-grade alcohol that does not have any impurities.
  • It has a neutral smell and taste and typically contains over 95 per cent alcohol by volume.
  • It is derived from different sources — sugarcane molasses and grains — and is used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as whisky, vodka, gin, cane, liqueurs, and alcoholic fruit beverages.

Uses of ENA

  • ENA also serves as an essential ingredient in the manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products such as perfumes, toiletries, hair spray, etc.
  • Given its properties as a good solvent, ENA also finds industrial use and is utilized in the production of some lacquers, paints and ink for the printing industry, as well as in pharmaceutical products such as antiseptics, drugs, syrups, medicated sprays.
  • Consultancy firm IMARC Group’s estimates put the ENA market in India at a volume of 2.9 billion litres in 2018.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] Reimagining the NITI Aayog

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : New vision for Niti Ayog

CONTEXT

India’s Constitution-makers thought of India as a union of States with a centripetal bias, done, advisedly, to preserve the unity and integrity of a newly fledged nation.

Change in situation

  • Since then, the Indian economy, polity, demography and society have undergone many changes. The new aspirational India is now firmly on a growth turnpike. It is in this context that we revisit India’s fiscal federalism and propose redesigning it around its four pillars.
  • Challenges before federations
  • Typically, federations (including the Indian one) face vertical and horizontal imbalances.

Vertical imbalance

A vertical imbalance arises because the tax systems are designed in a manner that yields much greater tax revenues to the Central government when compared to the State or provincial governments; the Constitution mandates relatively greater responsibilities to the State governments. For example, in India, post the advent of Goods and Services Tax (GST), the share of States in the public expenditure is 60% while it is 40% for the Centre to perform their constitutionally mandated duties.

Horizontal imbalances

  • The horizontal imbalances arise because of differing levels of attainment by the States due to differential growth rates and their developmental status in terms of the state of social or infrastructure capital.
  • Traditionally, Finance Commissions have dealt with these imbalances in a stellar manner, and they should continue to be the first pillar of the new fiscal federal structure of India.

Understanding the imbalance

  • However, in India, the phenomenon of horizontal imbalance needs to be understood in a more nuanced fashion.
  • It involves two types of imbalances. Type I is to do with the adequate provision of basic public goods and services, while the second, Type II, is due to growth accelerating infrastructure or the transformational capital deficits.
  • It is here that we believe that NITI Aayog 2.0 must create a niche, assume the role of another policy instrument and become the second pillar of the new fiscal federal structure.
  • It is best that the Union Finance Commission be confined to focussing on the removal of the horizontal imbalance across States of the Type I: i.e. the basic public goods imbalance.
  • We need another institution to tackle the horizontal imbalance of the Type II; for this the NITI Aayog is the most appropriate institution.

Tasks for Niti Ayog

  •  NITI Aayog 2.0 should receive significant resources (say 1% to 2% of the GDP) to promote accelerated growth in States that are lagging, and overcome their historically conditioned infrastructure deficit, thus reducing the developmental imbalance.
  • NITI Aayog 2.0 should also be mandated to create an independent evaluation office which will monitor and evaluate the efficacy of the utilisation of such grants. 

Ushering in decentralisation

  • The same perspective will have to be translated below the States to the third tier of government.
  • This is crucial because intra-State regional imbalances are likely to be of even greater import than inter-State ones.
  • Decentralisation, in letter and spirit, has to be the third pillar of the new fiscal federal architecture.
  • De jure and de facto seriousness has to be accorded to the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.
  • One of the ways for this is through the creation of an urban local body/panchayati raj institutions consolidated fund.
  • This would mean that Articles 266/268/243H/243X of our Constitution will need to be amended to ensure that relevant monies directly flow into this consolidated fund of the third tier.
  • Further, the State Finance Commissions should be accorded the same status as the Finance Commission and the 3Fs of democratic decentralisation (funds, functions and functionaries) vigorously implemented. This will strengthen and deepen our foundational democratic framework.

Fine-tuning the GST

  • The fourth pillar — and in a sense what is central and binding — is the “flawless” or model GST.
  • We need to quickly achieve the goal of a single rate GST with suitable surcharges on “sin goods,” zero rating of exports and reforming the Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) and the e-way bill.
  • The GST Council should adopt transparency in its working, and create its own secretariat with independent experts also as its staff.
  • This will enable it to undertake further reforms in an informed and transparent manner. Thus, India will be able to truly actualise the “grand bargain” and see the GST as an enduring glue holding the four pillars together by creating the new fiscal federal architecture and strengthening India’s unique cooperative federalism.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] Is NITI Aayog old wine in a new bottle?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : nothing much

Mains level : Need of reforms in Niti Ayog

CONTEXT

There must be a review of what the think tank has achieved to adopt the new role described in its charter

Under scrutiny

Now, when the country’s economy has not performed to the high expectations Mr. Modi had created, and citizens’ aspirations for ‘ache din’ have not been realised, the performance of the NITI Aayog is under scrutiny, as it should be.

History of reforms

Dr. Singh declared that reform of the Planning Commission was long overdue.

Planning Commission Reforms

  • An outline was drawn of a substantially reformed institution which would, in Dr. Singh’s words, have a capability for “systems reform” rather than making of Five-Year Plans, and which would have the “power of persuasion” without providing budgets.
  • A commission chaired by C. Rangarajan, then chief economic adviser to the Prime Minister, examined budgetary processes, divisions of responsibilities between the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission, and distinctions between ‘plan’ and ‘non-plan’ expenditures.
  • Chief Ministers retorted that the Planning Commission must improve its ability to understand their needs and to develop ideas that they would want to adopt because they accepted the ideas as good for them, not because they would have to if they wanted the money.

A good starting point

  • The NITI Aayog charter is a good starting point for a new journey in transforming the governance of the Indian economy.
  • The NITI Aayog and the government would do well to conduct an open-minded review of what NITI Aayog has achieved so far to adopt the new role described in its charter — that of a catalyst of change in a complex, federal, socioeconomic system.
  • And assess whether it has transformed its capabilities sufficiently to become an effective systems reformer and persuader of stakeholders, rather than merely an announcer of lofty multi-year goals and manager of projects, which many suspect it is.

Concerns regarding independence

  • There is deep concern that NITI Aayog has lost its integrity as an independent institution to guide the government; that it has become a mouthpiece of the government and an implementer of the government’s projects.
  • Many insist that NITI Aayog must have the ability to independently evaluate the government’s programmes at the Centre and in the States.
  • Some recall that an Independent Evaluation Office set up in the last days of the UPA-II government was swiftly closed by the NDA government.
  • Others counter that the Planning Commission had a Programme Evaluation Organisation all along and which continues. They miss the need for a fundamental transformation in the approach to planning and change.

Way Forward

  • The transformational approach to planning and implementation that 21st century India needs, which is alluded to in NITI’s charter, requires evaluations and course-corrections in the midst of action.
  • It requires new methods to speed up ‘organisational learning’ amongst stakeholders in the system who must make plans together and implement them together.
  • The NITI Aayog’s charter has provided a new bottle.
  • It points to the need for new methods of cooperative learning and cooperative implementation by stakeholders, who are not controlled by any central body of technical experts with political and/or budgetary authority over them.

Conclusion

Merely filling this new bottle with old ideas of budgets, controls and expert solutions from above will not transform India. The debate about NITI Aayog’s efficacy must focus on whether or not it is performing the new role it must, and what progress it has made in acquiring capabilities to perform this role, rather than slipping back into the ruts of yesterday’s debates about the need for a Planning Commission.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] The state of the States

Note4Students

Mains Paper 3: Economic Development | Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of Sustainable Development Goals.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the recently released NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Recently NITI Aayog released the SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018.

Background

  • India was one among the 193 United Nations member states to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015.
  • It has been making sincere efforts to achieve these goals.

SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018

  • The report is a useful comparative account of how well different States and Union Territories have performed so far in their efforts to achieve these goals.
  • However, it has not been possible to establish suitable indicators for three of the 17 goals, including climate action (SDG-13).
  • This is on account of either lack of identification of appropriate indicators or of the inability to compare different States.
  • On the whole, 62 indicators representing 14 goals have been identified based on their measurability across States over time.
  • A progress performance assessment has been made towards targets set by the Government of India, or the UN SDGs target for 2030, or the average of the three best-performing States.
  • For reasons of comparability, all these indicators are normalised.

States are categorised into four groups

  • Based on a scale of 0 to 100, the States are categorised into four groups: achievers, front runners, performers, and aspirants.
  • Achievers are those States which have already accomplished the set target.
  • Front runners are those States that are very close to realising them.
  • A majority of the States are categorised as performers and some lag behind as aspirants.

Arbitrariness in the exercise

  • Although classification sounds like an appropriate thing to do, there is arbitrariness in the exercise.
  • In a unitary range, those States with scores till the midpoint are categorised as aspirants and a cluster of States in a close range of progress are termed as performers.
  • A few States are designated as front runners.
  • The three front runner States — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Himachal Pradesh — assume values of 66, 69 and 69, respectively, as against a range of States with values between 50 and 64.
  • With the national score being 57, almost 17 States qualify as above or equal to the national score.
  • Plotted on a graph, there is a negatively skewed distribution of scores.
  • This needs to be recognised in classification; otherwise the arbitrariness with which the classification is made somewhat hints at a purposive designation of a few States in two extremes and a major share of them in between.

The problem of averaging

  • Further, when one reads into the performance on various SDGs, it is found that many States fall into the aspirant category, especially for SDG-5 (gender equality), SDG-9 (industry innovation and infrastructure) and SDG-11 (sustainable cities and communities).
  • These kinds of differences could well be emerging owing to a different number of indicators considered under different SDGs as well as their corresponding variability across the States.
  • This is evident in the variation of scores across different goals.
  • For instance, in case of goals 1 and 2, the range for the majority of the States is between 35 and 80.
  • For goals 3 and 6, the range is between 25 and 100.
  • Again, for goal 5, it ranges between 24 and 50.
  • Given these variations across different goals, merely averaging them not only compromises on robustness but also masks the disaggregated story to a large extent.

Difference between two states doesn’t give a clear picture

  • The difference in progress between the three front runner States is three points.
  • This is perhaps not similar to the distance between the performing States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which too have a three-point difference.
  • Such comprehension of achievement is limited as regards to comparing States, let alone designating them into four categories.

Way Forward: What can be done?

  • Finally, the process of aggregation adopted to present the summary index of compliance with the targets being a simple average assumes that each of the goals as well as the corresponding set of indicators are equally important and can substitute for each other.
  • This also overlooks the aspect of inter-dependence of various goals, although it is upfront stated in the exercise.
  • To ensure minimum robustness of this measure, a geometric average would have served towards avoiding perfect substitutability of one goal with the other.
  • While this exercise serves as a report card of performance of States as regards compliance with the SDGs, its scientific adequacy is compromised with arbitrariness that presents a stereotypical pattern of performance rather than bringing out surprises.
  • The choice of indicators representing specific goals need not necessarily be guided by availability but also their explicit independence from one another.
  • This may help in making a uniform set of indicators for each of the goals with proper representation without duplication.

Conclusion

  • On the whole, this performance assessment may not be misleading, but it does not help us understand the relative significance of compliance in some goals that helps in compliance of the other.
  • Thus, performance assessment of SDGs while overlooking the strict interdependence of them may not be rewarding.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

Ex-finance panel chief Kelkar for setting up ‘Niti Aayog 2.0’

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Indian Economy Issues relating to planning

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Analysing effectiveness of the erstwhile NITI Aayog and Planning Commission


News

  • Former Finance Commission chairman Vijay Kelkar has pitched for setting up of a ‘new NITI Aayog’ and giving it responsibility for allocating capital and revenue grants to the states.

Towards India’s New Fiscal Federalism

  1. Kelkar, in his paper said it is desirable that a functionally distinct entity such as the new Niti Aayog be put to use to do the job at hand related to the structural issues.
  2. It should function for removal of regional imbalances in the economy.
  3. However he did not suggested that the later to take the form of the old Planning Commission.
  4. Socialist-era Planning Commission was replaced by think-tank Niti Aayog on January 1, 2015, by the Modi government.

NITI Aayog isn’t effective?

  1. Kelkar argued that replacing the Planning Commission, which was promoting regionally balanced growth in India, by the Niti Aayog, a think tank, has reduced the government’s policy reach.
  2. This would mean that the new Niti Aayog or Niti Aayog 2.0 will be responsible for allocating development or transformational capital or revenue grants to the states.
  3. Kelkar also suggested that in order to make the new Niti Aayog more effective, it is essential to ensure that the institution is at the ‘High Table’ of decision making of the government.
  4. This means the vice-chairman of the new Niti Aayog will need to be a permanent invitee of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).
  5. Thus, the new Niti Aayog will make available to the highest level of policy making the knowledge-based advice and provide the national and long term perspective on the policy proposals.

Need for Financial Autonomy

  1. India has consistently accelerated its growth rate over the last three decades.
  2. India’s democracy has proved to be sine qua non for effectively formulating key economic policies and conducting policy reforms in a country that is so diverse.
  3. Kelkar pointed out that the new Niti Aayog will annually need the resources of around 1.5 to 2 per cent of the GDP to provide suitable grants to the states for mitigating the development imbalances.

Back2Basics

NITI Aayog

NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India)

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] This is not the future we want

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the NITI Aayog recently released ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’.

Mains level: The news-card analyses many environment and livelihood related contradictions in NITI Aayog’s strategy for 2022, in a brief manner.


Context

  • NITI Aayog recently released the ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document in 2018.
  • The strategy aims to achieve a ‘New India’ by 2022, when the country celebrates its 75th year of Independence.

About the Plan

  • The NITI Aayog’s‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document has many progressive objectives.
  • It follows the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Inclusion, sustainability, participation, gender equality and other important issues find mention.
  • However, NITI Aayog’s strategy for 2022 is replete with environmental and livelihood related contradictions.

Positive directions vis-à-vis the environment

The strategy has many positive directions vis-à-vis the environment, such as:

  • A major focus on renewable energy.
  • Organic farming (with the zero budget natural farming model developed by Maharashtrian farmer Subhash Palekar being singled out for national application).
  • Increasing forest cover.
  • Reducing pollution and waste.
  • A chapter titled ‘Sustainable environment’ states: “The objective is to maintain a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic growth through sustainable utilization of available natural resources.”
  • It focuses on air pollution, solid waste management, water pollution, and forestry.

Limitations: Many missing issues

  • However, it is puzzling why these above mentioned four issues are singled out from amongst the much larger number of environmental issues India faces.
  • Some other issues do find mention elsewhere, such as arresting land degradation and soil erosion, and water conservation.
  • But many are missing, such as the urgent need to conserve a range of non-forest ecosystems.
  • Since colonial times, forests have remained predominant in the minds of decision-makers, as indicated by the fact that India still has only a Forest Department and no dedicated entity for grassland, marine and coastal, wetland, mountain, and desert conservation.
  • The increasing presence of toxic chemicals around us finds no mention.
  • Most importantly, the absence of an integrated, comprehensive view on how ecological issues can be integrated into all sectors indicates that this is still not core to the mindset of our planners.

Current form of Economic growth is un-sustainable

  • There is total absence of an understanding in the document that the current form and goal of economic growth is inherently unsustainable.
  • For more than three decades, governments have been promising that with environmental safeguards, growth can be made sustainable.
  • There is no indication that this is anywhere near achievable, much less achieved.
  • In 2008, the Confederation of Indian Industry indicated that India was already using twice of what its natural resources could sustain, and that more than half its biocapacity had already been eroded.

Contradictions in the document: Few Alarming features

(a) Proposal of doubling of the extent of mining

  • One of the biggest ecological and social disasters in India is mining, especially the large-scale open-cast type.
  • NITI Aayog ignores this when it proposes a doubling of the extent of mining.
  • The only concession is the suggestion to bring in “cutting-edge” technology to “limit environmental damage” but that will not solve the fundamental need to deforest areas.

(b) Tourism

  • Another major sector with horrendous environmental impacts is tourism, as witnessed by virtually all our groaning hill stations and the ruin that areas like Ladakh, Kutch and the island regions are facing.
  • Yet, NITI Aayog recommends doubling the number of domestic tourist visits to over 3,200 million from 1,614 million in 2016.

(c) Mega river valley projects

  • The document also urges prompt completion of a host of mega river valley projects that have proved to be ecological nightmares, including Pancheshwar in the fragile Himalaya, the Ken-Betwa link in Madhya Pradesh, and dozens in the Northeast that are going to choke up rivers and are being pushed ahead despite strong local opposition.

(d) Farming

  • While mentioning of organic farming, there is no clear direction to phase out chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • The objective of sustainable farming is undermined by the mention of the following: “Phase out old varieties of seeds and replace them with hybrid and improved seeds”.
  • This is the kind of Green Revolution approach that has caused huge loss of agricultural biodiversity and resilience amongst small farmers.
  • There is also no focus on dryland farming though most farmers are engaged in this.
  • There is positive mention of organic farming models for replication, but nothing on the amazing work of dryland farmers (such as the Dalit women of the Deccan Development Society in Telangana) showing productive, sustainable, biodiverse agriculture with millets and women as the fulcrum.

(d) Single-window clearance of infrastructure projects

  • One of the most alarming features of the document is its stress on rapid, single-window clearance of infrastructure and other projects.
  • Any decent ecological assessment of a project needs a year of study (over all seasons), so the 180 days limit it suggests will mean short-cuts.
  • This rush also means compromising on crucial processes of social assessment, public hearings, and participatory decision-making, as already seen in the last few years.
  • There is nothing on the need to seek consent from local communities, though this is mandated under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

Way Forward

  • Governments in the last few years have a dismal record of safeguarding the environment and the livelihoods of Adivasis and other communities.
  • They have found ways to bypass constitutional and policy safeguards these vulnerable sections are supposed to enjoy.
  • Without a strong, unambiguous commitment to upholding these protections, and putting communities at the centre of decision-making, India @ 75 is going to be an even more unequal, unjust, and conflict-ridden society than India @ 50.
  • This is not the future we want.Instead, we can learn from the many alternative initiatives for food, water, energy, housing, education and health existing across India, which show the way to more just and sustainable livelihoods and ways of living.
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