The State government’s decision to establish the State Development Policy Council in place of the State Planning Commission (SPC) remains a dead letter though a year has lapsed since it was announced.
While presenting the budget last year, the then Finance Minister D. Jayakumar had said the proposed body would “advise the Government on policy coherence and formulation of programmes to guide the development of the State.”
The government’s initiative came in the wake of the Central government disbanding the Union Planning Commission in 2014 and doing away with the distinction between Plan and Non-plan allocations in budget formulation, effective 2017-18.
With the assumption of office by the Jayalalithaa regime in May 2016, the SPC became defunct. Santha Sheela Nair, who was Vice-Chairperson of the SPC till then, was made, around the time, Officer on Special Duty at the office of the Chief Minister, looking after the implementation of the election manifesto of the ruling AIADMK.
In February 2017, two months after the demise of Jayalalithaa, Ms. Nair quit.
The State government had welcomed the Centre’s action of removing the distinction between Plan and Non-plan allocations as it was of the view that the budgetary process would get simplified, keeping the focus “firmly” on the functional classification of expenditure. However, the need for a policy think tank was felt by the State government in the post-GST (Goods and Services Tax) era.
Need for watchdog
A senior administrator explained that with the GST in place, the scope has got narrowed for States to tinker with taxes, leaving only a marginal space for mobilising greater resources. So, the government’s attention should necessarily have to turn to how the available funds are being spent. The Policy Council can function as a watchdog or regulator in such a situation.
Saying that the constitution of the Policy Council has “not yet been finalised,” an official of the Planning and Development Department said “various ideas and thoughts [on the matter] are under consideration of the government.”