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With the coming of the NITI Aayog, will it be a Planning Commission by another name or is it indeed a new way of looking at national idea?
On the first day of 2015, the Union Government announced the establishment of NITI Aayog, i.e., National Institution for Transforming India – the revamped version of the erstwhile Planning Commission. With the Prime Minister as the Chairperson, NITI Aayog will have a Governing Council consisting of Chief Ministers of all States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories. There will also be a Vice-President appointed by the Prime Minister.
This is a significant departure from the structure of the Planning Commission, which had the Prime Minister as the ex-officio Chairman and a nominated Deputy Chairman. The Commission reported to the National Development Council consisting of the state chief ministers and Lieutenant Governors of Indian territory.
Establishment of NITI Aayog may be seen a step forward in giving individual States more say in the policy-making process. According to the Press Release issued by government, “The centre-to-state one-way flow of policy, that was the hallmark of the Planning Commission era, is now sought to be replaced by a genuine and continuing partnership of states.” NITI Aayog seeks to serve as a “think-tank” to “to provide a critical directional and strategic input into the development process”, the release read.
Along with the Chairperson, the Governing Council and the Vice-President, NITI Aayog will have a CEO, full-time Members, 2 part-time members from research organisations of leading universities (on a rotational basis) and 4 ex-officio members nominated by the Prime Minister from the Union Council of Ministers.
Moreover, there will be Regional Councils set up on need-basis to address specific issues, comprising of Chief Ministers/Lt. Governors of the concerned regions. These will be formed for a specific tenure. This particular aspect may not really be a change from the structure that existed before, as the Planning Commission also formed separate panels for consultation to address inter-state issues.
Under the Resolution stated in the press release, there seems to be a focus on “cooperative federalism” and a “Bharatiya approach to development.” which involves “the active involvement of States in the light of national objectives”. There is also thrust on rural development, increased use of technology in governance as well as the ulitisation of the “geo-economic and geo-political strength” that we have in form of the huge NRI community.
With respect to the key objectives for NITI Aayog stated in the Press Release, there is an increased emphasis on the monitoring and implementation of the programs and initiatives along with the aforementioned focus on involvement of States in policy development. It also suggests a reduced involvement of the Centre in industry and service sectors, their role being restricted to policy making, regulation, and enabling legislation.
How effective this widening of focus and the shift from a top-down approach is, remains to be seen.
In an operation on the night of 31 December, Coast Guard intercepted a boat from Pakistan 365 km off the coast of Gujarat
Only two out of all of India's airlines have been able to pay AAI dues on time. The airlines cannot survive with price wars and need to look at overhauling their flight plans and locations
With the continuing fall in international crude prices, the Oil companies have made a steep reduction in air turbine fuel (ATF) by 12.5%, reaching a cost of Rs52.4 per litre now. Flights to many cities in the north, particularly New Delhi, have been out of bounds due to intense fog and flights have been cancelled or delayed to ensure passenger safety.
It may be recalled that fuel pricing was deregulated way back in 2002 and this latest reduction is 6th in a series of cuts to make the operating cost of airlines a little lower than before. In fact, it is estimated, that fuel accounts for 40% to 50% of an airline's operating cost.
Though this is the lowest ATF rate in four years, airlines are not showing signs of reducing fares, because all of them have suffered prolonged cash crunches. Only Jet Airways and IndiGo have been able to meet their commitments, including the prompt payment of dues to Airport Authority of India.
To recap, Kingfisher is out of the running and down since 2012, SpiceJet has had to cancel flights due to "repossession" of the leased Boeing 737s for non-payment of rentals and some carriers have not been paying their airport dues on time.
In fact, the Airport Authority of India (AAI), who started the squeeze on SpiceJet, has now begun warning other airlines such as GoAir to bring their outstanding dues within Bank Guarantee levels. If not, they may be next in line to be put on "cash and carry" category. Such a move may not be applied on Air India, which owes Rs2,000 crore to AAI, all because they are a "government concern."
The only relaxation that was extended to SpiceJet, on government intervention, has been reported as "due to prospects of former promoter, Ajay Singh, showing interest to infuse some additional capital into the ailing airline.” As mentioned above, only Jet Airways and IndiGo have been paying AAI dues on time.
In order to ensure that passengers are not unduly taken for a ride by domestic carriers, the civil aviation ministry thought of fixing a fare cap of Rs20,000 for domestic sectors; for reasons unknown this has been kept in abeyance. But, in the meantime, airlines have increased the fares, as there is no guarantee that the crude oil prices will not fall further down or that, due to geo-political reasons go up north, all too suddenly.
Under these circumstances, it is in the interest of air travellers as well as domestic carriers that they restructure their flights in such a manner that each has a full occupancy and reduce the number of flights for same destinations in a given day so that they do not have too many empty seats to carry.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)