Arvind Panagariya quits as NITI Aayog vice-chairman to return to academia

Arvind Panagariya
Arvind Panagariya resigned as vice-chairman, NITI Aayog, on Tuesday, nearly two-and-a-half years after he assumed office in the body, which was formed just before his joining. Panagariya will return in September as faculty to Columbia University, from where he had taken leave to take up his current job.

He is the second high-profile academic-economist, after former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan, to leave a top job in India to return to the teaching profession in the US. “I have asked the Prime Minister to relinquish me of my job as my leave ends on August 31,” Panagariya told reporters on Tuesday.

The economist will end his tenure in late August. He said that he had no problem with anyone as vice-chairman of the Aayog. Meanwhile, a senior government source said that the Centre had a successor in mind to replace Panagariya, and the person’s name will be announced shortly. The source added that the government had been aware of Panagariya’s decision for the past three months.

Panagariya was appointed the Aayog vice-chairman in January 2015, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to replace the erstwhile Planning Commission with a body that better reflected the realities of Centre-state relations. 

The National Democratic Alliance government considered the Commission a relic of Soviet-era planning. During Panagariya’s time at the Aayog, five-year planning was stopped, and the task of resource allocation, which was the Planning Commission’s responsibility, shifted to the finance ministry’s expenditure department. 

The Aayog has been involved in coming up with concept papers and recommendations on a number of issues, including agricultural challenges, crop prices, private-public partnerships in health care, changes in start-up policy, and national energy policy.

The Aayog has also identified a number of state-owned companies, profitable as well as insolvable, in which the Centre has planned to divest its majority stake.

Two Sangh Parivar affiliates, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, were critical of the Aayog’s role in the Centre’s economic policies, especially strategic disinvestment, and had written to the Prime Minister’s Office on this. Panagariya was chief economist, Asian Development Bank, and professor of economics at the University of Maryland at College Park. He has worked with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton University.

(With inputs from Subhayan Chakraborty)

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