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For much of its first three years, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog has remained an associate player in India’s policy framework, with several of its recommendations being widely appreciated. But Budget 2018-19 has firmly placed it as the country’s foremost policy institution, with several of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's key announcements showing clear NITI Aayog imprints.
As many as six major announcements made by Jaitley had a role of the NITI Aayog, reflecting the body's growing clout and acceptance in policy formation. NITI has also emerged as a prime body for fostering ‘cooperative federalism’, an idea close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Starting with framing a mechanism in consultation with states to devising a fool-proof mechanism to ensure farmers got adequate price for their produce, and making a national programme on ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI), NITI Aayog was everywhere in Budget 2018-19.
One of the most vital interventions in the field of agriculture that the Aayog has made in the past few years is getting bamboo grown in non-forest areas declassified as the tree found a very prominent mention, along with an allocation in Budget 2018-19.
Jaitley proposed to launch the restructured National Bamboo Mission with an outlay of Rs 12.9 billion in the Budget to promote the bamboo sector in a holistic manner.
The Aayog’s work in getting states to amend their land lease laws for giving a proper right to tenant farmers also found mention, with the finance minister directing the Aayog to evolve a suitable mechanism to enable access of lessee cultivators to credit without compromising the rights of the land owners, in consultation with states.
“At present, lessee cultivators are not able to avail of crop loans. So, a significant proportion of arable land remains fallow and tenant cultivators are forced to secure credit from usurious money lenders,” Jaitley said in his Budget speech.
Another big intervention which the NITI Aayog spearheaded and found a very prominent place in Budget 2018-19 was the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ scheme, under which the Centre plans to give Rs 500,000 per year to almost 100 million households for health care. Officials said much of the scheme’s framework is being worked at the Aayog.
The NITI Aayog will also initiate a national programme to direct the efforts in the area of artificial intelligence, including research and development of its applications, along with its existing work on strategic disinvestment in Central Public Sector Enterprises including Air India.
Sources said the government’s move to formulate a comprehensive Gold Policy to develop gold as an asset class and revamp the Gold Monetization Scheme for enabling people to open a hassle-free Gold Deposit Account, announced in the Budget, is also a brainchild of the Aayog.