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Left economists threaten to quit over Plan advisers

Our Economy Bureau  |  New Delhi 

Five economists today threatened to quit the consultative groups formed for mid-term appraisal of the Tenth Five-Year Plan in protest against the stand taken by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia over the continuation of the representation of experts from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, till instructed otherwise.
The Planning Commission Deputy Chairman had said, "We see nothing wrong in getting to know their views."
Ahluwalia added, "We will continue with representatives from the World Bank and other multilateral agencies on the consultative committees, till instructed otherwise."
The stand was dubbed a "needless provocation," by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury. "When the prime minister has already assured us that our concerns will be addressed after his foreign trip, the comments by the deputy chairman had provocated them (Left economists)," he said.
"If the government does not reconsider the decision (to include foreign experts), we will resign," CP Chandrashkhar told reporters while releasing a copy of the letter written to Ahluwalia by himself and four like-minded colleagues.
Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh and TM Thomas Issac, who are among about 400 experts in 19 consultation groups for mid-term appraisal of the 10th Plan, are the others who have offered to resign if Ahluwalia does not 'reconsider' his decision.
Dubbing as "unfortunate" the entire controversy, Planning Commission members closed ranks in support of Ahluwalia. "There's no dissent within the Planning Commission. The commission is unanimous," most of the members said. There is no dissent within the Planning Commission. We have talked among ourselves, there is no dissent," Planning Commission Member Anwarul Hoda told reporters.
Dubbing as "unfortunate" the entire controversy which, he said, was not on policy or substance, but on procedures, Hoda said that he would hold the meeting of the consultation group on industry tomorrow. Ghosh and Chandrasekhar are both members of the group. They had not attended the consultation group meeting on external economy on September 10, either, he said.
"Our understanding of the issue is that these people have been invited in their individual capacity and not as representatives of the World Bank or ADB," said Abhijit Sen, member, Planning Commission.
The five economists, all from Jawaharlal Nehru University, have said the Planning Commission is not a 'debating society', but an organ of the Indian state. "A sovereign state is necessarily exclusionary, in the sense, that its organs must exclude personnel owing allegiance to, or under the control/patronage of, a foreign sovereign state.
There can be absolutely no doubt about the fact that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are under the control of foreign states: the United States administration routinely uses the threat of withholding World Bank loans as a means of putting political pressure on foreign governments," they said in a letter they addressed to Ahluwalia.
They have also said that Ahluwalia should specify the criteria for exclusion of people from the consultative process.
Terming the controversy over the inclusion of foreign experts being "blown out of proportion," another commission member, Sayeda Hameed said, "it is not as if these experts, whether from McKinsey or World Bank, are not there in the country at all. You see their presence in so many grassroot level projects "" be it in Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh."

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First Published: Wed, September 22 2004. 00:00 IST