To clear the air over the status of top officials in NITI Aayog, the government is all set to elevate its Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya's rank as well as pay scale to that of a Cabinet minister, as was the case with all deputy chairmen of the erstwhile Planning Commission. At present, Panagariya enjoys the rank of the Cabinet minister, but it is of nominal nature and not functional, called 'limited to warrant of precedence', in technical parlance, which entitles him a salary of the Cabinet Secretary.
The new status would not only allow Panagariya to attend Cabinet meetings, but will also define the line of hierarchy within the Aayog as well as the government. The decision has been taken after long deliberations between the government and Panagariya over the issue and a communication from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is expected to be issued soon. Alongside, the rank and pay of the two members - eminent economist Bibek Debroy and scientist V K Saraswat would be equated with those of a minister of state, officials said. Again, these two members currently enjoy the rank of ministers of state, but that is limited to warrant of precedence. They get the salary of secretary in the Union government.
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In the Planning Commission, all the members were of the rank of a minister of state, both in terms of pay scale and all other purposes, which placed them over the member-secretary or secretary. In NITI Aayog, there is no member-secretary but chief executive officer Sindhushree Khullar enjoys the rank and pay scales equivalent to that post.
The new status for Panagariya means that from now on, the vice-chairman will effectively participate in all the Cabinet meetings as a special invitee. "The changes reflect the importance and clout that NITI Aayog is being given in the new government," said a senior official.
Previously in Planning Commission, then deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia attended the meetings of the Union Cabinet as a special invitee. Insiders said his views were sought on matters of national importance. A similar role is now being envisaged for the Aayog as well. As the pay-scale and allowances of the vice-chairman are similar to those of the Cabinet secretary, those of the members are akin to a secretary in the Union government. This, some officials said, has created a lot of confusion and disturbed smooth operation against the earlier practice in the Planning Commission where the vice-chairman held the rank of a Cabinet minister in all respects.
One of the reasons cited for equating Panagariya's pay and allowances to the Cabinet secretary and not to the Cabinet minister so far is not to let him feel he is getting very less salary against what he used to receive as a professor at the Columbia University.
A Cabinet minister in the Union government draws a salary of Rs 50,000 a month, on which additional allowances are added. Some of these allowances might not come to Panagariya, because these are given to them by virtue of being a member of Parliament. For instance, the minister gets Rs 2,000 a day or Rs 60,000 a month as the constituency allowance. The government has told Panagariya this specifically in its deliberations with him.
A Cabinet secretary draws a basic pay of around Rs 90,000 pm, while a secretary gets somewhere around Rs 80,000 in a month.
The NITI or the National Institution for Transforming India, was created after abolishing the decades-old Planning Commission of India with the objective of giving a new direction, thought and focus to policy making and also to make it act as a platform for states to have a meaningful interaction with the Central government.
Since its formation on January 1, 2015, the Aayog has set up a task force of chief ministers on a number of issues, which include elimination of poverty, restructuring of centrally sponsored schemes, Swatch Bharat Mission and skill development.