Columbia prof Panagariya says 'honoured' to be first NITI chief

Economist Arvind Panagariya, Indian-born but currently based in the US, said on Monday that he is "honoured" to be appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the first vice-chairman of the newly created NITI Aayog, which replaces the scrapped 65-year-old Planning Commission.

 
Arvind Panagariya to be first chief of Planning Commission successor, NITI Aayog  

"I am honoured by this appointment, and I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi and policymakers across India," Panagariya said in a statement issued by Columbia University in New York.

Panagariya is the professor of economics and the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy in the department of international and public affairs of Columbia. He will take a leave of absence from the university to accept his position at the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog.

The 62-year-old professor said he expects to continue to engage with Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) "when such opportunities arise" and will resume his work at the school when his assignment ends.

In his new position which gives him the rank of a cabinet minister, Panagariya will work closely with Modi, who will be the chairman of the renamed institution.

Officials envision NITI Aayog as a government "think tank" that will provide strategic and technical advising on key issues.

Panagariya, who has been a strong supporter of PM Modi's Gujarat model of development, had said some months ago that he wants the BJP government's first budget to boost capital spending even at the risk of a higher fiscal deficit.

How his relations pan out with Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan (another internationally respected economist) will be worth watching, as Rajan has been firm in avoiding rate cuts to curb inflation.

He has earlier worked with various international bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

With a doctorate in economics from Princeton University, Panagariya has also worked for the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in various capacities.

During an address at his university in September last year on what the new Indian government must do to transform the Indian economy, he had said a replacement for the Planning Commission must be "lean and thin", and had termed as "brave" the decision by PM Modi to do away with the plan panel which had outlived its usefulness.

Panagariya had suggested that Modi should put in "as lean and thin a team" for the Commission's replacement with 10-12 people and "lots of resources so that they can draw on the experts as necessary" and then periodically that team should meet with the prime minister and the finance minister.

SIPA Dean Merit Janow congratulated Panagariya on his new role and said his global perspective and broad experience would serve him well as the de facto head of NITI Aayog.