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Business News/ Home-page / MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee may head Plan panel evaluation body

MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee may head Plan panel evaluation body

MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee may head Plan panel evaluation body

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy chairman planning commission Premium

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy chairman planning commission

Economist Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the front-runner for the post of director general (DG) of the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), which will monitor state-run programmes and work closely with the Planning Commission to improve their effectiveness, according to two officials at the Plan panel.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy chairman planning commission

“Banerjee, along with three others from the international academic circles, was interviewed last week for the position of DG, IEO at the Planning Commission. These people were shortlisted out of a total of 30 applicants," said one of the two officials.

The position of DG of the organization will be equivalent to that of a member of the country’s apex planning body, said the other official. Both declined to be named.

The proposal to set up IEO was announced by President Pratibha Patil in 2009 at a joint session of both houses of Parliament after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power for a second consecutive term.

In November 2010, the cabinet approved the establishment of IEO to provide an “impartial and objective assessment of various public programmes and improve the effectiveness of public interventions".

According to an official statement issued then, IEO is expected to function at an arm’s length distance from the government to assess the outcomes and impact of the Centre’s flagship welfare programmes.

IEO will have functional autonomy, will be funded by the Planning Commission and will also advise the Plan panel and programme implementation agencies in meeting evaluation objectives.

In its evaluation process, the office is also expected to draw resources from leading think tanks; its findings will be reported to the government and also be placed in the public domain.

“I don’t think it makes sense for me to talk about this in the press right now," Banerjee said in an email reply to queries from Mint about the likelihood of him heading IEO.

Government-run programmes are regularly criticized for poor implementation. For instance, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which promises 100 days of employment to at least one member of every rural household and is one of the UPA’s flagship schemes, has been criticized by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for poor implementation.

Economist S.L. Rao, a former DG of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, says the idea of setting up an independent evaluator of government programmes is good, provided the agency is empowered to access any data from anywhere and “vultures" within the government aren’t allowed to interfere in its functioning.

“The size of government-run programmes is big and execution happens at state levels, where obtaining data is not only difficult, but there is also the question of reliability," said Rao, who suggests a periodic review of the functioning of IEO. “A person like Banerjee will take innovative steps to arrive at conclusions by using econometric models, sampling, etc., something the existing programme evaluation unit of the Planning Commission isn’t doing."

Banerjee was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in 1988, according to the MIT website. His areas of research are development economics and economic theory.

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Published: 19 Jan 2012, 11:25 PM IST
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