1st NITI Aayog chief Panagariya quits

Arvind Panagariya, the first vice-chairman of Niti Aayog, announced that he will step down from the post and return to academia in the United States. The decision is understood to have followed the economist having informed the government a couple of months ago that he would like to return to Columbia University.

The 64-year old economist said he has written to PM Narendra Modi to relieve him of his duties by August 31 as he was not getting extension of leave from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. More used to the world of academics than the cut and thrust of politics, Panagariya took a while to settle as the first head of the Aayog which was set up to replace the Planning Commission. He did seem to come into his own over the past year when his views on issues such as coastal investment zones held the PM's attention. But he was not always fully at ease with colleagues at the Aayog. Panagariya was handpicked by Modi to head Niti Aayog with the intent to replace what the PM felt was an outmoded socialist-era institution and its Five-Year Plans.

Niti Aayog has, despite a few hiccups, emerged as a think-tank for governance and policy strategies in fields ranging from health, education and agriculture.

During his around two and half-year tenure, the professor of Indian political economy established Niti Aayog as an influential think-tank after making a slow start due to an uneasy equation within the country's bureaucratic set-up and lack of familiarity with the political system.

Niti Aayog sources said his decision was primarily driven by a desire to return to academia and retain the professorship he holds at SIPA. The Aayog had managed to stamp its presence on the country's policy-making stage as it emerged as a key link between ministries, states and as an umpire on contentious issues. Panagariya's non-controversial, persuasive and soft image, along with his decision to insulate from vested interests, played a key role in the new institution.

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