Four reasons why Arvind Panagariya will be a disaster for India as vice-chairman of NITI Aayog

By Team,

Arvind Panagariya, a trade economist who teaches at Columbia University, has been appointed by Narendra Modi as the Vice-Chairman of National Institution for Transformation of India (NITI) Aayog. The NITI Aayog is the replacement of the Planning Commission, and Arvind Panagariya is replacing Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Montek Singh Ahluwalia had a better deal than Panagariya does by at least one count- he headed a body that did not have an embarrassing name. Panagariya, on the other hand will be in-charge of an awkwardly titled aayog (commission) and an “Institution” (sansthan). Yes, the name doesn’t matter, but as you are about to find out, Arvind Panagaria is a Grammar-Nazi in more than one way.


In this post, we give the top 4 reasons why as vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog, he will harm and deform India.

  1. Arvind Panagariya is an apologist for the Gujarat anti-Muslim Violence. He argued that they should not be called a pogrom.

In a letter to The Economist magazine, Arvind Panagariya, writing along with fellow-economist and modi-backer Jagdish Bhagwati, wrote that “You said that Mr Modi refuses to atone for a “pogrom” against Muslims in Gujarat, where he is chief minister. But what you call a pogrom was in fact a “communal riot” in 2002 in which a quarter of the people killed were Hindus—170 of them from bullets fired by the police.”

As Hartosh Singh Bal reminded everyone in an article, this is an inaccurate claim, because “of the 170 killed in police firing 93 were Muslims and 77 Hindus” and that Muslims constituted 9% of the population in Gujarat, but 80% of the killed in the riots.

Economists who can’t do basic maths and can’t verify simple facts should not try to correct others’ grammar, should they? Nor should they use their high profile positions as academics and intellectuals to whitewash crimes against humanity.

  1. Arvind Panagariya thinks that there isn’t much malnutrition in India. He was proved wrong by several researchers. He never bothered to reply.

In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Arvind Panagariya sought to debunk the claim that India has more malnutrition than Sub-Saharan Africa. What got debunked, however, was his hocus-pocus economics. In responses in the EPW, several authors, from Angus Deaton of Princeton University to Rohini Pande of Harvard University weighed-in.

The summary response, penned by Gargi Wable, a professional nutritionist was titled “Methodologically Deficient, Ignorant of Prior Research”. Researchers are usually polite when they disagree, and if any other serious researcher had gotten such a review from the community of fellow scholars, they would have been embarrassed for life and apologised. Not Panagariya. Arvind Panagariya did not even bother to reply.

It is fitting that someone like Panagariya is working for Narendra Modi, who famously said that there is much malnutrition in Gujarat because girls are “beauty-conscious”.

  1. Arvind Panagariya does not even understand the programmes and rights he seeks to destroy. 

In his book with Jagdish Bhagwati, “Why Growth Matters”, Arvind Panagariya seeks to describe the NREGA to a reader who doesn’t know about it. He says, “The broad contours of the NREGA are easily defined. The program guarantees one member of every rural household, whether poor or not, 100 days’ worth of unskilled manual employment at a wage no less than that specified by the central government”.

But, he gets these “broad contours” wrong. NREGA guarantees employment to any adult person in rural India, not to any one member of every rural household. Part of the reason why Panagariya makes these basic mistakes is that he has never really studied these programmes at all. Arivnd Panagariya is known to other researchers as a trade economist, and he has never really written any serious paper on development programmes in India.

He wrote a highly spurious blog on the economics of NREGA, which was also criticised by economist for its many flaws (see here and here).To make such an economist the vice-chariman of a body that is supposed to develop and evaluate public programmes smacks of nepotism, rather than merit. Arvind Panagariya is being rewarded for publicly defending the “Gujarat Model”.

  1. He wants to dismantle public health, social security, and education programmes. It seems that Arvind Panagaiya has never met an NREGA labourer, a pregnant women who went to deliver in a primary health center in rural India, or a child who goes to Anganwadi to eat, or a girl who goes to a primary school in a rural school and eats the mid-day meal. That’s probably why he is so keen to dismantle these lifelines for India’s rural residents.

These programmes sometimes don’t work well, but as many states have shown, can be improved. When they work well, they are deeply valued by rural residents.

But Arvind Panagariya does not understand the problems with these programmes, knows nothing about improving them, and shows little commitment to improving health or education in India.

Instead of trying to improve these programmes, Arvind Panagariya wants to replace them with untested and dubious ideas: cash transfers instead of food in the PDS and public works in the NREGA, education vouchers instead of better public schools and teaching, and private insurance and doctors instead of fixing India’s public health system.

If Arvind Panagariya succeeds in these goals, India could say good-bye to a reduction in poverty or decent health and education at least for the next five years.


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