People's Planning in Kerala
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People's Plan Campaign, held in 1996 in Kerala State, was an experiment in decentralisation of powers to local governments with focus on local planning. Kerala State lying in the south-west part of India. In India's Ninth Five-Year Plan, each state within the national federation was expected to draws up its own annual plan and the Peoples Plan was an offshoot of it.
In the beginning of the ninth plan, the Government of Kerala took a bold decision to devolve 35% of the state development budget down from a centralized bureaucracy to local governments where local people could determine and implement their own development priorities under the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC).
Decentralization is, basically, the process of devolving the functions and resources of the State from the centre to the elected governments at the lower levels so as to facilitate greater direct participation by the citizens in governance. Peoples Planning is an attempt in this direction.
New Government in power
In 1996 on assuming power, the ruling left democratic party took the agenda of decentralization as the first priority item. The Government of Kerala decided to devolve 33% of the plan budget of the state for preparation of development projects formulated by the local governments at the village, block and district levels. People’s needs were assessed through meetings of the grama sabhas (lowest village consistency) with the village panchayat making it into a plan, coordinated and vetted at the block level and approved at the district level by a District Planning Committee constituted to assist the panchayats. This was the ‘People’s Campaign for Ninth Plan’, popularly known as ‘People’s Planning’ (Janakeeya Aasoothranam). There was much euphoria and expectation.
Stages in People's Planning
Need identification, situation analysis, strategy setting, projectisation, plan finalisation, plan vetting and plan approval were the stages in peoples planning.
In the first phase, Gram Sabhas(village constituencies) were convened and people at the local level were mobilised to assess felt needs.
In the second phase,development seminars were held in every village panchayat, followed by formation of ‘task forces’ for the preparation of development projects. 12,000 task forces were formed that worked out to around 12 task forces per village panchayat. Close to 120,000 people participated in these task forces.
In the third phase, development projects were prepared according to a format suggested by the Kerala State Planning Board, giving details such as the nature of activities envisaged and financial and organisational aspects. Despite such quantitative achievements, a review by the state planning board showed that ‘the task forces' did not function as effectively as was expected. The main weakness was that adequate number of experts could not be attracted to the task forces. The participation of officials was also far from satisfactory. The training given to the task force members was also inadequate. An interim review of the projects prepared revealed numerous weaknesses, particularly with respect to technical details and financial analysis. Accordingly, a number of rectification measures like project clinics, reorientation conferences, etc. were organised. All these created unforeseen delays in the final plan preparation’
By the time the fourth phase started, the financial year 1996-97 was over. This phase, from March to May 1997, was expected to prepare five year plans for the panchayats based on their development projects. This was no easy task since it involved prioritising projects, assessing resources and institutional capacity, weaving the plan into the development strategy of the state, coordinating it with other village panchayats within the block (intermediary tier) and district level developmental framework and spelling out mechanisms for supervision and monitoring.
The fifth and final phase was meant for the preparation of annual plans for block and district panchayats by integrating the lower level plans and, presumably, to developing their own plans that would be complementary to the village panchayat plans. Due to the delays and inadequacies in the preparation of village panchayat plans, this exercise could not be undertaken. To quote the Kerala State Planning Board, the lead agency: ‘As a result, there were many instances of duplication of planning activities and also critical gaps between the various tiers’. Even when projects and plans were available, it was realised that most of them had to be examined closely for their ‘technical soundness and viability.’ This led to another phase leading to the formation of expert committees and project appraisal teams to scrutinise and approve the projects and plans.
Poor administrative support
The people’s planning faced with fundamental constraints in institutional capacity building. What has been followed was called ‘a big bang approach’ by deciding devolution of 33% of plan funds and embarking on a ‘campaigning’ mode to shake up the system. It was just like putting the cart before the horse or reversal of the normal sequence of events. Panchayats could not cope with the administrative or organisational challenges of spending so much money (nearly one to one-and-a-half crore of rupees per panchayat per annum). The absence of sound administrative support created a critical vacuum and often led to conflicts between political executives and administrative executives. Technical support was near absent and hence the voluntary experts were inducted in the form of ‘Key Resource Persons’ for facilitation and ‘expert committees’for vetting of plans.
The government, particularly in public utilities such as irrigation, public works, water supply and electricity distribution, did not give up their considerable powers.
- Peoples planning : kerala's dilemma by K P Kannan, Seminar 485 2000
- Kerala State Planning Board : Peoples campaign for ninth plan: An approach paper, Government of Kerala, 1996
- Thmas Isaac T M : Peoples planning : Towards a handbook, Workshop organized by the State Planning Board, Tripura, 3-4 may 1999
- See the publication Local government in Kerala by Kerala Institute of Local Administration, Mulagunnathu kavu, October, 2003 P 16-17
- Government of Kerala, Economic Review, 1998:201
- Local democracy and development : People's campaign for decentralised planning in Kerala, by T M Thomas Isaac with Richard Franke, New Delhi, LeftWord Books, 2000 P 7
- Five years of Participatory planning in Kerala : Reality or rhetoric by Jos Chathukulam and M S John
- Local Democracy and Development : Keralas People’s Campaign for Decentralised Planning by Dr Thomas Isaac & Reichard W Franke
- Campaign for Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala : An Assessment from the perspective of Empowered Deliberative Democracy by Dr T M Thomas Isaac
- Moving the State: The Politics of Democratic Decentralization in Kerala, South Africa, and Porto Alegre by Dr Patrick Heller
- Democratic Decentralisation and the Planning Principle: The Transition from Below by C P Chandra Sekhar
- Kerala Peoples Plan Revisited by Gilbert Sebastian. Mainstream XLVI 2008
- A left Agenda for Kerala
- Dr M A Oommen Committee Report on Decentalised Planning and Development, Government of Kerala, April 2009