Seventy Third and Seventy Fourth amendments in the Indian Constitution put forward the objective of democratic decentralization. The LDF Government in Kerala under the leadership of Com. E.K Nayanar decided to implement the ninth Five year plan as People’s Plan, giving the local self Governments powers in the process of plan formation and implementation, with a view to realise the true spirit of the constitutional amendments. EMS Namboothiripad, first Chief Minister of Kerala played a pivotal role in formulating the LDF approach in this regard and in the ensuring campaign. The People’s Plan campaign was launched by the state government on 17th August 1996 by ensuring people’s participation in the decentralised planning process starting from the stage of preparation of plan itself. The Government also took the most significant decision to devolve 35 - 40% of the state plan funds to the local level plans. Such devolution of funds coupled with decentralisation of powers was the first of its kind in India.
Although Kerala have achieved several significant gains in the social welfare sectors, its economic growth was way behind many Indian states and the all India average growth rate. People’s Plan campaign declared as one of its objectives to the issue of forming the developmental challenge before the state. The other important objectives included the following-
- How to sustain quality of services achieved by Kerala in education and health sectors;
- How to reduce acuteness of unemployment.
- How to generate more employment opportunities to tackle the rising number of the unemployed in the state;
- How to bring Adivasis, Scheduled Castes, Fish workers and other marginalised sections into the mainstream of development process fully.
- How to give protection to the poor sections of the population lacking drinking water, dwelling and suffering from poor health due to poverty; In what ways can sections of people facing basic issues such as poverty related diseases, shortage of drinking water, houselessness.
- How to make the development process environmentally sustainable;
An yearlong campaign spanning six stages marked the planning process leading to the formation of the first annual plan (1997 – 98) of the Nineth five year plan (1997 – 2002). The state Planning Board played an active role in helping the local self governments to formulate the plan with people’s participation. Several training programmes were organised by the Planning Board for the education and capacity building of people’s representatives, officials and voluntary activists and experts. Above half a lakh individuals participated in this massive learning programme. Many handbooks and training manuals were published as the part of the training programme.
The six stages of People’s Plan campaign are summarised below
One - Gramasabha meetings
People’s representatives and voluntary activists were provided training in organizing Gramasabhas and Wardsabhas (in Municipalities) to discuss the developmental issues. Gramasabha meetings were convened in each ward of the local body in which hundreds of people attended and discussed local development issues by forming different sectoral groups. Practical solutions were also suggested in these discussions.
Two - Development seminars
The local self governments prepared detailed development report which analysed local development issues and the local resources available. Development seminars were held at the Panchayath / Municipality level to discuss the development report and the suggestions of the Gramasabhas. Local level plans and project ideas were formulated in these seminars.
Three - Task Forces
Task Forces including experts selected at the development seminars held meetings and prepared detailed project proposals for the annual plan.
Four - Plan document
The local self government institutions held their council meetings in which annual plan document for the local bodies were finalised by prioritising the projects based on the funds devolved from the state government and locally available resources.
Five - Block and District Panchayath Plans
Block and District Panchayath samithies finalised their annual plans by integrating and supplementing the project proposals from below.
Six - District Planning Committee
District Planning Committees which are statutory bodies formed as per the constitution examined the plan proposals of each local body in the district, duely recommended by technical expert groups in various sectors, and gave approval to the plans which fulfilled the guidelines. Funds were made available for the implementation of the projects approved by District Planning Committees.
Just as the different stages in the planning process the implementation of the plan projects was organized through a series of stages. These included selection of beneficiaries in the Gramasabha, formation of local beneficiary committee for implementation and monitoring committee for supervision, all of which were aimed at ensuring people’s participation and transparency in the development process.
All the above stages were repeated in the formation and implementation of annual plans as part of decentralised planning in the subsequent years also. However in 2001, the new UDF Government which came to power decided to change the ‘People’s Planning’ as ‘Kerala development plan’. This was not merely a change in the name, but a total reversal of the policy of ensuring people’s participation in the planning and implementation process. UDF rule during 2001 - 06 virtually brought the decentralisation exercise to a stand still.
The LDF Government which came back to power in 2006 has tried to revive the people’s planning programme.
People’s Planning has made seminal contributions to the development of infrastructures, improvement of the quality of services in school education and public health sectors and rejuvenation of production sectors in the local bodies across the state. People’s Planning created a new chapter in the advancement of women of Kerala by ensuring allotment of 10% of plan funds for the women component plans of the local bodies, the first of its kind in the country. The Kudumbasree poverty alleviation programme under which 37 lakh women have been organised in self help groups has given a new impetus to the uplift of women in the state. New initiatives like the food security programme aimed at making Kerala self sufficient in food production and the E M S housing programme to provide houses to all the landless and homeless population in the state will be the path breaking programmes implemented by the local self governments.
Why does CPI(M) consider decentralisation and decentralised planning important?
Com. E M S has answered this question thus;
“The party has no illusion that all our problems will be solved by the People’s Planning initiated by the LDF Government in Kerala. That is why the party has put forwarded the objective of establishment of a people’s democratic state by transforming the existing social economic system. The state governments and local self governments as well as the programmes like People’s Planning taken up under their leadership are effective instruments in this struggle to achieve this objective. Temporary gains can be achieved through these programmes. By consolidating the gains, the party tries to strengthen the struggle for people’s democracy” (Chintha Weekly, 8, November 1996)
In the dissent note given by Com. E M S to the Asok Mehtha Committee Report on Panchayathi Raj (1978), it is stated: “In other words the basis of my belief in democratic decentralisation is this. Such a system will be more helpful in the day to day struggle of the working class against the exploiters and oppressors”.