People’s Planning turns 25: The way forward

On the development front, experts believe the most crucial aspects should revolve around local economic development, mainly aimed at providing jobs and income generation.
People’s Planning turns 25: The way forward

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Communist patriarch EMS Namboodiripad termed it the next big thing after Land Reforms. A maverick concept aimed at radical change, which was initiated 25 years ago, People’s Planning changed the face of Kerala’s local development.

An unconventional programme for decentralisation launched by the Left on August 17, 1996,  People’s Planning  brought in a paradigm shift to the developmental perspective at the grassroots. The programme conceptualised by EMS set in motion a mass movement to ensure streamlining the performance of the Left government. Led by a few like T M Thomas Isaac and E M Sreedharan, People’s Planning was nothing less than a ‘Big-Bang’ decision. It decided to devolve 35-40% of the state plan — mostly as untied funds — to local government institutions. Local-level plans were devised for each panchayat. A mammoth process was initiated for accountability and transparency.

Twenty-five years down the line, a mere glance at decentralisation shows how the Plan has achieved spectacular results in public health, education and other sectors.If those who depended on public health institutions constituted a mere 28% in 1991, it went up to 38% in 2014, and up to 48% just before Covid. The quality of public education improved. While government schools taught around 1.5 lakh children in 1991, the figure went up to 4.1 lakh in 2016-17. 

Two million houses were constructed in 25 years. Through Kudumbashree Project, women have access to around Rs 11,000 crore at concessional rates. Poverty has come down drastically. While People’s Planning did drive in substantial changes, it’s now time to look ahead. On the development front, experts believe the most crucial aspects should revolve around local economic development, mainly aimed at providing jobs and income generation.

Local bodies, currently, are ill-equipped to tackle economic development. They should be able to ensure jobs and income for the educated youth. There is also an urgent requirement for action at the grassroots to deal with environment and climate change, that enable focus on own sources of revenue.

“Inclusion should be a major priority. Certain sections like the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and traditional fisherfolk have not benefited much from decentralisation. Participation and corruption-free governance are equally important. There’s a widespread feeling that corruption has been on a steady rise in local bodies, as compared to the sharp dip it had witnessed when People’s Planning started,” said ex-chief secretary S M Vijayanand, who played a crucial role in the evolution of People’s Planning.

An interesting innovation in People’s Planning stresses the concept of a Voluntary Technical Corps (VTC). In the 1990s, EMS had written to doctors and PhD holders in the state to come and help Kerala in its development. In 2012, then Oommen Chandy government, however, wound up the initiative and it never took off.

Under VTC, experts across the spectrum were to officially work for local governments. A slew of top professionals like Railway board chairman M N Prasad joined hands with the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. That experts could have an official space in governance, helps in project vetting.

“Corruption in local bodies is less than corruption in government work. But it’s above the acceptable level and it’s difficult to accept such a thing in the Kerala context. This rise could be because some key factors of Peoples Planning were diluted,” he felt.

There’s an urgent requirement to equip local bodies to address second-generation development. LSGs should be provided adequate expertise to deal with new challenges like climate change, disaster management, age-related health issues that come with lifestyle diseases and so on.

Technological advancement and improved human resources too are needed. To tackle such challenges, novel methods of intervention are needed. Action plans to deal with issues like disaster management should be prepared at the grassroots itself. Local bodies should be linked with scientific institutions to be better prepared to deal with newer challenges, opined Left leader T N Seema.

Isaac to grace event virtually

T’Puram: A recorded video message from former finance minister T M Thomas Isaac offering felicitations will be played at the inauguration of the silver jubilee celebrations of People’s Planning on Tuesday. The government’s sidelining of Isaac, one of the programme’s key architects, at the function raised many eyebrows.  In a Facebook post, Isaac requested all to not create controversies.

“At the inauguration of People’s Planning too we — EM Sreedharan and I — didn’t speak, and our names were not mentioned. The 25th anniversary will also be held like that,” he said, adding that he would offer felicitations online. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will inaugurate the event at C-Dit studio, Gorky Bhavan, at 4pm. 

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