Kerala has a proud record as a pioneer of decentralised planning in India, having launched a programme for preparing development plans with people’s participation soon after the Indian constitution was amended to facilitate devolution of power to local self-government (LSG) institutions at the district, block and village levels.
While the state’s performance in this regard has won acclaim nationally, those who have been associated with the programme at one stage or another during the past 15 years are agreed that it is plagued by problems that defeat its very purpose.
The people’s plan programme was launched with fanfare by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government headed by EK Nayanar. The formation of a committee headed by EMS Nambooripad, the tallest leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), to propagate the programme testified to the importance attached to it by the party which heads the LDF.
The Nayanar government, while transferring control over institutions under several departments to LSGs, announced that one-third of the state’s annual budget outlay will be earmarked for them.
The Congress-led United Democratic Front government, which came to power in 2001, retained the decentralised set-up but rechristened the programme as Kerala development plan, presumably because the original name was associated in the popular mind with the LDF government. When the LDF returned to power four years ago, many people expected it to re-launch the people’s plan but it did not.
An expert team, headed by MA Oommen, a noted economist, appointed by the present government, said in a report presented last year that the programme had failed to achieve its primary objective of boosting agricultural production. Farm output which was growing at 3.42 per cent a year declined at 0.29 per cent a year after the introduction of decentralised planning.
It found that there had been a decline in people’s participation in the planning effort. Development seminars, which were conceived as a means of preparing people to participate in the planning process, had been reduced to a ritual. Plans were being prepared by officials. It cited the case of a junior clerk who prepared 120 projects for LSGs in just one month.
Dr S Mohanakumar, KM Shajahan and N Niyathi, who were involved in the programme in the early period, presented their assessment of its working at a seminar organised by the Kerala Vikasana Samithi in Thiruvananthapuram recently.
Mohanakumar, who is attached to the Institute of Development Sudies, Jaipur, is a CPI-M member. Shajahan, who was on the personal staff of VS Achuthanandan when he was Leader of the Opposition, was expelled from the party for alleged anti-party activities. Niyathi has no political affiliation. All three agreed that the expectations raised by people’s planning remain unfulfilled.
Mohanakumar laid the blame for the failure of the programme at the doors of the Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad, a non-governmental organisation, whose activists were involved in the preparatory efforts. He also said a section of the CPI-M was opposed to the programme.
He pointed out both LDF and UDF started distributing benefits under various schemes administered through LSGs to their members and supporters disregarding all parameters. As people’s participation declined, everything came under the control of the bureaucracy.
He alleged that only 35 to 70 per cent of the fund allotted for a scheme was spent. The rest of the money was shared by officials, contractors and politicians under an agreed formula.
Shajahan observed that decentralised planning had turned into decentralised corruption. The Comptroller and Auditor General had pointed out that several LSGs had failed to submit their accounts to the Local Fund Audit department for scrutiny.
Of the more than 18,000 LSG members about 12,000 belonged to the CPI-M members and many of them also held party posts, he said. They were handling the money allotted to LSGs. There were discrepancies in the statistics provided by the government about LSG spending. The mechanism created to scrutinise the accounts was failing. All this pointed to large-scale corruption under cover of decentralisation.
Niyathi pointed out that the commitment to transfer one-third of the state budget to LSGs was not being honoured. While the Nayanar government gave 29.6 per cent and the UDF government 28.8 per cent, the present LDF government had given them only 21.6 per cent. In the absence of effective coordination among various official agencies, projects often suffered. He cited the examples of hospital buildings remaining unused as there was no water or power or staff. – Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 12, 2010.