Sachi Satapathy: High time we put the last man first

26 Sep

Whether the Planning Commission’s work has really helped achieve development is a contentious question.

Looking at the last 11 five-year plans, some of the charges levied against the statutory body seem to be correct because it has failed to understand its role for such a long period and has ended up as the custodian and source of all planning process in the country.

With this wrong transformation, newly adopted grassroots level planning bodies, which are expected to reflect the obligation of the common people, have become weak, and dysfunctional.

Encouraging ‘a powerful and imposing’ planning body on the one hand and spending thousands of crores to strengthen decentralisation on the other hand is absurd. When the whole planning process comes from a centralised structure, it is highly impractical to aspire for an inclusive development agenda.

One of the paradoxes of the present planning process seems to be a lot of input and a lot of activity, without any real systematic evidence of output.

A powerful centralised planning commission itself implies a weakening grass root planning process. The government has to choose between whether the country needs a strong planning commission or a strong empowered panchayati raj system. Both cannot go hand in hand. Moreover, the first option is actually not desirable for the growth and maturity of country’s planning process. True, the planning commission is making a sincere attempt to identify the priorities before the government, but the real intervention strategy in achieving those is not clearly detected for execution.

It is high time the planning commission’s role was restricted nothing beyond a postman’s. Its job should be to document and present the planning need, which should come from the village level. Democracy is the best hope for the common people and there is a need to bring continuous innovation in designing the planning approach. To make the arrangement more sustainable, the planning commission could have outlined a system where its responsibility should have slowly withered away and transfer the power in the hand of village bodies. Unfortunately, country is experiencing just an opposite symptom altogether as planning commission seems to have taken over the whole process and leaving nothing for people to exercise their partnership.

As a result, the very ownership and responsibility to build an inclusive and sustainable method of planning process in the country got stuck in the hand of the very planning commission of India.

Another change required in the whole process is the involvement of elected representative in full word and spirit as at present, it looks like the people’s representative have been sidelined in the whole exercise of planning and that is the reason they are facing difficulties in facing their own constituency.

In a recent visit to the country’s poorest district, Malkangiri, Orissa, the author found many interesting dimensions of poverty that are never captured in the planning commission’s intellectual exercise. In the evening, children aged between 5 and 6 can be seen returning to their homes after spending the day in taking the cattle to the grazing field. The planning commission has never formulated a policy that will help lift these children from abject poverty and give them access to food and education.

Finally, the government is spending thousands of crores towards health and education but the real expected beneficiary, the poor tribal girl as usual spends the whole day in the fields and sleeps on an empty stomach. The tragedy with the planning commission is that it ignores the basics and talks big and absurd in scholastic language. This problem can be addressed by giving more power to village bodies than the planning commission. Only then can the lost confidence in the country’s constitutional and political system be reestablished.

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