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Facebooked and challenged, India’s 12th Plan consultation

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Consultations have always accompanied the lengthy drafting process which culminates in a five year plan document. Since the 1990s, these have become more “inclusive”, to borrow a catch-phrase that is now much in vogue with Government of India policymakers. Even so, the inclusion has been restricted to academic institutions, trade unions (not any more, sadly), industry associations and trade representations.

The Indian polity, in whose name these Plans (capital ‘P’) are drafted and debated and approved, have never been a part of this vast, slow process. From the approach paper to the Twelfth Plan however, the Planning Commission has found it scores points by inviting suggestions and comments from anyone interested. Email ids were given out on the website, consultations were held open for public comment via downloadable drafts.

Now the Commission has gone an ambitious step further. A Facebook page, a dedicated website for online consultations and a discussion forum to debate the Commission’s 12 “challenges” – that is the engaging approach taken by India’s primary planning body for social and economic development.

This approach is still too raw and new to determine whether it can make a difference to the actual drafting of the Five Year Plan. Participatory planning for land and natural resource use has not been encouraged by the central and state governments, and it would be naive to imagine that this situation will change concerning the fundamental planning document for India. Still, it is a beginning, and it is up to those concerned enough to contribute to widen this space.

“The Planning Commission has started the process of preparing an Approach to the 12th Five Year Plan and is adopting a new and more consultative approach. In addition to consultations conducted across the country by organizations representing various citizens’ groups e.g., women, dalits and youth, the Planning Commission has for the first time adopted consultation from interested stake holders via the Commission’s web-site,” said the deputy chairman of the Commission.

“Based on an intensive process within the Commission, ‘Twelve Strategy Challenges’ [I’ve listed them below] have been identified to initiate these consultations. The ‘strategy challenges’ refer to some core areas that require new approaches to produce the desired results. These should not be viewed as chapters of the Twelfth Plan, nor the layout of the Approach Paper, which will be decided only after the consultations are complete. They are only a way of organizing thinking in critical areas.”

“To give a few examples, the management of water resources is a critical area and is mentioned under the strategy challenge ‘Managing the Environment’. There is an obvious overlap with other challenges such as Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture. Similarly ‘Social Justice’, which is a critical challenge, will be met in a manner in which many of the other challenges are addressed. Therefore, if a challenge is not highlighted separately, it may be because it is wide enough to be covered by several other challenges. However, we recognize that such cross-cutting challenges must not be lost sight of and they must be adequately recognized and addressed in the Approach Document.”

The ‘Strategy Challenges’ are: Enhancing the Capacity for Growth; Enhancing Skills and Faster Generation of Employment; Managing the Environment; Markets for Efficiency and Inclusion; Decentralisation, Empowerment and Information; Technology and Innovation; Securing the Energy Future for India; Accelerated Development of Transport Infrastructure; Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture; Managing Urbanization; Improved Access to Quality Education; Better Preventive and Curative Health Care. The Strategy Challenges are listed in full here.

The web-based innovation notwithstanding, it is useful to look at the intention through a historical lens. “The — Plan represents the first phase in a scheme of long-term development extending over the next fifteen years or so, the preparation of which will now be taken in hand. In the course of this period, India’s economy must not only expand rapidly but must, at the same time, become self-reliant and self-generating. This long-term approach is intended to provide a general design of development for the country’s natural resources, agricultural and industrial advance, changes in the social structure and an integrated scheme of regional and national development.”

“The size of the task and the many-sided challenge should not be underestimated. The greatest stress in the Plan has to be on implementation, on speed and thoroughness in seeking practical results, and on creating conditions for the maximum production and employment and the development of human resources. Discipline and national unity are the very basis of social and economic progress and the achievement of socialism. At each step, the — Plan will demand dedicated leadership at all levels, the highest standards of devotion and efficiency from the public services, widespread understanding and participation by the people, and willingness on their part to take their full share of responsibility and to bear larger burdens for the future.”

Which Plan document does this extract – from the introduction – come from? India’s Third Five Year Plan, whose preparation commenced towards the end of 1958 and was carried out in three main stages. The first, leading to the publication of the Draft Outline early in July, 1960, comprised detailed studies by working groups set up at the Centre and in the States. Parliament gave its general approval to the Draft Outline in August, 1960.

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