Given how aligning development priorities across various states to larger national development goals needs some form of planning, the government has done well to move to 15-year perspective planning after having junked the five-year-planning model—where goals were rarely met—soon after it came to power. Work on the goals outlined in the 15-year ‘vision document’ will begin in FY18, with the action plan for these outlined in detail in the first seven-year ‘national development agenda’. The on-ground implementation is to be reviewed every three years, and the first review is scheduled to happen in FY20.
While marrying action on the ground with planning is a very good idea, its success depends upon whether the goals in the plan are being translated into policy on the ground. If, for instance, a perspective plan on digital requires 900 million more Indians to be connected to the internet, this is meaningless if there is no policy action—starting now—to make more spectrum available and to reduce its costs or to give telcos right-of-way to lay optic fibre cables. Similarly, if the perspective plan talks, like a 2014 McKinsey study did, of the need to add 80 mtoe of natural gas to meet India’s energy needs by 2030—and 40% of this is to come from local resources—this is quite meaningless if the policy on the ground actively discourages natural gas exploration. But, for nearly two years, this is precisely what government policy did by refusing to raise natural gas prices for difficult areas in the country’s deep waters—ironically, the government capped natural gas prices even though the contract with gas exploration firms clearly specifies marketing freedom. Or take a plan that talks of India needing an 80 million tonne increase in annual foodgrain production by 2050—a Grant Thornton-Ficci report projected this last year. Apart from the fact that this requires a big supply response, the drought-flood situation brought about by global warming requires India to spent a lot of R&D money and effort in GM technology—if, however, India’s policy throttles GM as it is doing now by imposing price controls on GM cotton seeds, it makes the planning redundant. The government can think it has come up with a winning 15-year vision document backed by 7-year action plans and 3-year reviews but if this doesn’t inform policy on the ground and the government backpedals on reforms, all of this will add to nought.