Peoples Plan is back in Keralain farmers garb

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Aug 20 2007, 05:30am hrs
It's the second coming for Kerala's People's Plan, a milestone in decentralised planning. This time, not with its concerns for fine-tuning fund devolution complexities, but in a farmer's garb. "The idea is to focus on revitalisation of agriculture", says chief minister VS Achuthanandan.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government was shocked at the knee-jerk planning moves in the agricultural sector of a state which contributes lavishly to the country's commodity export basket. This time it has drawn support from none other than Congress leader and Union minister for panchayati raj, Mani Shankar Aiyer. LDF's People's Plan is beyond political trappings, said Aiyer, who was in the state last week. "In fact, the government-Opposition consensus was its USP," he added.

What caught the world's eye about the People's Plan in 1996 was the manner in which a provincial government in India had transferred 30-35% of its Plan funds to its civic bodies. This was not without fumblings and occasional default, but the 999 panchayat councils stumbled through errors on to the right track. The succeeding Congress-led government chose to continue with the experiment, rebaptising 'People's Plan' in 2001 to the Kerala Development Plan.

The new plan's guidelines spell out that civic bodies should dedicate 40% of Plan funds to productive sectors, like agriculture.

"The previous United Democratic Front government had downpegged this ceiling to 30%," says Paloli Mohammed Kutty, local administration minister. The maximum ceiling on infrastructure spending is 20% of Plan funds.

"Instead of procedures, it is time to focus on the content of the local-level planning," says state finance minister, TM Thomas Isaac, who, as state planning board member, had sired the People's Plan concept. "Local-level watershed management plans will be integrated into river basin issues, with participatory support from the farm level," he adds.

Arguably, the juiciest fruit of the People's Plan could perhaps be the cross-germination of two diverse philosophies in Left economics.

In its food security fixation, Kerala's Eleventh Plan foray definitely bears the stamp of Prabhat Patnaik, JNU professor and vice-chairman, state planning board. "Just by offering an assured price of Rs 8.50 per kilo, paddy production is up by 30% in a single year" he says. While Isaac is thought to represent what the Latin American communists refer to as the 'vegetarian left', Patnaik's disenchantment with West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's 'neo-liberal' stirrings is well known.

Interestingly, at a juncture when factional feud in Kerala CPI(M) is played havoc with its ideological credibility, the party is turning to the Eleventh Plan to usher in a semblance of developmental unison.

But there are unanswered questions -- whether industrial infrastructure building and growth engines, like service sector, have been given their due in the relaunched People's Plan. But then, consensus seems to be the reigning priority this time. The Left and Right streams of thought have apparently converged on the farm and ecology platforms.