While the Planning Commission, which was virtually an executive arm of the Union government, stands abolished, the District Planning Committee (DPC), a constitutional institution mandated “to prepare a draft development plan for the district as a whole” with a focus on resource endowments, environmental conservation, infrastructural development and spatial planning, (Article 243ZD) seems to have been neglected.
DPC, a constitutional institution is mandated ‘to prepare a draft development plan for the district as a whole’ with a focus on resource endowments, environmental conservation, infrastructural development and spatial planning.
Even so, no one can escape the need for multi-level development and planning in India. Given rapid urbanisation, it is hard to make a sharp rural/urban differentiation at the district level and integrated planning has become a sine qua non.
The constitutional goal to create “institutions of self-government” at the local level tasked to “plan for development economic and social justice”. However, the operationalization and effectiveness of these constitutional goal depends on meaningful response of the Centre and the State governments to the institutional architecture implied in the 73rd and 74th
Thus, India needs multi-level development and planning so as to cater to its diverse population.
Reviving the committees
In most States, there does not exist decentralised governance with DPCs acting as the functional hub.
The Devolution Report 2015 (Ministry of Panchayati Raj) says that several States have not constituted DPCs and thus there is no scope of preparing an integrated district plan.
Although 12 States have reported that they had formulated integrated district development plans but most of them may not stand professional scrutiny and citizens’ approval.
Now with the arrival of NITI Ayog, it has to be seen if it will try to revive District Planning Committees and institutionalise the preparation of district development plans.
NITI Ayog has outlined its functional responsibilities where it proposed ‘to develop mechanisms to formulate credible plans at the village level and aggregate these progressively at higher levels of government’.
This is possible only through a critical review of the functioning of the institutions of decentralised governance in every State.
The sixth report (2007) of the Second Administrative Reform Commission (ARC) outlines in great detail ways to make the DPC a viable component in the process of decentralised planning. But, as the planning environment reveals- no one bothered to take care of this ARC recommendation.
No Union ministry has made any scientific scrutiny nor reported to the nation about what happened to the constitutional mandate of decentralised planning and local democracy during the last 22 years.
Most of the SDGs and the 169 targets related to them are best implemented only as part of decentralised governance.
Also, Local governments (LGs) have a key role in delivering several public goods and social justice.
The nodal agency for UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) in India is NITI Ayog. So, here the NITI Ayog may examine the possibilities of giving a new lease of life to local governments.
India is a federation with extreme diversity in resource endowments, poverty incidence, development attainments and potential for growth and its regional disparities are widening.
Thus, there is a need for social intervention else the economy which is committed to market-mediated growth can only accentuate divergence. This can become possible with decentralised planning.
The Centre and the finance commission are expected to play a key role in ensuring spatial equity in Indian federation.
But these institutions have failed in their responsibilities which is revealed in a recent study that covered 19 major States involving 96% of the population. Using criteria relating to infrastructure, social services, fiscal performance, justice etc., it was demonstrated that regional disparities have widened between 2001 and 2012.
The prime rationale of cooperative federalism is to ensure spatial equity. Every citizen, irrespective of choice of residence, should have minimum public good and quality of life.
Local government and decentralised planning are the avowed Indian mechanisms and strategy to ensure this.
For a federal polity that is strongly committed to market-mediated resource allocation and economic growth, the architecture of a viable local governance is to be accepted as part of its national aspirations.
Being indifferent to local governments on the grounds of inexperience or inefficiency is a way of ensuring centralisation which is certainly not the road to transforming the nation.
The Outcome :
There have been success stories too in local development planning. An Integrated District Development Plan was prepared at the initiative of the District Planning Committee of Kollam district during the eleventh Five Year Plan.
Over a period of four years, a district plan methodology was evolved that integrated the rural and urban space through a long process of consultation, debate and discussion with sectoral departments, along with elected representatives at various tiers of local government.
Major development choices were made through consensus which ensured the feasibility of implementation.
Time to realign to realities
India is extremely diverse and thus every district has to formulate its model of district development outlining its short-, medium- and long-term perspectives.
In 2008, Planning Commission noted on Kollam initiative that the project gave decision-makers in local governments, the District Planning Committee and other stake-holders the opportunity to consider and take decisions in the emerging area of spatial planning and the methodologies developed by it, can be up-scaled to other districts.
Towards Holistic Panchayat Raj report (2013) leveraged panchayats for efficient delivery of public goods and services and even it endorsed the replicability and relevance of the Kollam model.
Now the NITI Ayog has to take note of the situation confronting Indian planning and uphold the constitutional obligation by promoting decentralised planning.