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Planning, by the people

From afar I could see a steady stream of people flowing down the road fronting the lane near my house. As I came close a young woman stopped me. 'Are you going to join the procession?' 'No, I am going home. ' 'So what do you think?' She took out her pad and pen. 'I don't like it. ' 'Why?' she asked. So I told her. We stood by the roadside while youthful marchers filed past in a happy mood. As I spoke to the young reporter, framing my arguments, she feverishly noted them down.

For seven years as a Planning Commission (PC) member I've been part of the effort to bring people close to the planning process. We even started a 'Civil Society Window' in 2004. This enabled people to appear before the body and offer it the benefit of their experiences in the field. This initiative crystallised within a year and is now part of the Planning architecture.

Civil society (CS) participation became a robust process in preparation of the 11th Five Year Plan. Before my eyes I saw the disdain with which activists were held within these circles began to change. There was the beginning of mutual respect. I found myself playing less and less the role of an apologist for CS. The process reached a peak one year before the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan. The first group to be invited in April 2010 for a brainstorming session was made up of a thoughtful group of women and men, all from civil society.

It takes months and years of painful effort to build trust. Consultations with citizens began on many platforms. PC members travelled across the country attending public meetings called by several CS organisations around various sectoral issues to gather inputs. We learnt important lessons. For example, in a tribal hearing at Tilda in Chhattisgarh, our teachers were citizens from 13 states who had gathered to inform us of their concerns. The culmination of this process was a book, 'Approaching Equity: Civil Society Inputs for the Approach Paper - 12th Five Year Plan', which we planners use as a reference now.

Then a storm broke which threatened to wash away a lot of this hard work in its sweep. It was Storm Anna lashing or gnashing at the spectre of corruption.

Being enacted across cities was a performance: Jan Lokpal Bill. The actors, aside from the protagonist and his team, were several parties and activists of many hues. Everyone was riding the wave of sentiment unleashed by bhrashtachar. 'India' had rallied around this one cause;we have not seen it before on issues like the declining sex ratio, malnutrition of children and women, child labour;I could go on.

Watching the mudslinging on various media it became obvious that there are many stakeholders and vested interests projecting this theatre of the absurd. People are being led by pied pipers to the edge of the precipice.

For me, in one stroke this 'mass movement' had dealt a blow to years of work to place CS at the centre of the Plan process. I believe that this movement does not represent either me or 1. 2 billion Indians (minus a few thousand) who are equally the CS which it purports to represent. We have not given the power of representing us to Team Anna. We have not voted them in to any level of government: Parliament, Assembly or Panchayat.

Admittedly there are flaws;some of the legislators we have voted for have been charged for various offences;the process needs massive cleaning up. Regardless, it is an axiom that the power of framing legislation is the prerogative of elected representatives and not that of those who have never sought or held a mandate.

Currently, the drama is playing out at Delhi's Ramlila Ground. But the magic wand which will make us corruption free has not been invented, nor is it likely to be.

The Planning Commission retreated for two days last year to discuss the collective vision for the 12th Five Year Plan. This threw up the new paradigm of how to take people's aspirations on board in the very design of schemes. The best ideas were generated around the issue of corruption. It was a consequence of this that the Plan chapter on governance was written with great care. All the 'boring' details of benchmarking, accountability, timelines, concurrent monitoring, and people's oversight were carefully worked out. Having done that, the next step would be to lay it on the ground. Planning includes that reality check, which is built into the system.

Jalaluddin Rumi, Sufi mystic and poet, gave us verses that many of us have taken to heart in the course of our work: 'Constant, slow movement teaches us to keep working /Like a small creek that stays clear/That doesn't stagnate but finds a way/Through numerous details, deliberately. /That is what gives us hope. '

This course is long and laborious and not very appealing. Perhaps that was the reason that the young reporter who stopped me on the street did not write a word about our interview.

The writer is Member, Planning Commission

Reader's opinion (1)

Lalit KediaAug 28th, 2011 at 22:46 PM

Thank you for letting us know how inputs are taken for framing the long term policies of the country and how the process gets better with time. We recognize the great effort that you and your team does year and again to march the country ahead.

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