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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

25 Years of People’s Plan Campaign in Kerala | Jos Chathukulam

Friday 13 August 2021

by Jos Chathukulam

This August 17 marks the silver jubilee of the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC) in Kerala. The introduction of PPC was hailed as a milestone in the realm of democratic decentralization as it played a significant role in fostering local democracy, devolution of functions, funds and functionaries (3Fs) and decentralized planning in the state of Kerala. It was also the most extensive and efficient decentralization program undertaken in India. The PPC has been considered as a far reaching and radical experiment in grassroots level decentralization not only in Kerala but also across India. The PPC which was launched in 1996 spearheaded large-scale rural development and also facilitated the decentralization of powers. Poverty reduction in the state was a significant outcome of the PPC and the main reason for this to occur was the slew of welfare measures since 1996. It had a major impact on the quality of services rendered, especially in sectors like health, education, drinking water, sanitation, roads, energy, and housing. Kudumbashree, a self-help group network rooted at grassroot level is also one of the significant outcomes of the 1996 PPC.

Creating a space for democracy and development at the grassroot level

The 1996 PPC laid the formal foundations for a number of socio-economic developments and welfare projects as well as agencies and stakeholders in the state. The PPC showcased that democratic governance can be made possible through the larger and comprehensive participation of people in grassroot politics and decentralized planning. As part of the PPC, the then Left Democratic Front (LDF) government earmarked around 30 per cent of the outlay of the Ninth Five Year Plan towards projects and programmes drawn up by the local governments. In the case of devolution of financial powers in Kerala under PPC, nearly one-third of the plan funds were given into the hands of local governments. Social mobilization for formulation and implementation of plans was a notable feature of the PPC. It opened the doors before the ordinary people to become a part of the planning process at the village level through Gram Sabha and it in a way empowered decision making at grassroots level. The PPC encouraged people to identify their own needs and problems and to formulate solutions to them through their participation in local development planning. Though the first attempts to decentralise power to local level democratic institutions began in 1957 in Kerala, it was the 1996 PPC that made Kerala a forerunner in decentralization.

The Political Legacy of PPC in Kerala

The introduction of PPC was a major contribution of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala. E M S Namboodiripad, the first Chief Minister of Kerala and a Marxist ideologue of decentralization was the key architect behind the PPC. Political theorists have observed that the extensive involvement of LDF and CPI (M) in the PPC have helped them to tighten their grip on Kerala society and thus mobilize votes during elections. Their involvement in PPC have convinced the people to think that LDF means with local development and social justice. It has helped the LDF and its major ally CPI (M) to woo and mobilize not only proletarians and peasants but also white-collar workers, middle-class women, and ‘public intellectuals’. Under the umbrella of a slew of socio -economic programmes and measures that originated from the 1996 PPC, some 25 years ago, the LDF have endeared itself to Keralites by offering a balanced combination of growth and development along with a humanist touch. While it is generally believed that decentralization in a way attempts to downsize the state, in the case of Kerala it has turned out as a vehicle to empower the state regime. The first phase of PPC which started in 1996 was smoothly functioning till 2001 but due to various reasons it got derailed. It has been noted that decentralization in Kerala shows a clear hiatus between theory and practice especially when practice is taken as the reference point and contrasted with an ideal situation of devolution. Studies and research show that Kerala’s record is not up to the expectations of genuine enthusiasts of decentralisation. The Kerala experience also suggests some limitations of decentralization initiated from above and were implemented with centralized command, deeply embedded in ‘democratic centralism’.

Revival of PPC

In 2016, when LDF government under the leadership of Pinarayi Vijayan came into power, it decided to revive PPC and thus the second phase of PPC began. It led to the launch of Nava Kerala Karma Padhathi, an umbrella programme under which four missions - (i) Aardram, (ii)Education Rejuvenation, (iii) Haritha Keralam and (iv) LIFE (Livelihood Inclusion and Financial Empowerment). ‘Aardram’ focuses on revamping the healthcare system into a people-friendly one, ‘Education Rejuvenation’ attempts to modernise schools and to develop quality content for students, ‘LIFE Mission’ for providing housing for the homeless and ‘Haritha Keralam’ for waste management, organic farming, and water resources management. If the first phase of PPC focused on planning , the second phase focused on governance. The subjects under these four missions fall in the domain of local governments. The four missions in a way facilitated the integration between various departments and agencies and provided the technical support to the local governments. The Government stressed on the participation of people and voluntary works in all activities carried out under these missions.

Kerala Model PPC Adopted at the National Level

The Union government in 2018 launched a national level PPC under the slogan Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas. The planning process experimented under the 1996 PPC in Kerala has been scaled up to the national level in the form of PPC for Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) in 2018. The PPC is an effective strategy for ensuring the preparation of GPDP in a campaign mode. To improve the quality of GPDPs, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) and Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India jointly launched PPC under the theme Sabki Yojana, SabkaVikas in 2018 and further reinforced in 2019, 2020 and 2021 for preparing comprehensive GPDPs. These campaigns improved the quality of the GPDP substantially and extended it to other two tiers of Panchayats as Block Panchayat Development Plan (BPDP) and District Panchayat Development Plan (DPDP).

(Author: Jos Chathukulam is former Professor, Sri. Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralization, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru and currently the Director, Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala. Email joschathukulam[at]gmail.com)

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