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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Kerala's five year plan and Centre's 15-year plan can co-exist


In a seemingly conflicting move, Kerala's newly elected Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has decided to retain its state planning board and continue to follow the five year plan based development strategy.
The decision comes at a time when the Central government is thinking of scrapping the five year plans altogether and introduce a 15 year, medium term plan. It has already closed down planning commission and established Niti Aayog, the apex think-tank, in its place. The Niti Aayog, on its part, is working on the 15-year strategy.
The Kerala government's move to deviate from the centre's plan can trigger a much larger debate on the state-centre relationship. And by all indications, it will be a healthy one.
The Centre's decision to move away from the Nehruvian style of five-year plans to a longer term is not without reasons. First, the increased devolution of funds from the central kitty to the states has made both central government and state governments rework their public expenditure strategies. With lesser amount of funds, Centre will perhaps need to look at programmes and plans that can have a long term impact, and long gestation period. It may cut across states (highway development for instance), or may cut across industries and sectors (like make in India campaign) and hence need long term strategies. 
The 15-year term also suits Modi government's political game plan to seek a longer tenure through a renewed mandate in the next general elections in the name of completing half-left projects and programmes to make India a "developed" country.

Kerala government's decision to retain the five year plan also makes sense for exactly the same reasons. No political party would like to gamble with long term projects in a state, which has been consistently alternating its ruling political formations every five years. The state government would rather like to have a five year frame work (even the planning board's term does not coincide with the government's term) to see that the added allocations that have come through the new devolution are properly utilized for its voters to see.
There could be states that will convert their planning boards into Niti Aayog inspired state level arms, and their five-year plans into 15 year plans. However, a blend of long term infrastructure projects, and short term ones, where the former gets more share of central funds and the latter, that of state funds could be a model that could move parallel to the 15-year agenda.
It is only when political priorities create hurdles before agencies such as Niti Aayog, one would see asymmetry in planning. Or else, the duration of strategies and plans will not be in the way of development.
It shouldn't be.

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