Kerala’s experience with local government (LG) is unique in three aspects – financial devolution, plan formulation and implementation, and extent of people’s participation. The system of decentralised planning in the State serves as a model for other States in India.
Kerala is into its silver jubilee year of the people’s campaign for participatory planning. The first people’s plan campaign in 1996 broadened and deepened the process of democratic decentralisation in the State. The Thirteenth Five-Year Plan coincided with the second people’s plan campaign. The second campaign has further strengthened the process and broadened the scope of decentralisation in the State.
Kerala’s model of decentralised planning is widely recognised as the most enduring and one of the most successful experiments of its kind in the world. The highly famed participatory governance experiments in different parts of the world, including the famous Participatory Budgeting (PB) of Brazil in Porto Allegra, have either been weakened or discontinued. There are multiple reasons for the success of the Kerala experiment including the legacy of the larger democratic movement in the State that the people’s campaign had sought to take forward. However, the single most important reason for the success of the people’s planning in the State has been the commitment of the present Government to pursue democracy as an end in itself, notwithstanding its obvious instrumental values. The people’s plan, no doubt had several other important goals, such as development of local infrastructure, enhancing efficiency in service delivery, improving local production and distribution, ensuring environmental harmony, extending social justice, and augmenting welfare. But, an over-determining goal, which complemented and enhanced every other objective, has been that of deepening democracy. People’s planning extended by leaps and bounds the scope for collective action by the people. It is this extensive scope for citizen’s participation and collective action, which worked as an inbuilt mechanism of self-learning and rectification from within, that made the Kerala experiment successful as well as enduring.
People’s planning generates informed deliberations involving people at all levels, such as households, neighbourhoods, gramasabhas, development seminars, working groups, elected councils, District Planning Committees (DPCs), beneficiary groups, mass organisations, NGOs, and media. Moreover, it has attracted large number of scholars from within as well as outside the State in undertaking insightful studies on various aspects. There have also been conferences and academic endeavours attempting comparative research in the area. Mention must be made also of the seminal contribution of various commissions and study groups appointed by the Government. This incessant process of learning from the experience of doing, especially selfcritiquing, helped in correcting mistakes and strengthening the virtues. For instance, preparation of the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan was used as an opportunity to assimilate the lessons of the first two decades and to overhaul the methodology of participatory planning from below.
The International Conference will try to bring together lessons learnt over the past 24 years, focussing primarily on the experience of the Local Governments who are demitting office in 2020. In the last five years there has been marked improvement in the functioning of Local Governments; as can be seen in the process of plan formulation and implementation, local governance in general, as well as in various qualitative and quantitative outcome indicators. But, there are many important issues that are yet to be addressed. The way forward would depend on the willingness to learn from the past experience. Nonetheless, it is equally important to be mindful of the new challenges and opportunities emerging. Rapid spatial transformation of the state in
terms of urbanisation, spatiality of development, ecological and environmental vulnerabilities, climate change, economic upheavals, and demographic transition presents new challenges to the LGs and the local communities. Accumulated experience, access to new technologies, growing ownership of the people as well as greater support extended by the upper tiers of the government present new opportunities as well.
The sessions on local governments in the Conference will seek to showcase the highlights of decentralised planning in Kerala. The session will focus on the following sessions.
- The first session will present a study on representative case studies with a view to learn from the exemplary initiatives of individual LGs. The case studies will be drawn from important areas of LG involvement.
- The second session will be on the way forward. It will focus on the new challenges and opportunities facing the Local Governments. The Conference will seek to develop a programme for reform to be taken up in the 14th Five Year Plan of the State.
Kerala State Planning Board.
Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram KERALA 695 004