Dubbed by many as the government organisation most resistant to change and least relevant in the rapidly-changing socio-economic and political milieu, the Planning Commission is trying to silence its severest critics with the help of new-age tools. These will be used to prepare the approach paper to the 12th Five-Year Plan ( 2012-17).
Taking forward the United Progressive Alliance’s commitment for inclusiveness in policy making, the 12th Plan could result in the most deliberated and inclusive Plan of all times. To achieve this feat, the Planning Commission has invited every individual through a micro-site — regardless of educational background or affiliation to a particular organisation or industry — to contribute ideas and observations, which will be considered for preparing the approach paper to the 12th Plan.
However, individual members of the commission are not completely relying on the micro-site alone, but are also expanding their efforts by seeking views on various web portals. All these efforts are in addition to the conventional meetings and discussions with various organisations and departments – government and otherwise.
The example was primarily set by member Syeda Hameed, who sought suggestions from members of various communities in a solution-exchange initiative.
“In an internal exercise, we have identified 12 key challenges that will help define areas that need focus in the 12th Plan. We are currently seeking suggestions on these challenges through civil society consultations and web-based discussions,” says Hameed.
Hameed’s initiative has paid off, with responses from not only civil society groups and NGOs but also retired bureaucrats, advisors and individuals from various walks of life.
Such an approach, according to Planning Commission Principal Advisor Pronab Sen, who is heading the initiative within the commission, is “one of a kind” approach taken by any government across the world for something as extensive as preparing a Five-Year Plan.
“This is something unique and has not really been tried by any government in the world as of now,” Sen had said while launching the micro-site. Sen and his team are further trying to come out with a more interactive site, where all suggestions can be uploaded and viewed by readers in real time. The current site only allows suggestions on 12 key issues to be mailed to the advisor’s office, while the feedback is not available in public domain.
To figure out the key challenges across the economy, the Commission has identified 34 sectors, like health, women, growth strategy for agriculture, rural infrastructure, skill development and so on. Each was explored across 10 systemic factors — citizens’ expectation, markets, governance and institutions and science and technology, among others — creating a matrix with 340 cells. Now the commission has shortlisted 12 key concerns.
The approach paper, expected to be out by March, will broadly mention issues on which the Plan would be based. After this, the details of the Plan programmes and sector-specific details will be charted out.
The move is significant because around five years ago no Indian ministry could have boasted a flawless internet site, while sporting an interactive interface seemed out of question. However, today, with major ministries in India flaunting updated, content-driven and user-friendly websites, the commission is trying to take the internet revolution a step ahead, which may end up providing the planners of the country the much-needed “out of the box” perspective.
“The aim is to attract as many suggestions as we can. We hold discussions with a lot of institutions and civil societies, but the thinking is that there is much that goes unrepresented. Individual efforts by members are also yielding results,” said a commission official.
The 12th Plan may also be one of the few Plans successful in commencing on time. Consultations for most other Plans used to follow, not precede, the approach paper.
The commission, trying to restructure and renovate itself for the sixth time since its inception in 1950 — the last such attempt being in 1997-98 — may actually peg its new avatar on its newfound approach to the next Plan.