The institution of District Planning Committee as envisaged in the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act (73rd CAA) is the realisation of consistent and conscious effort towards decentralised planning since the process of planned development began in the country. The desire for decentralised planning was first expressed way back in the first five year plan (1951-56), when it was suggested to break the planning process into national, state, district and local community levels. However, the idea was given a concrete shape with the establishment of the District Development Council to consolidate plans prepared at the village level through a participative process. The newly established Panchayat Institutions at the village, block and district level were to help prepare these plans. However, their role and resources were not clearly defined and as a consequence the planning process at the grassroots level suffered.
The Administrative Reforms Commission in its report of 1967 stressed on the need for meaningful planning at the district level especially focusing on local variations in development patterns. Consequently, the Planning Commission issued guidelines for district planning in 1969, which led to several states formulating district plans. However, the exercise remained disjointed from the annual planning process in most states.
The widespread suppression and curtailment of powers of Local Self Governance institutions across the states through the late 1960s and 70s led to the choking of district planning process as well. The problem was examined again in 1984 through the Working Group on District Planning headed by C.H. Hanumantha Rao. The Working Group recommended greater decentralisation of functions, powers and resources for meaningful district planning. It also recommended the setting up of district planning bodies of about 50 members with Collector as Chief Coordinator. This planning body should be assisted by planning officers and technical experts at various levels. Other notable recommendations on strengthening planning and administration at the district level came from the G.V.K. Rao Committee on Administrative Reforms for Rural Development (1985) and the Sarkaria Commission for Centre-State Relations (1988).
However, all these efforts at strengthening decentralised planning were met with consistent failure due to several reasons. The weak nature of Local Self Governance Institutions was one of the main causes. A second major cause was the continuous growth and multiplication of sectoral departments and parastatal bodies along with vertical planning, development of sector-specific schemes and vertical rather than horizontal flow of plan funds. Given this background of efforts at decentralised planning in India, the 73rd and 74th Amendments were milestones since they provided the much needed constitutional legitimacy to local governance institutions, defined their functional domains and provided for financial devolution to these institutions. The 74th CAA also mandated the establishment of District Planning Committee (DPC) as the formal body for preparation of the District Development Plan by consolidating the plans prepared by the villages and towns in the district.
It is a matter of concern that even after the lapse of 25 years since the amendments were made, decentralised planning is yet to become effective in the country. While most states carried out amendments of their respective state acts in conformation of the 73rd and 74th Amendments, the implementation of the provisions was not uniform in all cases. Setting up elected bodies in local self-governance institutions was carried out, and State Finance Commissions were also formed to provide for financial devolution to these bodies. However, formation of DPCs was one of the neglected aspects.
Planning Commission took action on these proposals and communicated to the States that the approval of Annual plan proposals for 2006-07 will be contingent upon the constitution of DPCs in all the districts. The Annual Plan Proposals must give details of the total fund availability from various sources down to the Panchayat level. They must indicate the detailed deployment of funds received from various sources among the districts and must also explain the criteria followed for allocating the resources. The preparation of annual planning exercise under the Eleventh plan is thus expected to activate the process of district planning across all the states.
Another significant measure to push for the activation of DPCs is the linking of access to the Backward Region Grants Fund (BRGF) scheme. It is a semi-tied fund available to 250 selected backward districts with the purpose of catalysing development by providing infrastructure, promoting good governance and agrarian reforms, and capacity building for participatory district planning. In order to avail BRGF funds, states are required to establish DPCs as per article 243ZD, which will consolidate plans prepared by PRIs and ULBs in the district. These plans will put together resources from various existing schemes and channelise them to Panchayats on the basis of the district plan. BRGF funds will be used by the Panchayats for gap filling and to converge and add value to other programmes, which provide much larger resources to the same districts. The formula for disbursement of BRGF funds within the district will also be derived at the local level. Decentralised planning is thus at the core of this programme.
In this scenario of renewed effort towards achieving effective planning at the grassroots level through the DPCs, it is pertinent to look into the status of the DPCs which have been so far formed across the states in the country. In this report, PRIA presents a detailed analysis of the status of DPCs across different states in India. Twelve states – Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are the states covered for detailed primary investigation into the status of DPC, since PRIA has a direct or indirect presence in these states. The report highlights the gap between what appears on paper and what the actual situation is on the ground for these states. The information is supplemented by secondary studies, where available.
In Uttar Pradesh DPCs have recently been constituted in 70 districts as per the District Planning Committee (amendment) Act 2007, with the in charge minister as the chairperson. Earlier the Minister-in-Charge of the district was the Chair of the DPC, and there were two Deputy Chairpersons – the ZP president and the CEO of the Municipality within the district.
In Uttarakhand as well, the DPMC is the existing structure for district level planning. However, the state government has agreed to the constitution of DPCs and a set of guidelines for DPC formation has been issued. These were submitted to the Governor for approval and as a consequence Uttarakhand District Planning Committee Act has been passed . The DPCs are to be chaired by a Minister nominated by the State Government and the District Magistrate is the ex-officio member. The Chief Development Officer of the district is the secretary of the committee. However, no DPCs have been constituted so far. The SEC has the superintendence, direction and control of preparations of electoral roll and conduction of election.
Jharkhand is a unique case in the sense that the 73rd and 74th CAAs have not been implemented at all, and elections to local bodies are yet to be held in the state. This however does not mean that district planning is not being carried out. There is in place a District Planning Unit headed by a District Planning Officer, again whose job is to allocate plan funds arriving to the district under various Central and State schemes, such as MPLAD and MLALAD. Little effort is made to carry out any concrete planning at any village or town level in the district. The District Planning Unit is not unique to Jharkhand and exists in most states as the administrative structure for routing of plan schemes at the district level.
DPCs had been formed for all districts in the states for which additional information was collected by PRIA (through both primary and secondary sources), i.e., Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, this does not guarantee that the DPCs are functional to the same extent in all districts. Further details on the composition of DPCs and whether they are actually functional, will be analysed in the forthcoming chapters.