Plan funds for Block Panchayats

The State has 991 Grama Panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats, 14 District Panchayats, 52 Municipalities and 5 Corporations. Consequent to the 74th Amendment to the Constitution of India, the Local self-government Institutions (LSGIs) are to function as the third tier of Government. In Kerala, LSGIs have been meaningfully empowered through massive transfer of resources as well as administrative powers. Coupled with a grassroots level approach of Participatory Planning whereby the developmental programmes are identified and implemented through Grama Sabhas, the LSGIs have emerged as effective agencies for the implementation of developmental programmes.
The People's Campaign for Decentralised Planning was formally inaugurated on the first day of the Malayalam year, 17th August 1996. The Campaign was organised in a phased manner with clearly defined objectives for each phase. Each of the six phases had a nodal event and involved a separate round of training at state, district and local level. Chart 2.1 provides a graphical presentation of the objectives of different phases and sequence of various events of the Campaign. Extensive environment creation activities were also undertaken. A High Level Guidance Council was formed comprising of eminent personalities in the state. Thecouncil was also intended to assure the highest possible degree of consensus around theCampaign. Apart from representatives of all political parties and major mass organisations, the council also included vice-chancellors of universities, heads of centres of excellence and cultural leaders. 
Phase I: Grama Sabha 
Identification of the felt needs of the people is the first step in the decentralised planning exercise. It is accomplished by convening the Grama Sabhas, ensuring maximum participation of people, especially, women and other weaker sections of the society in order to discuss the local development problems. In the urban areas Ward Conventions are organised for the purpose. Squads of volunteers visit households and explained the programme. Preparatory meetings of mass organisation are held. It is estimated that nearly 2.5 million persons participated in these grama sabhas/ward conventions. Of the participants about 27 per cent were women. One of the major achievements of the People's Campaign has been in dispelling the general attitude of scepticism towards the grama sabhas. It was generally feared that, given the settlement pattern in Kerala, absence of strong tradition of village assembly and large size of an average Grama sabha in the State, the effective functioning of these bodies as instruments of participatory planning might not be feasible. But the first phase of the Campaign, thanks to careful preparation, mass enthusiasms and organisational innovations, proved in practice the viability of the grama sabhas. The discussions in the grama sabhas were organised in groups of 25-50, one for each development sector in addition to one group for SC/ST development and one for women's development. Given the large size of grama sabhas in the State, the organisation of sector-wise group discussion made it possible for maximum number of people to participate in the deliberations in a meaningful manner. Around one lakh resource persons at the local level were mobilised and given training to act as facilitators in the discussion groups. The major advantages of the plan preparation grama sabha meetings are the following: 1. The felt needs, priorities and development perceptions of the people in every locality were listed. 2. A general awareness is created among various sections of people regarding the decentralisation programme. The review undertaken by the SPB of the special grama sabhas convened in connectionwith the Plan Campaign also revealed certain weaknesses. The extent of participation varied widely not only between districts but also within districts. In some panchayats more than one thousand persons participated in grama sabhas, whereas in the same there were grama sabhas that barely met the quorum requirement of only 50. The inter panchayat differences cannot be explained in terms of political affiliations of the Panchayat Committees alone. Generally, the participation was found to be negatively correlated to extent of urbanisation. However, the determining factor seems to have been the commitment and the interest of the elected representatives themselves.
Phase II: Development Seminars 
After the identification of the felt needs in the grama sabhas, the next step in the planning process is to make an objective assessment of the natural and human resources of the locality. Only by matching the two could a perspective be developed for local level development that would make optimal use of the resources in tune with the aspirations of people. The approach to planning had to be such as to secure a judicious blend of local needs with local resource availability.A series of participatory studies are also usually undertaken in every grama panchayat and municipality, most important of which were the following 1. Collection of secondary data: The relevant secondary data available in the various registers and records at the local level offices of different line departments were identified and collected in a common data format drawn up for the whole state. 2. Study of local geography and natural resources: A rapid appraisal of the natural resources was undertaken using tansect walk technique. Eco-zones in every panchayat were identified by first demarcting the area into various zones on the basis of land form and then identifying the soil, water and vegetation charactersitc to each zone. an environmental appraisal of each eco-zone was also attempted in many panchayats. 3. Review of ongoing schemes: Each department was to prepare a sectoral report on the ongoing schemes and make them available to the panchayats and municipalities. 4. Survey of local history: A short local history is also prepared by every local body, mostly drwing from oral testimonies and local records. Participatory techniques such as history time line were also encouraged. 5. Consolidation of grama sabha reports: The reports of grama sabha discussions, including lists of problems identified, are then consolidated for each development sector in a panchayat. 
Phase III: Task Forces
Sector-wise secto the committes constituted at the grassroot level one supposed to projectise the recommendations and suggestions, which emerged from the development seminars. On as average, 10 task forces were consititued in each local body to cover various development sectors.As many as 12,000 task forces were organised at the village level alone with a total participation of at least 1.2 laksh persons. In the first year itself. The task of project preparation demanded participation of more officials and technically qualified people than the earlier phases. Accordingly, special efforts were made to ensure participation of officials and local level experts. While the chairperson of the task force was an elected representative, an officer from the concerned line department was its convenor. A simple and transparent format was proposed for the projects to be prepared by the task forces. In order to ensure uniformity, it was suggested that the project reports should generally have the following components: 
Introduction: Explaining necessity and relevance of the project. Objectives: in well defined (as far as possible in quantitative/measurable) terms. 
Beneficiaties: Criteria proposed to be followed in selecting beneficiaries or benefiting areas Activities: technical analysis and time-frame of all project activities. 
Organisation: Agencies and their role in implementing the project activities 
Financial analysis: Investment needed for each activity and idenrification of source of funds. 
Net Benefits: Analysis of likely direct and indirect benefits and costs. 
Monitoring: Details of the proposed monitoring mechanism. 
A separate set of guidelines for the preparation of SCP and TSP projects are also given. Further, it is recommended that the local bodies earmark minimim 10 per cent of the plan assistance for projects meant for the development of women. Special care is also taken to see that the Secteral committee members prepared projects with an integrated approach. A review by the SPB showed that the task forces do not function as effectively as isues expected. The major weakness is that adequate number of experts could not be attracted participation of officials was also far from satisfactory. The training given to the secteral committee members also inadequate. The prepared projects revealed several weaknesses, particularly with respect to technical details and financial analysis. Therefore, a number of rectification measures like project clinics, re-orientation conferences etc. are also organised. 
Phase IV : Annual Plan Finalisation 
Plan funds under each of the above heads were devolved between urban and rural local bodies on the basis of population and certain other criteria . As for the rural local bodies, the total general sector allocation was distributed between the grama panchayats, block panchayats and district panchayats in the ratio of 70:15:15. Is the first year. Within each tier the allotment is made entirely on the basis of the each local body. The principle of taking population as the sole criteria drew widespread criticism on grounds of equity, since some were laggining in development or having to cover larger geographical areas than others. With all its limitations, a majot advantage for adopting a transparent objective criteria, such as population, was that the accusation of political manipulation could be totally avoided. Such a controversy would have been extremely destabilising for the fragile unity that had been built up in the Campaign. The paln allocation for each of the local bodies is separately indicated in the state budget, with broad guidelines regarding sectoral allocations to be made by the local body. While 40.50% of thde plan allocation to the rural local bodies is to be invested in the productive sectors and 30-40% in the social sectors, 10-30% of plan allocation may be spent on roads and other public works including energy. Greater emphasis was paid to social sectors in the guidelines for allocation for the urban local bodies: 40-50% was to be earmarked for social sectors including slum improvement and roads and other infrastructutre could be allocated upto 35 per cent. 
Phase V: Annual Plan of Higher Tiers
Block and District panchayats are supposed to start preparation of the their annual plans only after grama panchyats had drafted their plants. The sequential ordering of the processes was made in order to ensure that the plans of the various tiers were integerated and the plans of the higher tiers did not duplicate, but complement those of the lower tiers. A simple method of integtrating the anlysis and programmes of the grama panchayats at block and district level is also proposed. Every block panchayat is to prepare a printed Development Report in which the problems identified in the Development Reports of the grama panchayats in the block area and the type of projects included in their plan were integrated for each sector. In each sector all the major development problems identifield are listed in rows and in each column under the relevent grama panchayat the rank order of the problem marked according to its relative gravity. Similarly, a matrix of relative importance of different types of projects for each grams panchayat was prepared. These matrices give at one glance the problemx and solutions identified by the grama panchyats. The block panchyats are to take up projects to fill up the gaps or for complementing the activityies of the lower tier. Emphasis was laid on the importance of integrating tyhe different centrally sponsored poverty alleviation programmes being implemented through the community development blocks with the block panchayat plans. Each district panchyat shich also to prepare a development report integratomg the analysis and programmes of the lower tiers. The guidelines for the preparation of the projects and the paln documents for both the block and district panchayats are similar to those of the grama panchayats. Block panchayats and district panchayats also organise seminars to discuss their draft plans. 
Phase VI: Plan Apprisal
A sample review of the projects prepared by the local bodies revealed that a significant proportion of them had to be modified to ensure their technical soundness and viability before they were approved for implementation. Realising that the DPCs did not have the technical manpower or infrastructure in undertake a proper scrutiny of the projects, a major improvisation in the original programme of the Campaign was called for. Therefore, a new (sixth) phase was added for the technical and financial appraisal of the projects and plans. More than one lakh projets have to be evaluated each year. The evaluation was not for selection or rejection of the projects, but to actually rectify the technical and financial weaknesses of the project proposals. Technical specifications and even designs might have to be prepared. Further, the entire work have to be undertaken within a span of three to four months. It was evident that the official machinery would not be able to cope with the task. The was how the concept of technical support committes emerged. Retired technical experts and professionals are encouraged to enroll themselves as volunteers to appraise the projects and plans of the local bodies bsides officials . Such a volunteer expert is committed to spending at least one day a week giving technical assistance to the panchayats. District level conventions are arrangedfor the experts who formally offere tp join second committee. Special orientation courses were organised for those volunteers who expressed their willingness to serve in the VTC after the conventions. Expert Committees are formed at block (BTSC), Municipal (MLtSC) and corporation (CLTSC) levels drawing from the technical support group members and certain categories of mandatory officers.The support committees are on the one hand, an advisory arm of the DPC helping the latter to appraise the plans and projects and on the other hand a body to render technical assistance to the local bodies. The support committees have no right whatsoever to change the priorities set by the local bodies. In course of time, the expert committees or the technical support committees were alsogiven the power to approval of technical sanctions and tender excesses within certain limits. They were also given a role in plan implementation such as approval of revised estimates, settling disputes in measurement, inspection of all works and verification and approval of performance/completion reports of works within certain financial limits. The District Level support Committee consisted of the senior most officials and non official exper with Collector as chairperson.
Training/Empowerment Programme 
The experience of the People's Campaign has underlined the vital importancedetailed preparation and training in ensuring the success of local level planning. Seven rounds of training at the state level, four rounds at the district and block level and two rounds of training at panchayat and municipality level had to be organised.` Originally, their strength was envisaged at only aropund 250 to 300 key Resource Persons and 5-6000 District Resource Persons and around 50000 Local Resource Persons. But such was the demand from below to participate in the training programme that a much larger number had to be accommodate in the very first round of training. Still, there was criticism that the local bodies selected the resource persons in partisan manner and some sections, were being left out. Parly in response to the criticism, the number of resource at various levels were formally raised to 660 KRPs, 11808 DRPs and 1,00,000 LRPs. But for a sall proportion of the KRPs, the local bodies nominated the rest of the resource persons themselves. The theme and content of each round of training programme corresponded to the objectives of each phase, focussing upon the immediate task to be undertaken namely, the organisation of grama sabhas (round I), preparation of the development reports and the attendant studies (round II) drawing up of projects (round III), drafting of the plan document (round IV), integration of local plans and drafting of plans of the higher tiers (round V), plan and project appraisal(round VI) and implmentation rules and procedures (round VII). In addition, every round of training started with a discussion of philosophy of decentralisation in general, and participatory planning in particular. Attention was also regularly drawn to aspects of the development crisis in Kerala. The discussion of rules and statutes were taken up in the first and subsequent rounds. Sectoral development perspecties were given special attention in the second and third rounds. Problems of SC/ST development and gender concern were another constant theme in every round. The emphasis in the programme was on self-study by the participants. A basic handbook was prepared for every round with the help of experts and officials. Besides, as part of the second and third rounds, twelve simple monographs on sectoral development perspectives were also prepared. A comprehenshive list and description of all the ongoing development programmes in the state that may be relevance to decentralised planing was also printed and distributed. Nearly 3000 pages of printed training material and more than 12 hours of video programmes were prepared as part of the training programme. While the main mode of presentation, it must be admitted, were lectures, followed by brief clarificatory discussion sessions. Group exercises and discussions were regularly held. The presentation on Rules and Statutes was in the form of panel discussion held by members of Committee on Decentralisation of Powers. Case study presentations and experience sharing by the participants were also methods employed. The KRP training was generally more participatory in nature and all handbooks were revised and finalised in these state level camps. During the first three rounds, a three programme of state, district, and block/local level training covering more than one lakh resource persons was undertaken. KRPs constituted the faculty for district level training and DRPs the faculty for the local level training. There was the success of the Campaign, no doubt, depend to a large extent on the effectiveness of the training programme. Whatever be the weaknesses and problems of the training programme it is an undeniable fact that annual local plans did emerge from below. Though with certain amount of delay, every local body prepare its plan in a participatory and transparent manner.