Data

General Issues
Economics
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Specific Topics
Public Participation
Location
Kerala
India
Scope of Influence
Regional
Links
http://www.panchayat.gov.in/about-mopr
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Public Hearings/Meetings

CASE

Kerala People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning

First Submitted By Dbruce

Most Recent Changes By Jaskiran Gakhal

General Issues
Economics
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Specific Topics
Public Participation
Location
Kerala
India
Scope of Influence
Regional
Links
http://www.panchayat.gov.in/about-mopr
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Decision Methods
Opinion Survey
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
Public Hearings/Meetings

In order to address the state's democratic deficit the “People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning” gave all 1,214 local governments in Kerala new functions and powers of decision making such as partial authority over state developmental expenditures.

Problems and Purpose

By the second half of the 20th Century, the caste system in India had effectively disenfranchised people at low socioeconomic levels; as a result, the government was accused of being unresponsive to the citizenry.[1][2] In order to make the government more responsible and accountable to the citizenry, people began advocating for the devolution of power and a decentralized of the community development and planning process.[3] The State Planning Board subsequently promised to ensure 35-40% of 9th Plan Program would consist of schemes formulated at local levels of government.[4]

Kerala's campaign of decentralization had the express purpose of promoting people's participation to increase awareness and maximize the direct involvement of citizens in planning and budgeting.[5] The difficulties in promoting direct participation are particularly heightened in contexts where the authority of the modern, rational–legal state is in conflict with various forms of social power.[6] In these circumstances, even in cases where “representative democratic institutions are well established, basic rights of association are distorted by pervasive vertical dependencies (clientelistic relationships), routinized forms of social exclusion (e.g., the caste system, purdah)” and uneven public legality.”[7] Kerala's repeated goal of decentralizing began with the first democratically elected CPI ministry of 1957, and is still continuing to work towards decentralization through the people's participation today.[8]

Background History and Context

Kerala is “one of India’s 28 states, situated in the south-western tip of the country."[9] Kerala was created on November 1, 1956, when the States Reorganization Act was passed, thereby bringing together the Malayalam-speaking areas.[10] Kerala has a higher Human Development Index than all of the other states in India.[11] The state has a literacy rate of 93 percent, the highest in India.[12] A survey conducted in 2005 by Transparency International ranked Kerala as the least corrupt state in the country.[13] Kerala is a representative democracy with universal suffrage guaranteed to all state residents.[14]

In the 1960s, the state of Kerala initiated a social development strategy coupling extensive social programs with one of the most extensive land reform programs in the developing world. One of the primary tenets of these programs was the food program (which was similar to that implemented throughout all Indian states in the late 1960's).[15] According to Patricia Justino, India’s “food programme was integrated within a wider rural poverty alleviation scheme” which involved land reform and new technology or crops being introduced in the agricultural sector.[16] This ‘Green revolution’ occurred in conjunction with an extensive rural employment scheme; the idea behind the project was to “address the unemployment problems of the landless, and the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP)” was used to target the creation of assets for those groups.[17] Kerala implemented a Public Distribution System which addressed food insecurity by supplying grains and other staples to the poor at subsidized prices in what were known as "ration shops."[18] Additionally, a School Meals Program was established to distribute free lunches for children in primary schools.[19] These food programs were complemented by large amounts of public spending on education, healthcare (which was offered free of charge in public institutions), family planning, an old age pension plan, and accident insurance for the poor of Kerala.[20] 

When considering the state of “democratic relations and industrial culture trade unionism,” particularly in the unorganized sector, industrial relations were better in Kerala than other Indian states well into the 1960s.[21] In the mid-1960s, “trade unionism was central to the design and implementation of land reforms, minimum wage legislation, institutionalised bargaining procedures and general welfare measures that empowered the lower classes."[22] 

Throughout India’s history, local rural governments have been given very few powers, consequently limiting opportunities for citizens to impact development in such areas.[23] In 1993, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment tried to address this “democratic deficit by granting local rural governments new powers and making them more accountable to citizens."[24] Kerala was the first state to undertake this decentralization effort.[25]

The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) was implemented throughout India’s states in 1995.[26] Coupled with this initiative, the Kerala government has “in place the provision schemes for the workers in the unorganised sector, a direct result of the strong political power of their unions.”[27] Kerala has seen the impacts of these policies in their improved literacy rates and health care provision.[28]

In 1996, the “People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning” was launched by “a coalition of left parties led by the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI(M))” as a fulfillment of their campaign promise.[29] As a result, all of Kerala’s 1,214 local governments, including “municipalities and the three rural tiers of district, block, and grama panchayats” were awarded decision-making authority.[30] This new discretion was used to allot 35-40% of Kerala’s developmental expenditures.[31] Kerala state officials developed processes for their aim of maximizing the participation of local residents in determining budgets, representing “the most ambitious and concerted state-led effort to build local institutions of participatory democratic governance ever undertaken in the subcontinent."[32]

Development of the 'Panchayati Raj'

The People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning “was specifically conceived as a vehicle for deepening democracy.”[33] The first four years of reform mobilized processes toward a “very significant devolution” of resources and power to local government, which have since largely been maintained. [34] In 2001, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) was voted out in favour of the United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition.[35] During this next stage of reform, the primary challenges were institutionalization and strengthening local governance.[36] Despite partisanship in Kerala, economic devolution has been preserved.[37] In 2006, the State Planning Board found that “Panchayati Raj had been mainstreamed in Kerala...and that there is widespread consensus across the political spectrum in Kerala that Panchayati Raj must be strengthened and supported in Kerala.”[38] In 2006, the LDF government was re-elected and they maintained the commitment to deepening.[39]

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

In 1957, the first democratically elected government decided that the government should be more accountable to the people that they serve.[40] They decided to decentralize the power from the federal level down to the state level; between then and 1997, they dissolved power even further, to the regional, then the local, and finally in the 9th Financial Plan, down to the ward level.[41] The People's Participation is funded by the state level government, and is meant to encourage participation from the lower levels of of government.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participation is open in the first level, and participants are self-selected, but the meetings are held on holidays so that citizens are able to attend.[42] Planning documents are distributed, and the event is well publicized via media campaigns and conferences.[43] Those representatives who go on to the next level of the process are selected by their forum groups, and join local political leaders, key officials in the area, and experts.[44]

Methods and Tools Used

Public participation in the decentralizing campaign followed a unique four-step, yearly process involving meetings and deliberations at multiple levels of government. Small group deliberation, Gram Sabhas (open town meetings), facilitated brainstorming sessions, development seminars, project implementation, and budget allocation are just some of the methods and tools used to involve the wider public in the planning of community developments.[45][46] Part of this process involves developing an “objective assessment of the natural and human resources of the locality” in order to make optimal use of that which is already available to achieve local development.[47] Surveys were used to measure the impact of decentralization.

The gram sabha was instituted to allow local democratic deliberation regarding political issues, in this case focused on development, which research indicates is possible “where efforts are made to provide resources to citizens that might mitigate inequalities.”[48] Small group deliberation on the community’s needs was adopted within gram panchayats in order to relieve the intimidation or pressure felt from speaking in a large group.[49] This technique also allowed in depth deliberation on issues that particular developmental sectors were facing.[50] The groups had trained facilitators that guided discussions based on pre-written questions.[51] 

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Kerala’s State Planning Board campaign “was designed to create an active role for local citizens in shaping local development policy making and budgeting.”[52] As a result, local governments were afforded the opportunity to design and implement their own plans across the various developmental sectors; they did so through direct public participation, tasking citizens with the shaping of policies.[53] According to Heller, Harilal, and Chaudhuri, “the campaign [went] well beyond [the] decentralization in West Bengal and Karnataka, the two most carefully documented cases of successful decentralization” as measured by participation, accountability, and performance.[54] 

The “institutional designs were publicized through intensive media campaigns, conferences, and a massive training program” prior to the meeting of the first assembly.[55] The participatory process involved four discrete stages.

  1. The first stage focused on the identification of people’s needs and gaps in local development through meetings, where brainstorming occurred. Special care was taken to ensure attendance not only of diverse individuals, but of viewpoints to ensure proper articulation of the various views in the community. This stage occurred using gram sabhas, held at the level of wards (of which there are 10-12 in a panchayat); at these open-forum meetings, “residents identify local development problems, generate priorities, [select beneficiaries to target] and form sub-sector Development Seminars in which specific proposals first take shape.”[56] Gram Sabhas are run by local elected officials on holidays, often taking place in public buildings. Minutes are taken during the meeting and the groups are each expected to develop a “report of its deliberations and produce a list of ‘felt needs’.”[57]
  2. Once the issues have been identified during the first phase, 200-300 participants attend one-day developmental seminars to work out integrated solutions to those problems that were identified.[58] They break up into 12-13 task forces to tackle the various issues. The developmental seminars consist of representatives chosen by the gram sabhas, members of panchayat samithi, local officials and experts, from both within the community and outside of it.[59] Expected to arise from these seminars is a “comprehensive planning document for the panchayat.”[60] 
  3. Following the seminars, task forces are chosen by Development Seminars and given the responsibility of creating development reports which contain local history, resources, problem analysis, and development potential. To do so, each development sector’s task force, consisting of a panchayat samithi member as well as relevant local officials and gram sabha representatives, incorporate the broad solutions from the seminars.[61]
  4. The final stage of the annual planning process involves budget formation, whereby the task forces integrate the solutions into larger projects to be used by the larger government.[62] The panchayat drafts its plan according to “available budgetary resources, which include grant-in-aid (the largest component), own resources (local taxes and local resource mobilization) and state or center-project funds.”[63]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The institutional reforms of the campaign grew from their origins as a “critique of the inefficiencies of top-down, insulated, command-and-control bureaucracies” and of the issues that arise from a lack of local participation.[64] Heller et al. suggest that the political goal of the campaign can be understood as using “planning as an instrument of mobilization.”[65] The small group deliberation allowed ordinary people, including women, to effectively participate in discussions and budget planning.[66]

The Kerala decentralization campaign outcomes are evident in how local elected officials were given control at the three rural tier levels, allowing for local design of development policies.[67] Furthermore, “40 percent of all developmental expenditures have been allocated directly to LSGI (Local Self-Governing Institutions).”[68]

Informed local actors evaluated the developmental impact of decentralization via surveys which featured questions regarding the nature of services (health care, education, road infrastructure) and activities (housing for the poor, agricultural support, employment generation), “both before and after the campaign.”[69] Prior to the 1996 campaign, respondents found that quality of services was “low” or “very low”, for “all but three areas (education, childcare and health); among the lowest scoring categories were employment generation and anti-poverty measures, particularly in the case of women.[70] Following decentralization, “over 40% of the respondents felt that there had been “significant” improvement” in 5 of the 13 given categories.[71]

Across the categories, the effects of panchayats was uneven. Most successful were the projects to build roads, provide housing for the poor, and child care, whereas “less than a fourth of respondents felt that the panchayats had made a significant difference in economic development (employment, agricultural support, and irrigation).”[72]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

From this campaign, it has been learned that one must be careful when assessing the impact of the campaign to not conflate involvement with influence. To deal with this problem, Heller et al. suggest three lines of analysis: the depth of participation (magnitude and social composition), quality of participation, and translation of participatory inputs into actual institutional outputs.[73] The quality of participation considers the “extent to which the participatory process…[is deliberative and] involves substantive public discussions and efforts to identify common interests” as opposed to aggregate voting, which excludes minority views, or bargaining.[74]

Declining economic growth, liberalization pressures and declining service efficiency threaten gains made in social development.[75] Economic outsiders favour laissez-faire liberalization, while the poor in Kerala favour intervention. Justino notes that labour activism is important in promoting the “social and political empowerment of the most vulnerable groups in the population.”[76] Yet, there are two differing debates over how important labour unions, in particular, are. The so-called “supply side of the debate” argues that labour unions “promote wage monopolism, create inefficiencies and inequalities” between union and non-union workers, thereby decreasing output; the “demand side”, on the other hand, argues that “unions promote productivity, increase democracy” and are important for vulnerable groups to express their interests.[77] Justino suggests that unions force enterprises to improve productivity via new technologies rather than low-paid labour.[78]

Some argue that union demands disrupt the economy and drive away business, further inhibiting Kerala's ability to provide for its people. Justino calls this an argument of socio-political instability, and points to its relevance in Kerala’s industrial sector, where demands and the associated increased risk of disruption have driven private investment to other states in India “with more stable labour markets.”[79] However, to this argument, others would counter that union demands protect have benefited Kerala's people, especially the poor, greatly. Patricia Justino notes that Kerala’s development program has generally provided “traditionally vulnerable groups, such as the lower castes, the women and the workers in the unorganised sector, with better capacity to access social entitlements and the mechanisms of power.”[80] This is especially relevant given the unorganized sector in Kerala has been characterized by unemployment, pronounced market fluctuations, and narrow profit margins, leaving these workers at the margins of development.[81]

See Also 

Gram Sabha

Kerala Panchayati Raj Planning & Budgeting

Panchayati Raj

References

[1] Aroon Manoharan, Active Citizen Participation in E-Government: A Global Perspective: A Global Perspective (Pennsylvania: IGI Global, 2012), https://goo.gl/Kmz1hn, 316

[2] “Caste and socioeconomic disparities”, Human Rights Watch, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03.htm 

[3] Vipul Mugdal, Claiming India from Below: Activism and democratic transformation (UK: Routledge, 2015), https://goo.gl/AJUvzs, 323

[4] D. Bandyopadhyay, “People's Participation in Planning: Kerala Experiment,” Economic and Political Weekly 32, no. 39 (1997): 2451, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4405889.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Ace353267710d845ef3b66fa827e5fcb1 

[5] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 626, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[6] J.S. Migdal, A. Kohli, and V. Shue, State power and social forces: Domination and transformation in the third world, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), quoted in Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 627, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[7] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” 627

[8] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 629.

[9] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, PRUS Working Paper no. 19 (2003): 3, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=wp19.pdf&site=260

[10] Raja Sharma, Kerala - God's Own Country, (Lulu, n.d.), accessed Mar 17, 2019, https://goo.gl/p5aJiL 5.

[11] UNDP HDI Trends (1981-2001) for selected Major Indian States

[12] “National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India,” International Institute for Population Sciences, (2005-06): 62, accessed Mar 17, 2019 https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/frind3/frind3-vol1andvol2.pdf

[13] “India Corruption Study To Improve Governance” Transparency International India, (2005): 10, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://www.transparencyindia.org/resource/survey_study/India%20Corruption%20Study%202005.pdf

[14] Raja Sharma, Kerala - God's Own Country, https://goo.gl/p5aJiL 35

[15] [16] [17][18][19][20][22] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, PRUS Working Paper no. 19 (2003): 5, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=wp19.pdf&site=260

[21] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” 9.

[23][24][25] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 626, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[26] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” 5-6.

[27][28] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” 6.

[29][30][31] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 626.

[32] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 627.

[33][34][35][36][37] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” 628.

[38] The Hindu, May 11, 2006, quoted in Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 628, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[39] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 628.

[40] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal and Shubham Chaudhuri, 629

[41] Charvak Charvak, “From Decentralisation of Planning to People's Planning: Experiences of the Indian States of West Bengal and Kerala,” Kerala Research Project for Local Level Development, Centre for Development Studies no. 21 (2000): 18, accessed March 17, 2019, https://goo.gl/LuU6DC

[42][43][44] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal and Shubham Chaudhuri, 629

[45] Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright. Deepening Democracy Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (London: Verso, 2003): 14, https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Deepening.pdf

[46] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 629, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[47] T.M. Thomas Isaac, “Campaign for Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala,” Social Scientist, 29, no. 9-10 (2001): 21, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3517982.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Abc575322c707c0f05473174d9173c824

[48] https://participedia.xyz/method/5419

[49][50] T.M. Thomas Isaac, “Campaign for Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala,” Social Scientist, 29, no. 9-10 (2001): 20

[51] T.M. Thomas Isaac, “Campaign for Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala,” 21

[52][53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” 629

[66] T.M. Thomas Isaac, “Campaign for Democratic Decentralisation in Kerala,” Social Scientist, 29, no. 9-10 (2001): 20, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3517982.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Abc575322c707c0f05473174d9173c824

[67][68] Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright. Deepening Democracy Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (London: Verso, 2003): 78, https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Deepening.pdf

[69][70] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 632, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[71][72] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, “Building Local Democracy: Evaluating the Impact of Decentralization in Kerala, India,” World Development 35, no. 4 (2007): 633, accessed Mar 17, 2019, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTGOVANTICORR/Resources/3035863-1291

[73] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 632.

[74] Patrick Heller, K.N. Harilal, and Shubham Chaudhuri, 632.

[75] Patrick Heller, “Moving the State: The Politics of Democratic Decentralization in Kerala, South Africa, and Porto Alegre,” Politics and Society 29, no. 1 (2001): 132, accessed March 18, 2019, http://www.patrickheller.com/uploads/1/5/3/7/15377686/moving_the_state.pdf

[76][77][78] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, PRUS Working Paper no. 19 (2003): 9, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=wp19.pdf&site=260

[79] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, PRUS Working Paper no. 19 (2003): 8, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=wp19.pdf&site=260

[80]81] Patricia Justino, “Two Faces of Participation: the Story of Kerala,” Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, PRUS Working Paper no. 19 (2003): 6, accessed March 17, 2019, https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=wp19.pdf&site=260

External Links

Kerala Wikipedia Entry

Official State Website

Kerala's Decentralisation: Idea in Practice

Notes

Another version of this case study can be found below as a file attachment with the prefix "VD". This alternate version was originally submitted to Vitalizing Democracy as a contestant for the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize.

Lead Image: Kerala Panchayat

Secondary Image: http://50years.tni.org/story/1996-peoples-plan-campaign/