Unhappy with Home Ministry diluting its plan for Naxal-hit districts

The Planning Commission has decided to disown the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for Selected Tribal and Backward Districts that it authored and was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) — in a vastly amended form — in November last.

Currently being implemented in 60 Left wing extremist (LWE)-affected districts, the plan was watered down by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) before it received the CCEA nod. Having lost its battle with the Ministry, the Commission, sources told The Hindu, will tackle tribal welfare once again but do so, de-linking it from the security aspect, in the 12th Plan (2012-2017). The Commission, the sources stressed, feels that the issue deserves “a long-term perspective, not the MHA's quick fix approach.”

In the weeks since the CCEA approved the IAP, the Commission had made its annoyance with the MHA known through a sharply worded critique. Asked to respond to the critique, a senior official of the Ministry laughed it off, saying the differences between the Commission and the MHA were “ideological,” and that the IAP was already being implemented.

The disagreement apparently stems from their differing visions of what needs to be done in tribal India. The MHA wanted a plan to supplement military action in the LWE-affected districts, and it was intended, as Commission sources said, “not to build roads, but act as a morale booster for the troops.” The Commission, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to design a long-term development plan to wean tribals away from the Maoists by gradually restoring the state's writ in these areas.

The Commission, therefore, increased the number of districts from 35 to 60, pointing out that it was best to first tackle the districts with incipient Maoist activity that surrounded the conflict zone, where military action was on, to convey a message to those under siege. The conflict zone could then be addressed through the IAP in the next stage. “This,” a Commission member said, “was perhaps not fully understood by the MHA.”

The Commission-designed IAP architecture was also intended to simultaneously exert pressure on the State governments to perform, while involving panchayats to increase the participation of the local population. So, a certain amount of money was to be given to the panchayats through the Backward Regions Grant Fund. The larger chunk was to be routed through a Chief Secretary-headed administrative committee at the State level, which would consider requests from the districts and disburse monies on the basis of needs and performance.

The scheme now being implemented has snipped off the panchayats altogether, while replacing the State-level committee with a district-level panel headed by the District Collector and including the Superintendent of Police and District Forest Officer as members. When the Commission raised objections to the changes, the MHA said the plan was “too complicated” and wanted to know why it did not trust the district officials. The Commission's view was that the pressure should be on the States: “Clearly, it is the failure of district officials that has led to the current crisis,” the Commission sources said.

Part of the problem also lay in the turf war among different arms of the government. The scheme was designed such that the Commission would monitor the State component, while the Panchayati Raj Ministry would check the panchayat component. The former Panchayati Raj Minister, C.P. Joshi, the Commission sources said, first wanted the larger chunk of money routed through his Ministry. When he failed to get his way at the CCEA, he dismissed the idea, saying the panchayats didn't work. “One would have thought Mr. Joshi as Panchayati Raj Minister would be committed to making the panchayats work,” remarked a Commission member.

The CCEA-approved scheme has also done away with the Commission's desire to impose conditionalities — to make continued flow of funds dependent on performance. For instance, the Commission wanted that in the first year, the IAP funds should be utilised to make the existing systems work, to put the non-functioning Public Distribution System, schools, public health centres, Integrated Child Development Services back on stream, and subsequently to ensure the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act.