Sushma Ramchandran

Approach paper sent to Chief Ministers, all Union Ministers before the NDC meeting

Growth path ``feasible but not inevitable''Focus on agriculture, social sector and manufacturingNDC likely to meet in August

New Delhi: Seeking to emulate tiger economies such as China and Korea, the Planning Commission has set an ambitious 8.5 per cent growth target for the 11th Five Year Plan, commencing in 2007-08.

The Plan aims to reach 9.5 per cent growth in the final year, according to the approach paper. The paper, in a break from tradition, has been circulated to Chief Ministers and Union Ministers well in advance of a formal meeting of the National Development Council (NDC).

The Commission is believed to have described the high growth path as ``feasible but not inevitable," while flagging a number of hard decisions essential to achieve this objective. It has placed the focus of the next Plan squarely on agriculture, social sector and manufacturing.

It has stressed the need to reverse the deceleration in farm growth while aiming for a 12 per cent rise in the manufacturing sector to achieve 8.5 per cent overall growth. It has sought to move from the focus on outlays to a ``hard look at outcomes."

Previous approach papers to Plans have always been discussed only at NDC meetings. Official sources said Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had sent the draft document to Chief Ministers before finalisation. They have also been invited to a series of regional consultations where the views of State Governments could be aired along with those of NGOs, research institutes and prominent persons of civil society from the region.

In a letter to Chief Ministers, Mr. Ahluwalia has suggested that matters relating to the 11th Plan of their States, including district plans, be discussed at a meeting on July 3 and 4. After discussions, the full Planning Commission will meet to approve the final document. Then it will be sent for Cabinet clearance. A meeting of the NDC may thus be held, sources say, by the third week of August.

The aim of the changed approach is an effort to achieve consensus among the implementing agencies for the 11th Plan. Even the theme of the approach paper is ``towards faster and more inclusive growth" with the emphasis on restructuring the policies to be more broad-based and inclusive, bringing about faster poverty reduction and ``helping bridge the divides that are currently the focus of so much attention."

Rich-poor divide

The papers refers to the divide between the rich and poor and concedes that poverty is declining at only a ``modest pace." The pace of poverty reduction must be accelerated, it says. Similarly, it comments on ``excluded groups," such as SCs, STs and OBCs and some minorities who continue to lag behind the rest.

On regional backwardness, it emphasises that the Centre and States must jointly deal with the problem on a priority basis. ``We cannot let large parts of the country be trapped in a prison of discontent, injustice and frustration that will only breed extremism. The spread of naxalism in more than 100 districts of the country is a warning sign," it says.

Highlighting the challenges for the next Plan, it says that the most important is to provide essential services, such as education and health, to large segments of the population, who are denied these at present.

In agriculture, it argues that a second green revolution is urgently needed to raise the growth rate to four per cent.

On manufacturing, it seeks to rectify infrastructure constraints on a priority basis over the next five to 10 years to make domestic industry competitive in global markets.

In an oblique comment on the debate over reservations in higher education, the draft paper calls for large investments in public sector institutions of higher learning, combined with fundamental reforms of curriculum and service conditions, to attract high quality faculty. It warns that the expansion of premier institutes such as the IITs has slackened in the past two decades, showing signs of an emerging shortage of high quality skills needed in knowledge intensive industries.

The approach paper describes rehabilitation of those displaced by development projects as being ``seriously deficient'' and calls for transparent policy rules to address compensation and to give these a legal format in terms of the rights of the displaced.

Besides highlighting the need to urgently address corruption in all spheres, it expresses concern over the ``notorious delays in dispensing justice."