Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia's move to first evolve a consensus among the States on the approach paper to the Eleventh Five Year Plan, before taking it to the National Development Council (NDC), marks a refreshing departure from practice. The concept of State-level and regional discussions on the plan document is not new, but to send the approach paper in advance to the States for their response and building a consensus is in tune with the federal spirit. It is now up to the State Governments to take this seriously, identify the priorities, and provide their inputs or responses to the Planning Commission well in time. The consultation meeting with the States and a full meeting of the NDC are expected to be held in August, while the States have been asked to have their own discussions, including on the district plans, on July 3 and 4. Considering the slippages in the annual plans of some States and the five-year plan projections over the decades, such an exercise of consulting the States and involving them in the finalisation of the 11th five-year plan may serve to create an awareness down the line. Unfortunately, the annual plan discussions between the Planning Commission and the States have become a ritual. Only of late there has been an attempt to review plan implementation. It is in this context that the Finance Minister's initiative and now the Planning Commission's focus on "outcomes" rather than "outlays" assume significance.

At a time when the Indian economy has been doing well, achieving a 7 to 8 per cent growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in successive years, a growth target of 8.5 per cent for the 11th Plan period may not seem too ambitious. But to realise such a sustained growth will necessitate a sharp focus on the agriculture sector something that the United Progressive Alliance set out in its Common Minimum Programme. While some of the States such as Andhra Pradesh have turned their attention to agriculture and irrigation in a big way, the prerequisite for taking the economy as a whole on to a higher trajectory of growth will be achieving a 4 to 5 per cent growth in the agriculture sector. Similarly, because of the diversion of attention to the services sector, notably IT and Communications, the manufacturing sector may be lagging behind. In the next five-year plan, the target for this sector may be a 12 per cent growth. In infrastructure development and, of course, in the social sector, much of the onus will be on the States. The Planning Commission itself believes that poverty reduction has been only at a "moderate pace," and this needs to be stepped up. It is up to the States to ensure that plan targets are fully met and the social sectors as well as the safety nets are fully taken care of. If economic reforms are to gain wider popular support in a country such as India, the benefits of growth have to reach the poor and the marginalised. And that must be the clear objective of the plan.