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Planning for Capital, Not People

Two more comments on the article "Prospects and Policy Challenges in the Twelfth Plan" (EPW, 21 May 2011). The first critiques the current anti-poor slant in planning; the second disagrees with the idea that inclusion can be an objective separate from growth.

DISCUSSION

our children. A casual visit to our hospitals

Planning for Capital, Not People

in cities and district towns and an occasional visit to our rural health centres would have given him ample evidence of the total S P Shukla collapse or impending collapse of our health

Two more comments on the article “Prospects and Policy Challenges in the Twelfth Plan” (EPW, 21 May 2011). The first critiques the current anti-poor slant in planning; the second disagrees with the idea that inclusion can be an objective separate from growth.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
July 16, 2011

I
f one were looking for clinical insensitivity par excellence, there is perhaps no better example than Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA)’s long exposition, complete with tables and graphs, on the “Prospects and Policy Challenges in the Twelfth Plan” (EPW, 21 May 2011). Planning for development was, once upon a time, a passionate endeavour for improving the lot of the common people. For someone still living on those dreams, it is hard to remain speechless. What does MSA have to offer except “More (and faster?) of the same thing”? And this despite his own admission that on the front of “inclusiveness” (that rather belated discovery by the planners of the new generation which is tautological, because one does not have to say that the beneficiaries of planning should include those for whom it is supposed to have been undertaken, unless, of course, it is, in their conception, “exclusive” in character, as markets in capitalist economies inevitably are), “the performance is clearly mixed and the extent of poverty and lack of access to essential services remain serious problem”.

Planning from the Ivory Tower

Planners should certainly be removed from the hurly-burly of governance but should they live in ivory towers? MSA is a permanent invitee to the Cabinet meetings. Surely he would have heard of the unprecedented and continuing phenomenon of farmer suicides. He must also have heard about the persisting and growing militant resistance of adivasis to the projects located in the forest and mineral areas. How could he have failed to notice the growing protests by farmers against the appropriation of their lands by big capital with the encouragement and support of the governments, protests which have erupted on the outskirts of the citadel of the Planning Commission? He must be aware from the data and reports in his own establishment of reducing per capita food availability. He himself has talked about severe malnutrition of 41% of

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infrastructure. All this an easily observable reality, not just “a perception… sharpened by the media” as he chooses to describe it.

Do our planners have to be blind to these realities to cultivate a desirable virtue of scientist’s objectivity? And should not their approach papers and policies have something to do with these realities?

How does one explain MSA’s casual prescription that the small and marginal farmers should be encouraged to lease out their land to bigger farmers (perhaps, even to corporate farming interests) and move on to employment in the non-agricultural sector? Is the Planning Commission guaranteeing them alternative, more productive employment, decent living conditions and a degree of security for them and their families? We see distress migration taking place every day. MSA should visit Bundelkhand (which has suddenly come into focus of the ruling class) to see how the small and marginal farmers are the victims of a “final solution” forced on them by the economy which by MSA’s standards is doing very well. And he coolly adds, “the proposed shift out of agriculture should occur not as distress migration, but as a natural movement to higher paid employment in non-agricultural activity”. As if, distress migration is a distant theoretical possibility to be avoided in future.

Travails of Agriculture

MSA is meticulous in listing modern agronomic practices, but has little to say about the unviable size of operational holdings of 92% of our farming community and any policy encouraging pooling of such holdings. Perhaps the implied suggestion is that they should quit farming, making the field clear for capitalist farming with modern agronomic practices. He regrets the collapse of agricultural extension services in most states but omits to recall that the policy environment in post-economic reforms period brought this about.

In the same vein, MSA sagely observes: “Micro, small and medium enterprises are

DISCUSSION

generally more labour absorbing…The policy environment must encourage the growth of these industries...” And this, when the last 20 years have witnessed a systematic decimation of the small and village industry sector as a result of the policies of economic reforms and liberalisation. True to his ideology, MSA is categorical that these units must not be provided “sops and subsidies”, but only infrastructural support of roads, transport, etc. Understandable, as the “sops and subsidies” will continue to be the exclusive privilege of big capital in the name of a widening regime of “incentives”! If the experience of the past two decades is any guide, the improved infrastructure of roads and transport has only enabled the products of big corporates including multinationals, and even cheap imports from China, to destroy such markets as were traditionally available to small and village industries in the preceding dirigiste era.

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On environmental protection and sustainability, MSA lays down the principle of “transition to higher growth without inflicting unacceptable damage to the environment”. But he is silent on the question of “Who – Whom”: “the acceptability or unacceptability” to whom? And who will decide that? A little later though, the cat is out of the bag. He is in favour of “taking an uncompromising approach in certain cases, e g, tiger reserves…but the general approach must be one of balancing conflicting objectives”. Obviously, tigers have a greater weightage in his scheme of things than of the adivasis being uprooted.

In MSA’s strategy, pricing, public-private partnership (PPP) and acceleration of financial and labour reforms form three basic elements, as in the past. It is difficult to see how market pricing can determine a socially optimal and inter-generationally just use of non-renewable and exhaustible

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resources, particularly in a society marked with huge and growing differentials of incomes and wealth. PPP policies have resulted and will continue to result in “Participation for Private Profits”. And the acceleration of financial and labour reforms will only cater to the desires of big capital. In this kind of policy framework, if crony capitalism prospers and “accumulation by dispossession” becomes the rule, it should surprise none. No amount of crocodile tears mixed with espousal of transparent procedures and invocation of regulatory mechanisms will help prevent this denouement. And it is no longer a hypothetical conjuncture: it is already happening before our eyes.

S P Shukla (manjuspshukla@gmail.com) held a number of senior positions in the Government of India and also served as India’s representative in international organisations.

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July 16, 2011 vol xlvi no 29

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

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