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Planning process needs a change

Traditionally the planning process in the State has remained confined to amalgamation of individual departmental plans into one consolidated Plan after discussions for fixing the budget ceilings and prioritising various schemes. The State Planning Department deputes planning officers to different departments on a permanent basis who are changed after the usual tenure of 2 to 3 years. These planning officers in consultation with departmental officers and under the supervision of the head of the department prepare the five year and annual plans for the concerned department in the light of the guidelines provided by the planning department. These plans are then discussed repeatedly in different meetings to fix the allocations on various schemes within the plan ceiling communicated by the Planning Department. Finally, discussions are held with the officers of the planning department who reduce or increase allocations depending upon the availability of funds and the urgency of schemes. Similarly, district planning officers prepare the district plans under the supervision and guidance of the concerned District Development Commissioners. These plans are then discussed in district board meetings and finalised. Draft plans from various sources are received in Planning Department and then consolidated. The Draft Plan is discussed at various levels and then approved with an overall ceiling and definite and specific allocations for individual sectors. The process is systematic and democratic. Every one has a say. However, what is lacking is the expertise and specialisation in the preparation of individual plans. The process of planning has reached a very high degree of sophistication. There are experts and specialists available in almost every field. To be realistic, the planning has to be based on field studies and research. Officers drawn from administrative services head most of our departments. Only a handful of departments may be having technically trained professional heads. Even these get occasionally shifted and changed in very odd ways. A person professionally trained in one field is sent to such a department about which he has no knowledge or experience. The planning officers deputed to various departments are not specialists in that field but have an overall experience of planning process. What is required is an in depth study of each sector by experts and professionals with field research to enable preparation of realistic and practical plans on a long term as well as short term basis. This job cannot be left to individual departments. The Planning Department should itself have research cells on each sector with experts and specialists in the concerned field either on permanent basis or in the alternative they should have permanent arrangements with specialised agencies to prepare, monitor and update plans on a continuous basis. Retired officers even though having long experience in particular sectors cannot be a replacement for experts and specialists. They can at best be treated as advisors on the basis of past experience in their relevant fields. In the absence of perspective plans based on ground realities and actual requirements, ad hoc actions result thereby preventing integrated development, which creates serious economic imbalance. Schemes are included and even executed on ad hoc basis on local political considerations. In almost every department there are on going schemes, which carry on for years together and never get completed. While as in some sectors we have perennial problems, which never get resolved, on the other hand in some sectors crucial areas get neglected. Let us take the instance of Power Sector. We have had a perennial problem in this field. The generation has always failed to keep pace with demand. The main reason is that we have gone in for run of the river projects, as we are not allowed storage on our own rivers. All these rivers virtually become dry in winter and the generation gets reduced to mere 10 to 20%. We have to first get our rivers released and then design workable projects on practical considerations. While as generation is being given due attention, transmission and distribution has also to be modernised to prevent massive power losses. It has sometimes happened that the generating units have been completed in time while as transmission side remained totally lacking. This is due to lopsided planning and absence of monitoring of the progress of various works.

Consider the agriculture and horticulture sector now. Kashmir has basically an agriculture based economy and more than 80% population lives in rural areas. Even though there has been lot of emphasis on production in agriculture and horticulture, yet the post harvest infrastructure has been totally neglected especially in horticulture sector. One of the most important areas presently totally neglected is the production of exotic vegetables for which there is unlimited scope in entire Kashmir valley. Countries like Chile have advanced far ahead in both production as well as post harvest infrastructure and marketing. Kashmir has a lot to learn from them. They are presently dominating the entire Middle East Market in Fisheries and Fruit. Similar is the situation in Floriculture. In spite of having tremendous possibilities in the field of cut flowers, we are practically having negligible production. We have the most appropriate season when the entire country as well as our nearest market in Middle East is out of season; we have the best production. Again unfortunately, we lack post harvest infrastructure and marketing. In spite of having so much fertile land, pastures and forests, we are not able to produce mutton and dairy products even for our own consumption and have to import these. No doubt we have a large external population to feed, yet the production is not sufficient even to meet our own needs. This again shows some problem with long term planning where emphasis has not been put on the right sectors. Take the Forests throughout the state. There are hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of fallen wood and timber available deep inside so many mountain valleys. However, all this goes waste as we have failed to provide any mechanical means such as material ropeways to harvest this large quantity of wood and timber as is done in Canada or some other western countries. Kashmir has an ideal climate for miniature electronics and information technology related small-scale industries. Many attempts have been made in the past in this direction but not much success has been achieved. No doubt in the recent past the entire blame cannot be put only on the planning process because of the turmoil, which made everything go haywire. However, now that the situation has started improving and very capable and visionary people with unconditional central support are at the helm, the entire planning as well as the implementation process needs an urgent overhaul. It may seem a tall order. However, given the political will and the sincerity and honesty of purpose, it should not be impossible to achieve this. On way to Ladakh, the Border Roads Organisation has a road sign, “Difficult can be done now, and impossible may take some time!”

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