The current government is highlighting smart villages as one of its objectives. Smart villages are possible only through smart planning. Keeping this, the Government of India under the Ministry of Panchayat Raj guiding villages to develop their own Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP: village plans) since 2015. 

India has 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, and almost all of them developed their GPDPs in year 2015-16. Village plans are the documents of collective visioning with bottoms-up planning with specified development goals for integrated development of the village along with action plans.

It is an instrument to prioritise and articulate the people’s vision of local communities and also instruments for confidence building.  It is developed through participatory process by forming functional committees for different sectors like education, health, agriculture.

The villagers prepare plans by drawing resource map (one per village) and social maps (for each habitat one), transact walks and discussion among themselves. Village plans are prepared by the people for the people and should be owned by the people. 

Inclusive village plans 
In making plans more inclusive, there is a need to ensure large representation of inaccessible communities, disabled people, old aged, minorities, extremely poor and SC/ST population in gram sabha. It requires wider publicity, fixing times like early in the morning or late evening so that everybody is able to attend the gram sabha. 

Quality village plans
Since, GPDPs are introduced in the planning process only since 2015 at pan-India level, still villagers are learning by doing. Quality data, information gathering and large-scale social mobilisation are essential for better plans. Entire process should be in public domain with social audit. Training, capacity building and handholding are essential ingredients of better GPDPs.

Using local talent 
Utilisation of local experts and resource persons in preparation of village plans is essential. Monitoring, guidance and facilitation by state, district, panchayat resource persons, State Institute of Rural development (SIRD) faculty, members of SHGs, college students and teachers, local opinion makers, NGOs, line departments, third party assessments and  community should be vital for increasing quality and relevance.

However, they should not dominate process of development of plans; they can only act as experts to guide villagers to prepare their own plans. There is a need for mobile-experts who can guide a group of villages in a block and should have coordination committee to coordinate among different stakeholders.

Visioning and implementation 
The plans needs to be first developed with a vision for five years, and then look for availability of funds from different sources including its own GP funds, State Finance Commission Grants, 14th Finance Commission Grants, MGNREGA funds and other line department funds. Fund availability from different programmes like MGNREGA, Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), and National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) needs to be considered while planning.  

Balanced and integrated development 
There was an excessive importance for a few works like roads and sanitation, with scant regard for other works relating to agriculture, women and child development, health and nutrition, education, animal husbandry and skill development. Average expenses per Gram Panchayat in Telangana (average of 2013-14 and 2014-15) 

Accountability from the bottom 
Village plans are different from state and national plans. National and state-level plans are developed and implemented on sectoral basis like agriculture and rural development budget allocations and implemented through separate sectoral departments. But village plans are comprehensive and based on the area approach by integrating all sectors.

Works will be taken up based on priority and fund availability. The villagers should be able to develop and assess the budgets, accounts and audits for effective prioritization, fund allocation and implementation of plans.  

Meet local aspirations 
Plans should be realistic keeping the resource availability and local aspirations. Many works don’t need money; for example, supervision of schools by community, planting trees, cleaning the villages are with no cost or low cost works with local initiatives.  However, some such as creation of ponds, building construction, and horticultural development require huge money.

It is needed to have clear goals like basic amenities like complete sanitation, drinking water, literacy, immunisation, 100% enrolment, sreduction of IMR, no open defecation and no hunger, no poverty village, soak pits, which are directly linked to the global SDG goals and also give directions for the village livelihoods plan.

Legislative backup
Some states like Karnataka came up with Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act which is comprehensive and makes it mandatory for Gram Panchayats to prepare vision plans for 5 years, and give more teeth to the village plans.

They also formed district planning committees with Janavasati Sabhas, ward sabhas, gram sabhas, and federated into district planning committees. The village plans should be consolidated at mandal level and district level to prepare mandal and district level plans.

Roles of the elected representatives and resource persons need to be mutually complemented for development of better plans.  Ultimately, the future of India lies in its villages as said by Mahatma Gandhi, starting point for smart villages is preparation of better village plans. (Writer is Director, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad)

By A Amarender Reddy