1996 – Kerala People’s Plan Campaign radically devolves power

The Kerala People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning (known as the People’s Plan Campaign, or PPC) was a ground-breaking experiment in democracy in the Indian state of Kerala that devolved power to the grassroots and allocated an unprecedented 40% of the state’s plan budget directly to local government.

Several landmark programmes came out of the PPC, including the country’s largest women’s poverty alleviation programme, Kudumbasree, the EMS Housing Scheme and the Kerala Food Security Programme.

Initiated by state’s then Left Democratic Front (LDF) administration in 1996, and with the active support of the Kerala Peoples Science and Literary Movement (KSSP), PPC galvanized more than two million citizens, mostly volunteers, to take part in state, district and village level meetings to conduct studies of local economies, plan public investment, and provide technical details and implementation strategies for the funds allotted to them.

While the People’s Plan Campaign faced a number of problems, it heralded a new chapter in rejuvenating local government. Corruption decreased while village infrastructure and the quality of services improved. The PPC also set the stage for the Kudumbasree mission, which to date has organized 4.3 million of the poorest women in the state into neighbourhood women’s collectives. These collectives now undertake various activities such as farming, waste management, food processing, construction and even run gender resource centres across the state.

The LDF was voted out of office in 2001 and the incoming united democratic front government ushered in a very different stage of the reforms, diluting some of the  people's plan. Despite fierce political debate, though, economic devolution has been preserved and Kerala continues to have a vibrant participatory planning process at the local government level.

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A Kudumbasree unit setting out on a public health mission. Credit: K.S. Harikrishnan/IPS