Need for Peace and Equity Audit as a Parameter for Development Planning
The objective of Planning should be to secure development and progress for all. But it is seen that development initiatives in India are leading to exclusion of large sections, increase in income disparities, intensification of social tensions and onset of conflicts between different communities / groups and even between the people and the State. .
Though liberalization seemed to have accelerated the annual growth of GDP of India to an average 9 %, it has contributed to the prosperity of only some sections while the condition of the majority of the populace seems to be worsening as is evident from the downward slide of the performance of India on Human Development Index (HDI) from 128 and 127 in 2000 and 2005 respectively to 134th position in 2009. While a handful are reaping benefits and entering the billionaires club, millions are being displaced from their lands, livelihoods and habitations and forced into deprivation and disempowerment- an unusual phenomenon of continuing poverty and marginalization in the midst of galloping plenty.
Before the onset of liberalization, the State functioned as a custodian of all natural and national resources like land, water, minerals, forests, infrastructure etc that were held in trust as national assets. But the ill regulated and unbridled privatization of all these resources by the State (as if it is the “owner” and not just a custodian of these resources) is resulting in humongous appropriations of these national assets by a few individuals and communities at unprecedented scales and at unimaginably low prices. This auctioning of national resources and national assets by the State is also leading to unbelievable levels of corruption with deals involving lakhs of crores in kickbacks causing immense loss to the exchequer, gigantic accumulation of assets and wealth in the hands of a few and displacement, dispossession and disempowerment of large sections of society leading to extreme economic disparities and increasing social conflicts.
As most such transactions as well as access to opportunities in the fields of employment, entrepreneurship and access to credit are based on political discretion guided by community considerations and affiliations, only those sections and groups that have access to the power of the State are cornering all the benefits while excluding most others that are already marginalized. This is leading to further enhancement of inequitable distribution of resources and increase in discrimination in all spheres on the basis of religion, caste, gender, community, region etc. resulting in accentuation of social fault lines - and in many cases - creation of new tensions between different groups and communities and also between the people and the state.
Conflicts: A Product of Inequity and Marginalisation
The deprivation, marginalization and exploitation of millions of poor seems to be turning them against the system as they find themselves more and more excluded from the benevolent and protective character of the State. This disenchantment and exclusion of the masses is getting translated into a variety of social and political conflicts that are manifested as agitations, riots, resistance, militancy and even terrorism. The major forms of conflict that seem to be increasing / emerging as a result of the present trajectories of uneven and discriminatory socio-economic development are the social conflicts (covering communal, caste, regional, ethnic conflicts etc), conflicts over resources (leading to displacements, migration, resistance, inter- state and inter- regional disputes,) and political conflicts (around issues of governance, accountability, inclusion policies, peoples aspirations etc). Most regions of the country seem to be affected by one or other form of these conflicts and their spread and intensity seems to be on the rise.
If left unaddressed, all these conflicts have the potential of bringing down the legitimacy of the state, lead to violence between groups and cause irreversible damage to social integrity and national polity. Hence it is imperative that any planning process of the State should also focus on deliberations about how development in different spheres is contributing to generation / enhancement of conflicts and explore the possibility of using the Five Year Plans for mitigation of conflicts rather than provide conditions for their accentuation as seems to be the case now.
Peace and Equity Audit
Every development plan, policy or program can affect different stakeholders in different ways and some of them negatively also. Further, by providing unequal benefits to some and / or affecting the exclusion of some other sections, the process of development could lead to the generation / enhancement of conflicts. Once such conflicts set in, it is difficult to reverse or contain them and over time, they extract heavy economic, social and political costs apart from creating an atmosphere of constant insecurity.
Hence every development plan, policy or program should be reviewed through a “Peace and Equity Audit” to evaluate if it is equitable to all sections and will not lead to any conflict. If the result from the Audit is in the negative, then it should be modified suitably to ensure that development is always a vehicle for promoting equity, social justice and peace in society rather than contributing to inequality, marginalisation and generation of conflict.
Parameters and procedures for Peace and Equity Audit should be formulated and employed by all agencies and bodies – government or private- that are engaged in development work of any kind. Appropriate mechanism should be established to discourage and disallow all such development initiatives that do not clear the Peace and Equity Audit.
Presently, there seems to be a tendency to measure development by mainly focusing on the growth of the GDP. But we have seen that accelerated growth of GDP could also lead to increasing disparities and actually take the country down on the Human Development Index (HDI). Hence an appropriate procedure for assessment of development could be a combination of both the growth of GDP and HDI. Only such development initiatives that could score positively on both the HDI and the GDP should be endorsed and encouraged.
XII Five Year Plan through the Paradigm of Peace and Equity
Though the country has progressed substantially in the last 63 years thanks in large measures to the Five Year Plans format that was adopted, but the development that has been achieved is not without its share of inequity and conflicts. Standing at the threshold of preparing the Approach Paper for the XII Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission of India should seriously analyse the generation / enhancement of conflicts as a result of the development processes initiated through the Five Year Plans and evolve parameters and procedures to factor in the possibility of mitigation and redress of the ongoing conflicts through the XII Five Year Plan that is being formulated.
It is heartening to note that The Planning Commission of India is seeking suggestions for addressing the challenges related to decentralization, empowerment and information to be included in the Approach Paper to the XIIth Five Year Plan. The Approach paper would focus on how these challenges impact various sections of society in the development context. This could transform the Planning process from being a predominantly economic exercise to also include the concerns and perspectives of the people and thereby ensure increased equitability in development and reduction in conflicts - provided appropriate parameters and procedures for a Peace and Equity Audit are evolved and adopted for the formulation and finalization of the XII Five Year Plan for India.