3 – The Context of State Initiatives – Social Development in Independent India


The Context of State Initiatives

S. N. Jha




In this chapter, we present a bird's eye view of social development in India as envisaged by the Five-Year Plans. This, the chapter shows, emerged from a comprehensive perception of social development elaborated in Part IV of the Constitution, where the Directive Principles of State Policy are elucidated. Here, in this chapter, we are broadly concerned with the scope of the programmes and the changing emphasis in the successive plans.


The Constitution of India displays clear indications of the nascent State's commitment to social development. Significantly, as many as 9 out of the 16 articles of Part IV of the Constitution refer directly to aspects of social development. The Preamble itself articulates the intention to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to all citizens. These are ideals that have provided an overall direction to the provisions of the Constitution and to its programmes and policies. As subsequent elaboration and interpretations by the judiciary clearly illustrate, they are indicators of the role that the state was expected to play in the sphere of social development. Social justice was interpreted to include protection of the weaker sections of the society1 and the tribals;2 and distributive justice, the removal of inequalities.3 Legal justice was also important,4 while the term fraternity was interpreted to include the dignity of the individual, especially with reference to the backward classes5 and the religious minorities.6

The Directive Principles of State Policy, which, along with the Fundamental Rights, were to ‘form the core of the Constitution’,7 represent, according to judicial interpretation, the spirit of the welfare state8 and the ideal of socio-economic justice.9 We list here the aspects of social development that find mention in the Directive Principles. We cite them either within quotation marks, to indicate what the State shall endeavour to do, or we merely indicate the area covered.

  • ‘To promote the welfare of the peoples by securing and protecting…justice, social, economic and political’
  • ‘To minimise inequalities of income and…to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities…also amongst groups of people…’
  • An adequate means of livelihood
  • To prevent concentration of income and means of production
  • Equal pay for men and women for equal work
  • ‘To ensure that opportunities of securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic and other disabilities’
  • ‘Right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want’
  • ‘Just and humane conditions of work, and maternity relief’
  • ‘To secure…to all workers…a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and cultural opportunities…’
  • ‘…provide, within the period of ten years…free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years’
  • ‘Promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of people, and, in particular, of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), and protection for them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation’
  • Raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and improve public health
  • ‘…protect and improve the environment’

Many of the Directives have been reinforced by judicial pronouncements. Some of these are listed below:

  • ‘Welfare of the people and social justice’ to include directives to the municipality to ‘remove nuisance’.10
  • With regard to equal pay for equal work, ‘any discrimination…on the grounds of sex’ to be struck down.11 Being a ‘constitutional’ goal, it must be kept in view in the interpretation of Articles 14 and 16, so as to be elevated to the rank of the Fundamental Right.12
  • With regard to the welfare of children, ‘where labour and social welfare laws are enacted by the State…, the Courts should strictly enforce such laws against the Governments themselves’13 prohibiting employment of children in hazardous jobs.14
  • Guidelines to legal aid.
  • Right to education.
  • Prison reforms to ensure ‘just and humane conditions’.15

Finally, we examine references to social development in the three lists in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which enumerate the ‘fields’ of legislation that the Union and the states are empowered to legislate upon under Article 246. These include specific items of social development in the State and Concurrent Lists. Water, public health and sanitation, and relief for the disabled are in the State List. The Concurrent List includes population control, social security and education. The Eleventh and the Twelfth Schedules added by the 73rd and the 74th Amendments of 1992 provide for the devolution of powers to the panchayats and municipalities and include rural housing, drinking water, the poverty alleviation programme, primary and secondary education, health and sanitation, family welfare and child development, social welfare, especially of the handicapped and mentally retarded, and the welfare of the weaker sections, particularly, the SCs and STs. Similarly the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 assigns certain powers to the gram sabha, for example, to prevent alienation of land, and exercise control over institutions and functionaries in the social sectors.


Planning, according to the government resolution of March 1950, was intended ‘to promote a rapid rise in the standard of living of the people by efficient exploitation of the resources of the country, increasing production, and offering opportunities to all for employment in the service of the community’. In his speech in the Lok Sabha on 15 December 1952, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, ‘A revolution is something which will change fundamentally the structure of our society either in the political or economic field. It is with this background in our minds that we must consider this first attempt of ours to make a Plan’. Planning was to have a distinct social development colouring: ‘The accent of the socialist pattern of society is on the attainment of positive goals, the raising of living standards, the enlargement of opportunities for all, the promotion of enterprise among the disadvantaged classes and the creation of a sense of partnership among all sections of the community’. In the Five-Year Plans, as V. T. Krishnamachari put it, ‘the long-term aspirations of 360 million people’ as well as the requirement of fulfilling immediate needs, were to be kept in view: ‘The Plans should not be thought of merely as a series of projects or programmes for different sectors of the economy with specific financial allocations and targets…(They)…seek to embody the efforts of the nation to build up a new life for itself and to create a new pattern of society in which there would be a fuller and richer life for all’.

The planning process started amidst pressing problems of survival; the need for food security and an industrial infrastructure determined its shape. Coupled with problems of infrastructure were those of rehabilitation. Especially in the early years, social development was not pursued consciously; there was no mention of the programmes for social development, as is the case with economic development. The notions of social development that existed in the minds of the early planners came under the rubric of ‘social services’, which included education, health and family planning, housing, labour policy, social welfare, welfare of backward classes, other social services like the rehabilitation of displaced persons, and the prohibition of alcohol. Over the years, however, the sector of social services has grown, not just in terms of the number of items, but also, in terms of a change of emphasis, which was evident in the Seventh and Eighth Plans. Social services over the years have come to include nutrition; the problems of the elderly; development of women, youth and children; art and culture, and sports.


In addition to the development programmes under the category of social services (education, health, housing, development of backward classes, social welfare, family planning, etc.), other related sectors of development, such as agriculture, health, welfare of backward classes, rehabilitation of displaced persons, programmes of rural development including the community development programmes and Panchayati Raj, also included elements of social welfare. Moreover, the expansion of the social sector suggests a growing emphasis on social development in the planning process. In the early plans, that is, from the First to the Third, the emphasis in sectors like education, health, family planning, housing, sanitation and social welfare was clearly on quantitative growth. The requirement at the beginning was to establish more schools and other institutions, and increase the number of hospitals and the number of houses. Between the Fourth and Sixth Plans, the emphasis shifted to improvement of quality along with quantity. Improvement in the schemes for teachers, the emergence of the concept of nutrition as an indicator of social development, considerations for youth, sports and cultural activities, and education for family planning were some examples that reflected the change in approach. Another development was the importance given to social services in terms of allotment per plan, which shows a gradual increase since the Sixth Plan (Table 3.1).

The Seventh Plan introduced a new focus by identifying human resource development as a thrust area. While it was included within the sector of social welfare, vulnerable sections of the society were treated separately. Child welfare, nutrition, programmes for the handicapped and the SCs and STs and socio-economic programmes for women were given attention. In fact, from the Sixth Plan onwards, the tendency of the Plans to treat the family as the unit of welfare had changed. Women and children were treated separately and the individualized effort for each of these social sectors enabled better coverage. Different components of the society were treated in terms of their specific development requirements of education, health, housing, and employment. For example, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) sought to establish a foundation for an integrated package of early childhood services that included supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, referral services, nutrition and health education, and non-formal education to children below six years of age. Similarly, special socio-economic recommendations for women covered health, education, malnutrition, vocational training, and encouragement to women's participation in the field of science and technology. Programmes in the later plans also included planning for SCs and STs, the handicapped and the elderly as sections requiring intensive attention.


Table 3.1
Allotment to social services in the Five-Year Plans, 1980–1985 to 2002–2007

Plan Plan Period Social Sectors% Allotment
Sixth 1980–1985 14.4
Seventh 1985–1990 17.5
Eighth 1992–1997 18.2
Ninth 1997–2002 21.3
Tenth 2002–2007 22.8


  1. For Eighth to Tenth Plans: Economic Survey, Government of India, 2006–2007.
    • Table 2.10: Tenth Plan outlay by heads of development: Centre, states and union territories, 2002–2007 and Annual Plans, 2003–2006–07
    • Table 2.9: Ninth Plan outlay by heads of development: Centre, states and union territories, 1997–1998 to 2001–2002
    • Table 2.8: Eighth Plan outlay by heads of development: Centre, states and union territories, 1992–1997 (% distribution)
  2. For Seventh and Eighth Plans: http://planningcommission.nic.in/data/dataf.htm (Planning Commission, Indian Planning Experience: A Statistical Profile)
    • Table 3.6: Seventh Plan (1985–1990) Outlay by heads of development for centre, states and union territories
    • Table 3.5: Sixth Plan (1980–1985) Outlay by heads of development for centre, states and union territories.


Even as different sectors emerged, orientation of the already existing sectors of education, health and family welfare, housing, sanitation and water supply, were directed towards qualitative improvement. Thus, the Seventh Plan states that it ‘provides for reorientation of the education system so as to prepare the country to meet the challenges of the next century’. Apart from eradication of illiteracy in the age group of 15–35 years and universal elementary education, the Seventh Plan's targets included ‘upgradation of standards and modernization at all stages of education with effective links with work and with special emphasis on science and environment and on value orientation, provision of facilities for education of high quality and excellence in every district of the country and removal of obsolescence and modernization of technical education’. Similarly, in case of health, the Seventh Plan looked towards ‘effective co-ordination and coupling of health and health related services and activities, e.g. nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, housing, education, information and communication, and social welfare’. These were to be part of the package for achieving the goal of health for all by 2000 AD. Qualitative improvements were required also in health and family planning services and in other sectors in the social services.

Though there have been basic continuities in approach from the First Plan to the Eighth Plan (1997), overall, a change in direction of wider social concerns in the strategies of growth in the development plans is perceptible. At the same time, each of the plans has had its own particular focus. The First Plan, shaped in the background of problems that preceded Independence, stressed food security, with agriculture representing the main sector. The Second Plan focused on industrialization, which was expected to generate income and employment. It was believed that once economic development was achieved, development in the other spheres would automatically follow. Social development was believed to reside within the process of economic development. A similar thrust on industry, transport and communication continued in the Third Plan. The Fourth Plan had to contend with crises of different kinds—economic, political and military.16 In the backdrop were the war of 1971, different political parties contesting the Congress monopoly, a steep fall in agricultural production over two successive years (1965–1966 and 1966–1967) and the devaluation of the rupee in 1966. The main thrust, however, was on agriculture, and dependence on foreign aid was sought to be removed. The objective of the Fifth Plan was the removal of poverty. Poverty alleviation continued as the main objective of the Sixth Plan, in combination with accelerated rural development.

It was from the Seventh Plan that along with poverty alleviation, human resource development became a thrust area. The welfare of women and children, the aged, and the handicapped received considerable attention. The Eighth Plan continued with this focus with more comprehensively developed social objectives. These included ‘(i) creation of social security net through employment generation, improved health care and provision of extensive education facilities throughout the country, (ii) creation of appropriate organisation and delivery systems to ensure that the benefits of investment in the social sectors reach the intended beneficiaries, (iii) containment of population growth through active people's cooperation and an effective scheme of incentives and disincentives, (iv) universalisation of elementary education and complete eradication of illiteracy among the people in the age-group of 15 to 35 years, (v) provision of safe drinking water and primary health-care facilities, including immunisation, accessible to all villages and the entire population and complete elimination of scavenging’. It was clearly stated that ‘the provisions relating to the development of human capital will remain the primary responsibility of the government’.

The Ninth Plan re-emphasized the need for ‘Growth with Social Justice and Equity’ aimed at correction of ‘historical inequalities’. While some objectives like provision of basic minimum services of safe drinking water, primary health care facilities, universal primary education, shelter and connectivity to all in a time-bound manner, and containment of population growth were continued, some new objectives were also introduced. Empowerment of the vulnerable sections of the society was emphasized, especially with respect to women, the SCs, STs, OBCs (other backward classes) and the minorities, so as to make them agents of socio-economic change and development. Food and nutritional security for all, especially the vulnerable was also introduced as an objective. People's participation in the development processes was also made an objective, and this was to be achieved through strengthening of the institutions like the PRIs, cooperatives and SHGs (self-help groups). It was also stated that the state needs to increase its involvement ‘in the area of social development especially in the rural areas’.

The Tenth Plan document carried forth, from the Ninth Plan, the notion of ‘human wellbeing’ as the focus of developmental planning and emphasizes the ‘enrichment of the quality of life’. ‘Health, longevity, literacy and environmental sustainability’ have all been perceived as important contributors towards improvement in quality of life, along with economic prosperity. The document also recognizes that the development process must be equitable and provide equality of ‘opportunities for advancement to all sections of the population’, efficiently use productive capacities, both physical and human resources, exploit synergies between economic growth, social attainments and growing opportunities for all, and ‘widen and deepen’ people's participation in decision-making, especially with regard to economic and social development. Certain monitorable targets have been introduced for the first time for the implementation of the objectives of equitable development in a time-bound manner. The introduction of the state-wise break up of the broad developmental targets, as indicative of the guidelines for facilitating planning in the states, is a new development in the planning process. The rationale provided in the document is that it will ‘act as a catalyst to reinvigorate planning at the state level’ and will lead to recognition of the diversities at the different levels of development. The need to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of a particular area in terms of the resources and capabilities is a significant development that might help place more confidence and power in the local governance and decision-making.


While the ‘central bias’ in the Indian federal system is too well known to merit repetition, a high degree of ‘vertical imbalance’ in favour of the Centre with reference to distribution of federal finances is to be noted as well.17 Transfer of resources to the states are through three channels—the statutory transfers through the Finance Commission, plan transfers through the Planning Commission,18 and discretionary grants, including financial assistance, provided directly by the central ministries. (In 19981999, the three transfers were roughly in the proportion of 40:40:20.)19 While the plan transfers are on the basis of the clearly laid out Gadgil Formula, there are no such formulas for other transfers. This is especially true of the centrally sponsored schemes, which are funded either fully or on a matching basis and implemented by the states. In 2000, there were 185 such schemes run by the central ministries (budgetary expenditure—Rs 19,000 crore in 1999–2000).20 Rural development, family welfare and planning, primary education and child development are the major areas in which programmes are funded on a 75:25 basis between the Centre and the states. The other transfers are in the form of grants that the states do not have to repay.

Thus, while the dominance of the Centre is a part of the constitutional design, it is reinforced by the pattern of transfer of federal finance. An important aspect of this transfer is that a major portion is within the discretionary powers of the Centre. In a situation where most of the programmes are planned by the Centre and most of the finances also flow from the Centre but have to be implemented by the states, both the levels must have sustained interest and commitment to the programmes. The commitment of the states, however, is limited to the flow of central funds and is often determined by the ‘quantum of the funds’ that the Centre is ready to provide; any commitment to the programme is, at best, tentative and uncertain. States give great importance to the bureaucratic paraphernalia that has to be installed in order to see that funds keep flowing in and often ignore the objectives for which it has been set up. This leads to a strange situation. The Centre is free to articulate a specific policy and allocate funds for its implementation, while the states, on the other hand, accept the funds without being committed to fulfilling the objectives of the policy’.21 The states have their own patterns of power and party politics and have the vast administrative network for implementation. They have great ‘potentialities’ to disregard the central initiatives, ‘distort’ them and even use the funds without paying much attention to the achievement of the objectives. Yet, the states often argue that central funds are necessary to pursue programmes of development, and complain constantly about the insufficiency of funds. Moreover, it has been observed in many situations that the state functionaries under the central government framework act much more within the acceptable framework. But when the same set of functionaries work at the state level, their functioning is found wanting.22 The ‘erosion of institutions’,23 especially the bureaucracy, has been more consequential at the level of the states. Since development plans are to be implemented by the state-level institutions and functionaries, their institutional status and functioning are important.

A more balanced view of Indian federalism should however take cognizance of the trend towards ‘federalising’ the Indian polity. This has been reinforced recently by political developments, particularly the rise of regional parties, the economic initiatives of the liberalization policy and some constitutional initiatives (e.g., 73rd and 74th Amendments, and the creation of a single pool of central taxes24). These are aimed at a greater devolution of power to the states and to grass-root institutions and will permit greater initiatives to the states. Some state governments have indeed taken some initiatives quite successfully. These changes should lead to a new balance in federal relations and a new equilibrium in the conception and implementation of the development programmes.