India’s “armchair advisers” join Facebook
India’s Planning Commission has put a 21st century spin on the way it advises the government on how best to spend its money — by going on Facebook and asking India’s 1.2 billion people to have their say.
The government panel, which dates back to the times of India’s planned economy and was famously panned as an “armchair adviser” by a sitting minister, has invited Indians to post suggestions on a dedicated page on the social networking site.
The page is named after the “Twelfth Plan” of expenditure which spans the five years to 2017, which the influential panel is in the process of formulating.
The government plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure alone in the next plan to revamp the country’s potholed roads and plug huge peak-time power shortages.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who unveiled the Facebook page and a separate website on Wednesday, said the move would widen the spectrum of views to villages and local bodies and not just vested interests such as business groups.
“The intention is not that we are going to necessarily respond to every suggestion,” Ahluwalia told reporters.
“But very often I hear people say that you fellows in the Planning Commission just set up steering groups with your own buddies and people you’ve known, and you’re all over sixty years old and you have people of the same age and most of them don’t have a clue what’s really going on.”
If one topic such as power generation or urban development receives enough attention on the Facebook page, all comments would be put into a cluster and passed on to members of the panel for consideration on policy suggestions.
“We must have some mechanism of connecting,” Ahluwalia said.
“If you want to criticise this as gimmicky, please do so.”
Early comments for the Facebook page were mostly very positive and contained suggestions the government should build more airports, link rivers together and sign more “open sky” agreements with other countries for airlines.
The panel hopes to reach the leaders of less accessible sections of the population such as rural women, lower castes and villages thousands of miles away from New Delhi’s policy bubble.
Ahluwalia read out several posts that hailed the scheme as a “great initiative” and for a “better India”, though the very first comment he stumbled across while scanning the site said, “wow! will you now hear people rather than just suits!”