A planning process can be either single-level or multi-level. In the first case, the decisions are taken over national level, the process is centralized and lower territorial levels come into picture only at the implementation stage.
In India, our planning process has mostly been centralized and a single- level sectored planning has been going on for a long time. On the other hand, in the multi-level planning process, the national territory is divided into small territorial units, their number depending upon the size of the country, its administrative, geographical and regional structure.
‘The concept of multi-level regional planning may be defined as planning for a variety of regions which together form a system and subordinate subsystem.’ Here lower level planning provides bases for higher level planning. Similarly higher-level regional plans provide frame-work for lower-level areal plans. In such plans there is direct participation of the people in the planning process. Here passing through various stages the objectives of the national planning reach the grass-root-level.
This link has a feed-back impact also which is generally lacking in centralized planning. Here every region/unit, whether big or small, constitutes a system and hence planning process becomes more effective.
Since multi-level planning involves the sharing of policy and planning functions with the sub- national levels following six operational sing principles have been suggested for devising necessary mechanisms and procedures for effective flows of information for planning and for frequent interaction with the participating levels (Sundaram, 1997):
(a) The Principle of function-sharing,
(b) The Principle of financial decentralization,
(c) The Principle of administrative decentralization,
(d) The Principle of public participation,
(e) The Iteration Principle or the relay-re-relay process, and
(f) The Principle of nesting and integration of plans.
In terms of procedures, the “top-down” flows will consist of laying down the national policies and priorities, targets, guidelines, providing budgetary and technical support, monitoring, review and evaluation of projects and achieving coordination and integration. The “bottom-up” flows will consist of the flows of data, information on local needs and preferences, State priorities and targets, problems and constraints. In a system-theoretic sense, multilevel planning is a highly demanding and challenging job (Sundaram, 1999, pp. 33-35).
In a large country like India containing physical, cultural, economic and social diversities multilevel planning can play a vital role in economic and social transformation. Its inherent advantages include optimum utilization of local-level resources, larger participation of the people in plan formulation and implementation, satisfactory solution of regional and local problems, removal of socio-economic disparities and development of socio-economic institutions which could play positive role in development process.