An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 03 April 2003

Continuing his arguments for better leadership to govern India, Mohan Guruswamy now turns his attention to the size and composition of the States in India and comes to the conclusion that in the matter of good and manageable states "small is beautiful". In his opinion our states and state governments are too large and unwieldy to be governed properly.

Small States and Better Government

By Mohan Guruswamy

India today accounts for one sixth of the world’s population of 6.133 billion. If some of its larger states were independent countries they would be quite high up the list of the larger states in the world, and needless to say way down in the list of the poor and backward.

Uttar Pradesh (less Uttaranchal) with a population of 167 million is still bigger than Pakistan or Germany and France put together or Russia for that matter. If UP were to be a separate country only China, the USA, Brazil and Indonesia would be bigger than it. Despite this size, it gives India little more than Prime Ministers, who experience tells us, too come at a great cost. 

Tamil Nadu (62.2 million) is slightly bigger than Britain and Italy, whereas Andhra Pradesh (76.4 million) is in the Germany and Vietnam league. Bihar is bigger than Mexico and Maharashtra with 92.1 million has ten million more than Germany. Bengal is bigger than the Philippines, which has 77 million, while Bihar minus Jharkhand (82.9 million) and Madhya Pradesh (81.2 million) are each bigger than all the countries in southern Africa put together.

We have some small states too. Arunachal Pradesh (1.1m), Goa (1.6m), Manipur (2.6m), Nagaland (1.7m), and Meghalaya (2.5m) are some of the smaller ones. In the mid range we have Punjab (22.2m), Haryana (20.1m), J&K (10.1m), Assam (26.5m), Kerala (32.5m) and Orissa (36.2m). The new states Chattisgarh (20.8m), Jharkhand (26.9m), and Uttaranchal (8.5m) can also be categorized as mid sized. Then we have some really tiny Union Territories like Pondicherry (0.9m), Chandigarh (0.9m), Andaman & Nicobar Islands (0.3m), Dadra & Nagar Haveli (0.3m), and Daman & Diu (0.2m). Delhi is the only exception between UT’s with 12.9 million people.

There does not seem to be any one criterion for dividing India in such an unequal way. If language was the criterion then UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan should have been one state. If agro-climatic conditions was the criterion than many of the larger states like UP, AP, MP, Bihar and even Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have more than one state in each of them.

If history were to hold reasons for the states being what they are, there are few to be found. Tamil Nadu was never known to be one kingdom just as Karnataka and Andhra were never single nations or political units in the past.

The truth is that our states were formed on no real and common basis. There are different reasons applicable for different states. The northeastern states were formed to suit certain tribal aspirations. Goa had its own historical antecedents. Punjab was formed to accommodate the religious sentiments of the Sikhs with the Punjabi language serving as a convenient fig leaf for it. UP and MP were formed for another reason, which seeing the way they turned out to be could hardly be sensible. The four southern states were formed for linguistic reasons, just as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and Bengal were.

Our political divisions are new. At the time of independence India consisted of 601 princely states under a common imperial authority residing in London and four Presidencies, which were directly administered by the British and farmed for taxation. The way our states first emerged seemed more shaped by the divisions in the Congress Party. It seems that wherever there was a dominant leader there was a Pradesh Congress unit, soon after independence there was a state. Since power in the Congress party gravitated to the Pradesh Congress units with the largest representation in the AICC, UP became the biggest state and so on. Fifty years down the line, with the Congress Party in UP now a political dwarf, it still tends to call the shots in the AICC due to its numbers. Next in importance is the Bihar PCC now a mere rump seen more in attendance of the durbar of the Yadav couple whose writ runs there.

It’s not important now to wonder why and how our states were formed. What is important is how large the budgetary outlays have become and how unmanageable the administrations have become. The AP government in 2001–02 had a Revenue Budget, which had Rs.22,406 crores by way of revenue; and Rs.26.293 by way of expenditure. In addition it had a Capital Budget, which had Rs. 10,395 crores by way of receipts; and Rs.6,531 crores by way of disbursements. Thus, it collected, begged, borrowed, spent squandered and stole no less than Rs.66,000 crores in just one year. UP played around with over Rs.82,000 crores. This year Kumari Mayawati has about ten percent more and she will not be denied her chance to make hay and she makes few bones about it. The Yadav couple by comparison has to make do with much less, a mere Rs.31,000 crores, but then in Bihar by tradition the ruler collects more!

Just to give you an idea as to how Government has grown over the years after independence, in 1950 the entire budget of the Central Government was less than Rs.300 crores. The second five-year plan (1956–61) which was the first of the big plans had an outlay of a mere Rs.7,772 crores. The ninth five-year plan (1997–2002) had an outlay of Rs.859,200 crores. Not only have the outlays grown, the sheer size of government in terms of employees has grown. The State in all its myriad forms now employs over 25 million persons. 

Since the private industry paradigm seems to make more sense to the present crop of political leaders, especially people like Chandrababu Naidu, who likes to see himself as a CEO rather than a Chief Minister, or so he says, it is an old management practice to periodically re-organize businesses to make them more manageable. They call it restructuring. Mr. Naidu who seems to have more faith in foreign management consultancies than in his well-trained and chosen by merit bureaucracy, would be told by them that this is indeed what they recommend for hefty fees to their corporate clients.

Given the size of the states, smaller states meaning smaller governments, smaller bureaucracies, and smaller budgets would be the most sensible thing to do. It however seems that when it comes to governments, our leaders, and Naidu is no exception; think that they rule kingdoms for their pleasure and not administrations to serve the people?

Quite clearly we need smaller governments, which means smaller states, fewer departments and more decentralization. Now comes the question of how to carve out smaller states. The late Prof. Rasheeduddin Khan made out a case for them way back in April 1973 in the Seminar, at that time edited by the late Romesh Thapar. He had India divided according to its 56 socio-cultural sub-regions and a map showing these was the centerpiece of the article. That picture still remains embedded in my mind, and whenever I think of better public administration that map would always appears.

Since the subject of small states has begun to emerge as a major issue again, with the recent by-poll results in Telangana writing its message very clearly on the wall, and with Ramadoss raising the banner in Tamil Nadu and a vociferous cry for a Bundelkhand out of UP, it is a matter of time before small states will become a major political issue nationwide. The Congress Party already has a new States Re-Organization Commission on its agenda. Others too will soon see the writing on the wall.

The Seminar map is a veritable blueprint for the structuring of India. Out of UP and Bihar eight distinct sub-regions are identified. These are Uttaranchal, Rohilkhand, Braj, Oudh, Bhojpur, Mithila, Magadh and Jharkhand. The first and last of these have now become constitutional and administrative realities. But each one of the other unhappily wedded regions is very clearly a distinct region with its own predominant dialect and history. For instance Maithili spoken in the area around Darbhanga in northern Bihar is very different from Bhojpuri spoken in the adjacent Bhojpur area. Similarly Brajbhasha in western UP is quite different from Avadhi spoken in central UP. India’s largest state in terms of area, MP, is broken into five distinct regions, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra into four each, AP, West Bengal and Karnataka into three each, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Orissa into two each, and so on.

As can well be imagined carving out small states and leaving the rest of the administrative arrangements, as they are will hardly improve matters. In some of the smaller states more than half the MLA’s are ministers and many of the ministries are little more than a couple of rooms to accommodate a small staff, and a car with a blue light and the national flag held in a plastic sleeve. If the CEO of AP cares to find out from his foreign advisors, he will be told that the government really needs no more than a dozen ministries. There is no need to have a ministry each for higher education, vocational education, and elementary and primary schools; just as there is no need to have a ministry each for major and minor irrigation.

And do we really need a system that has a half a dozen Chief Secretaries and a like number of DG’s of Police? Small states without small governments make little sense. The Congress Party is now demanding, even if it is in a rather muted manner, that a new States Re-organization Committee look into the matter. Rather than needing a States Re-organization Commission, what India now needs is a Restructuring of Government Commission to make our governments smaller as well as effective and efficient.

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