December 29, 2000


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S Gopikrishna

The cure for de-administration

What is 'de-administration'?

A system of administration, which is as dumb to the needs of its citizens as a dead dodo is 'de-administration.'

India is a prime example of a de-administration where the administration can't deliver the goods to its citizens for a variety of reasons elucidated later.

Can the administrative architecture be changed so as to make the system more accessible and answerable to the Indian citizen through a re-definition of administrative duties? It is high time that India considered and implemented alternate models of administration so to implement the wishes of the citizen.

One such method is the creation of more states, a policy that has been set into motion with the creation of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh states. In order to understand the advantages of smaller states, it would be pertinent to examine the difficulties inherent in the present state structure.

The present state structure follows a model where people have been lumped together on the basis of linguistic commonality with no regard to socio-economic concerns. This grouping doesn't allow for sensitivity to differences in intra-regional issues within a given state.

Most states are burdened with huge populations with a very perceptible divide between rural and urban districts. Issues faced by the rural areas and urban districts are as different as day and night, not to mention the fact the considerable intra-regional variances faced by the populations living in the vast rural expanses.

As an example, in Karnataka, the issues faced in Bangalore would revolve around sustaining the economic boom facilitated by the software revolution and the issue of providing amenities to the ever-burgeoning population.

If Java evokes images of software to Bangaloreans, it would conjure pictures of coffee to the residents of Chikmagalur, a rural area whose economy is strapped to coffee-prices. These issues in turn are different from the issues faced by the residents of rural northern Karnataka, who live under the constant fear of a drought impeding access to the basics of life like food and water.

Thus, while Bangalore needs software revolutions for prosperity, northern Karnataka needs green revolutions for sustenance.

Another example is Andhra Pradesh, where the denizens of Hyderabad are all set to transform their city into Cyberabad. However, in interior Telangana, hunger and starvation are a constant threat to the agriculturists. There exists little in common between the former, where "Bill" is followed by Gates and the later, where "bills" would be prefixed with "inability to pay."

There exist at least three different reasons for the concept of smaller states. They are:

  • Better utilisation of allocated resources
  • Reduced intra-regional conflict
  • Uneven distribution of gifts among regions in a state

Given that resource allocation are vital to resolution of issues, would it not be pertinent to reflect on the division of existing states into smaller entities based on the criteria of local economic drivers? An efficient usage of allocated resources would be well possible in the context of smaller states with localised responsibilities.

Intra-regional socio-economic differences would be better resolved by dividing a given state into smaller components, such as the division of the former state of Bihar into Jharkhand and Bihar.

The districts of Jharkhand are populated by tribals and have a resource based economy while the districts north of the Ganga are dominated by the higher castes attempting to subjugate the lower castes. The economy of the later is sustained by agriculture, (or if you want to be cynical, crime and extortion).

Not surprisingly, it is difficult to govern both regions through a common set of parameters and policies. Attempting to frame, much less implement, two different policies simultaneously through the same administration for the two regions would tax the abilities of people far more capable than the likes of Laloo and Rabri Devi.

The existing arrangement for running an administration under aforementioned conditions is a model of dysfunction, with an uneven weight on different regions of the state.

It is analogous to the story about a division of a cow where the mouth ended up with one family while the legs ended up with another. The thankless task of feeding the animal fell to the former while the latter made money through selling the cow's milk.

The same feeling of unequal division of gifts and of resultant exploitation is evident in intra-regional interaction in the present states.

Residents of the present Jharkhand state accuse the administration of the erstwhile Bihar state of squeezing their resources dry while denying them rewards. Likewise, Chhattisgarh, traditionally termed the "rice bowl" of Madhya Pradesh resembles more a begging bowl in rewards; anything awarded to MP is gobbled by the Bhopal-Indore-Gwalior nexus.

Would the new states generate enough revenue to sustain themselves?

The reason behind the permanent dearth of revenue to the GOI is the reluctance of the Indian tax payer to cough up the government's dues.

Should the scheme under consideration be implemented, one may expect to see an increase in the efficiency of tax collection since the state bureaucracies will have to pursue a smaller population resulting in an increased ability to pursue deadbeats. The taxation system would really develop "teeth" to funnel money into the exchequer.

An interesting idea in this context would be to revive the defunct state boards of revenue whose sole purpose would to be design and implement state tax models which factor in regional peculiarities and implement the same efficiently to ensure adequate revenue collection. Since states will stand to gain the most through the described division, the responsibility for tax-collection may be transferred in substantial measure to the state government.

Have such experiments worked in the past?

While having nothing to do with economy, state "divorces" have had happy endings in independent India.

The division of the old Bombay province has allowed both the components of Maharashtra and Gujarat to blossom. Gujarat, in particular, has developed indigenous industry hubs like Vadodara instead of relying on Mumbai. Punjab and Haryana, the children of the erstwhile Punjab have no significant reasons for regretting the division.

The most significant example of such division arguably exists in the creation of union territories from the erstwhile state of Assam. The old Assam province consisted of districts along the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra as well as the northern parts of present Mizoram. While the former had an economy based on rice, the later was inhabited by tribals dependant on shifting cultivation and hunting to sustain themselves.

The scheme of dividing the former huge province into smaller divisions has allowed for the developments of various cottage industries in Assam, if not Mizoram and Meghalaya.

Indeed, the greatest benefit that may have accrued to the GOI in dividing Assam is its ability to enforce law and order in the face of a dozen separatist movements in the area. The law and order machinery in the North East would have ground to a halt if a common police force would have to simultaneously fight the ULFA, Mizo National Front and who have you.

"Don't too many cooks spoil the broth?" You ask

No broth here, all that we have here is an unhappy stew. Divisions will only help eliminate the stench of the unwholesome stew of administrative inefficiency.

As the saying goes -- the more the merrier. State division in India may actually accomplish the feat of converting India into a functioning democracy from an administrative aspect.

Toronto based S Gopikrishna writes on issues of pertinence to India and Indians. Feedback, more than welcome, may be sent by clicking on

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