Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The real answer to equal opportunity and equal citizenship is not to make ad hoc bargains, as being negotiated with the Gujjars once again in Rajasthan, but education and training that is open to all.

How Not To Do It

State reorganization should now be done on the basis of administrative, developmental and strategic considerations.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 3 January, 2011

The last year started with a bang but ended in something of a whimper with “scams” and wholly avoidable controversies that stalled Parliament. The year 2010 closed with the submission of the Srikrishna Report on Telengana. The contents are not known and will only be disclosed by the Union Government after consultations with various political parties on January 6. The buzz is that the Commission has examined the pros and cons and sought to find a via media that grants Telengana regional autonomy to speed its development within a united Andhra. At the moment this remains in the realm of speculation.

The Telengana issue has been poorly handled from the start. The Congress has been prone to make electoral promises that it has been unwilling to keep. This is on account of inner party opposition, with coastal Andhra legislators agitating for a united Andhra partly because they do not want to lose Hyderabad, which is greatly prized. There is also anxiety to avoid confronting similar demands for Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh, Vidarbha, Gorkhaland and Kamtrapur, where opinion is divided and political equations remain uncertain.

All this stems from an ad hoc approach to states reorganization. The first round of linguistic reorganization was somewhat painfully concluded with avoidable agitations over the bifurcation of the erstwhile Bombay presidency into Maharashtra and Gujarat and the creation of Punjabi Suba, with its festering residuary issues. None of this was necessary given clear thinking and firm action. Instead, all manner of compromises and caveats were entertained that failed to satisfy anybody, causing lingering resentment.

All subsequent reorganization should now be done on the basis of administrative, developmental and strategic considerations. Size matters, both in terms of population and territorial expanse. Growing numbers and uniquely distinctive or difficult terrain could be relevant considerations. Some of the larger states like UP and Bihar have been bifurcated but still remain large entities with growing populations, different levels of development and distinctive agro-climatic regions. There are various ways of dealing with ethnic and other identities through special representation, decentralisation to smaller units of local self governance through the panchayat system, regional boards and so forth and for non-territorial councils (as in Assam) for small, scattered ethnic groups that fear loss of cultural cohesion.

There are well identified criteria for measuring economic, administrative and political viability. Maharashtra, with Ratnagiri nearly 1,000 kms from Gadchiroli and a population going on 100 million is clearly unmanageably large. Smaller and more compact states would make for better governance and coherence. On this reckoning, with India’s population likely to stabilize around 1700 m in another 40-50 years, the country could do with around 60 states with populations of around 30-40 million, allowing for some smaller entities such as already exist in Goa and the Northeast and maybe 1,200 districts and 12,000 blocks (zila parishads and panchayat samitis). At the other end of the scale, tiny villages of 250-500 persons could be encouraged to come together through voluntary grouping so as to ensure development and service viability. The provision of nodal educational, health and other infrastructural and market facilities with good connectivity could facilitate this process as is slowly happening in the hills where roadheads encourage clustering.

There is also another aspect that merits attention. Administrative boundaries do not necessarily coincide with natural resource regions like river basins. Integrated resource planning for optimal benefit therefore dictates the need for the creation of natural resource units such as river boards or basin authorities where upper and lower riparians can be enabled the better to manage their affairs. The States Reorganisation Commission foresaw the need for larger groupings for purposes of national integration, planning and coordination and for that reason recommended the establishment of zonal councils which were to be given a structural support. Zonal Councils were created but have virtually faded away except in name. Only the North East Council remains, a poorly structured body that is in need of more purposeful and imaginative reorganisation.

One does not know if the Srikrishna Commission, though not a states reorganization commission and with its limited terms of reference, took a broader view of its mandate or not. One suspects it did not, losing out on an opportunity to rethink the political geography of India.

The other problem, as the example of the Zonal Councils, illustrates, is that only lip service is paid to many recommendations and, indeed, decisions. For instance, in 1973 Article 371 was enacted to provide for special development boards for Vidarbha, Marathwada, Saurashtra and Kutch with “equitable allocation” of funds, and adequate facilities for technical and vocational education and training and employment in various states service.

Similarly Article 371D was adopted that same year with respect to Andhra Pradesh, with emphasis on providing equal opportunity for participation in public services for people of all regions of the State. It is not known how these provisions have worked but the probability is that they have fallen into desuetude.

The country was promised a full fledged states reorganization commission to take an overall, futuristic view and make appropriate recommendations. Such a commission is still awaited.

The whole business of ad hoc reservations in various garbs has tended to follow the same haphazard path, with little giveaways here and there as palliatives. The real answer to equal opportunity and equal citizenship is not to make ad hoc bargains, as being negotiated with the Gujjars once again in Rajasthan, but education and training that is open to all. Reservations have been pocketed by the creamy layers of hitherto deprived groups to the disadvantage of their less fortunate members who continue to be excluded. One of the most import recommendations to emanate from the Sachar Committee on the Muslim condition was to establish an equal opportunities commission to lay down the ground rules and monitor the implementation of such a measure. Tragically, this has got caught up in a petty turf war regarding who should be entrusted with this responsibility!

It should be one of the priority tasks of the Government in 2011 to establish an equal opportunities commission and to vest it with the powers required to execute its mandate effectively. The Prime Minister has ended the year with promises to act firmly against corruption at all levels and to ensure better governance. This is a task to which all sections of society must bend themselves and not needlessly rock the boat. 2010 was a wasted year insofar as Parliament was not allowed to function. The BJP is still hoping to squeeze a last drop of political juice from a dry JPC lemon. This ploy can only harm the nation and may well end by scorching those indulging in such gamesmanship.

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