Does India Need Smaller States?

Posted on August 19, 2011 in Specials

By Samarth Mahajan:

November 2000, three new states Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Uttaranchal were carved out of three of the biggest states in India, namely Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Focussing on the average growth rate from 2004 to 2008, amazingly, all three new states have grown fabulously fast. Uttarakhand has averaged a growth of 9.31% annually, while Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have managed 8.45% and 7.35% respectively. All three states belong to what was historically called the BIMARU zone, a slough of despond where humans and economy stagnated. Out of this stagnant pool have now emerged highly dynamic states.

By now it must be clear that this piece is in favour of having smaller states in India.

Free India had its first tryst with re-organisation of states in 1956 after the implementation of The States’ Reorganisation Act, which resulted in the formation of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh out of a single unified Punjab. In the subsequent ten years all these three states became the pioneers in making the Green Revolution successful and managed to show growth rates way better than that of the country as a whole.

As far as the new states are concerned some caveats are in order. The central government exempted industries in Uttarakhand from excise duty, a concession already applicable to other hill states. Many big industries rushed to Uttarakhand for the tax break, giving the state’s growth an artificial boost. Still, Uttarakhand easily outperformed Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir which already enjoyed the tax-exemption. Remember, Uttarakhand was once considered the poorest, most backward part of UP. After statehood, it has become a growth champion.

If this was the economic argument, the governance part of it is worth mentioning.

Uttar Pradesh is a classic example of how small states make better sense in a democracy. In a democracy, communication between the government and the public is very necessary. That is completely out of the question in a state the size of UP. While People of Haryana or Punjab, can go to the capital to air their grievances and return home by evening, whichever part of the state they are in. But if a citizen in western UP were to do the same, he has to travel over 600 km to Lucknow!

In addition to that it’s easier to distribute basic amenities in smaller states. Many surveys show that even though Kerala is smaller but still it is backward than other south Indian states. Progress is best defined by the Human Development Index. Amazingly Kerala has the best HDI among all the south Indian states. Even though the government may not be able to provide many factories or IT jobs but being smaller it was able to provide education, food to its people. Whereas the bigger states like AP, still have many regions where people die of Hunger or lack of shelter.

Well, in India’s case, statehood has generally been determined by political expediency, not logic. The whole Telangana issue is a very good example of that. If we take the successful example of USA, we see that dividing states on the basis of latitudes and longitudes is more logical!

My final and only plea would be that, even though small states are necessary for a mission like India 2020 to become a success, the reason for demand of new states should only be governance and not a cultural or linguistic one.