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How A Developmental Breakthrough Can Bring Jharkhand Back From The Shackles

Posted on May 6, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Hemant Kumar:

In the last few years, ‘the rise of the states’ phenomenon has been the main feature of our new pro-growth polity. Credit should go to those laggard states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha) which understood the fiscal as well as the political incentives of good governance and growth. Once feared good economics become good politics and now good-governance is winning elections for incumbents. Irrespective of their limited reach and narrow acceptability, the regional parties are getting re-elected solely on their performances. The old ideologies are giving way for new ideas, and grievances turning into aspirations.

jharkhandmapstoryBut among all these celebrations of dynamism and ascendency of the laggard states, where is Jharkhand? A politically mismanaged and poorly governed state, which over the years has emerged as an example of ‘Dwarf State’. Despite having better endowed with natural resources and industrial activities, it failed to realize its development potential. Blames for this should be honestly shared by the states’ political class. Their inability, instability and individuality have done great harm to the state.

The pervasive misrule took toll on development, so much so that in the last 13 years the government could not renovate a single city- forget creating of a new one. No initiative has been taken in the new sectors. This state never acquired a vision for the future. Consequently, it has old cities, the worst infrastructure, a talented population migrating to other states, and disenchantment in society. The development literature says that a politically centralized state having mostly illiterate population and unorganized economic sectors, give way for collusive and extractive governance.

Today the whole country is feeling the impact of the ‘aspiration revolution’. The new informed citizen is outcome oriented; she/he is impatient and wants results fast. But the state, their policies and visions are not matching with the young citizens’ imagination. Our state policy makers are still formulating policies based on intuition, ideology and conventional wisdom. There are no evidence based inputs and no outside help is sought. The Indian School of Business in Mohali has two research centres, one Bharati Institute of Public Policy’ and another Munjal Institute for Global Manufacturing. These corporate funded centres are researching extensively on emerging issues in public policy and manufacturing. Their work is helpful not just to the private sector but also to the Punjab government. Bihar has collaborated with The International Growth Centre (LSE, London) for evidence support in policy formulation. In Jharkhand, we too have many centres of excellence (XLRI, IIM, BIT, and ISM). Are we taking their help in our policy formulation?

The most endemic problem that our state is facing since its formation is underutilization of central funds. It raises the question mark over the capacity of state to perform its basic duties. The understaffed offices, weakened supervisory monitoring system- all have contributed to the slow or non-spending of central funds. Rajesh Chakrabarti in his book ‘The Bihar Breakthrough’, has rightly captured that how in Bihar the empowered bureaucracy, delegated responsibility, use of technology in monitoring and e-governance have ensured the maximum use of funds. Are we taking a leaf out of the best examples?

A developmental state is supposed to do its four duties- raise revenue, adjudicate disputes, maintain law and order, and deliver public goods- efficiently and effectively. Needless to say, many states fail to deliver promises. In most of the cases, primarily in delivery of public goods, our government waits for problems to magnify into crisis before acting efficiently. There is lack of proactive initiative, planning and foresightedness in our governance vision. But the future has no incentive in forgiving our present mistakes.

The era of plucking low hanging fruits is now over the growth spots have now shifted from natural resource exploitation to human resource realization. Developing states like Jharkhand will see their next wave of growth coming from the ‘youth demography’ (as mentioned by Shekhar Aiyar and Ashoka Modi in an IMF working paper). To realize this, we need to bridge the gap between access to education and an equal focus on quality and reforms. Skill development and vocational education are those areas which promise huge dividend for future. It is the only way through which our rural unskilled and semi-skilled youth can capture better opportunities in life.

Rising urbanization is a sign of development and fortunately we have three cities which have more than 1 million population. In terms of purchasing power and brand presence, we are better than Bihar. These comparative advantages are good, but fall short of jubilation once we see the awful city infrastructure. Here we can learn from Pimpari-Chinchawad, once a filthy industrial town near Pune, it is now a model Greenfield city- an autonomous self-sustained revenue model that financed most of its projects, from flyovers to highways, sewage disposal to low cost homes. It is now a case study for city development plan. In this regard one question is worth asking- are our cities ready for the challenges that it will face 10-20 years from now? The government and bureaucracy can delay city master-plan, but they cannot delay this ever rising immigration, traffic congestion and crumbling infrastructure of cities.

Last but not the least, recent incidents of political pressure on IAS officers have drawn huge attention from every section. Our street level bureaucracy, that is the PCS, is the pivot of our administrative system. Alas! It never got its due attention from the government. Their recruitment process, training, skill enhancement and empowerment are not what the dynamic administration of today demands. As a result, we see how the new initiatives and changes (e-governance, use of tech, decentralization) brought in to reform public delivery system, faces internal resistance and lethargy. This ‘Steel-Frame’ too needs priority.

There is no better luxury than critically analyzing our state and governance. But having said all this, we must acknowledge our states’ good efforts. Majority of our representatives might not have proven to be good legislatures, but we can take pride in our middle and senior level bureaucracy. Most of them are highly competent and capable. Our present state bureaucracy head (the CS) is a visionary. He is the one who brought our state on the country’s e-governance map and spearheaded numerous initiatives. Recently Jharkhand’s state police won scores of awards for police modernization.

Apart from the government and administration, the civil society has to play a supportive role in development. We have many NGOs and citizen groups engaged as complementary development organization. But how many NGOs are working on urban-governance? How many are working on public-policy and governance, and how many on educational reforms? In Bangalore, Ramesh Ramanathan’s  NGO ‘Janagraha’  has contributed immensely in making urban reforms a central issue. The ADR is a pioneer as polity-watchdog. The PRS is making public-policy and legislation a popular theme. Can it happen here in Jharkhand?

In a highly acclaimed book- ‘Why Nations Fail’, the authors , Economist Daron Acemoglu and Political Scientist James Robinson, write that economic development (or backwardness) of a state mainly depends on the strength of its political and economic institutions. May our stakeholders take a point or two from this book.