Sunday, June 16, 2013

Need for more States: Concerns and Issues that need to be addressed

In the previous article we broke many of the Myths associated with creating new states. The article Need for more States: Myths in making new states  can be read here. However there are also some urgent concerns that need to be addressed. These are not only required when new states are being formed, but immediately need to be addressed

1. More powers and finances to local bodies
In India the constitution divides the power between Center and States as per the Union, Concurrent & State lists. Though there are local government at Panchayat and Muncipal levels, but the power defined to them are vague at the best, elections conducted by the State Election commission, which run highly on the whims of the state government, differ from state to state level and highly dependent on aid from the state and the center.
The constitution needs to be amended and the power should be defined as Union, Concurrent, State & Local lists, with area of working clearly demarked. Also as the finances are divided amongst Center & States, this needs to be moved ahead and divided between Center, States & Local.
Now the question will come why is this required. There is a saying "Think Global, act Local". This is a need of the hour. The local governments needs to be empowered to act locally. Many of the issues that go unresolved can be actually solved, like for example thousands of posts of teachers or health assistants go unfilled at local levels. If the norms of the posts are defined by the state government and budget provided to the village panchayat and elected panchayat made responsible for recruitment (Not the bureaucrat). A village would know how the recruitment for the post has been done and since it is close to the people, more accountability comes into the process. It also gives the flexibility to panchayat to ensure that post is filled and has to be accountable as people as watching. In a similar way this can ensure that local issues are solved locally for better governance and accountability.

2. Disturbed Area Act
In India presently we see many areas under the influence of Naxals. In the fight against Naxals, we see each state fighting in it's own way. Some states are doing are a good job, while other are inclined to go soft on them. Then sometimes we have seen riots across the country where some states doing good and some simply not acting. At present, center can  bring the states under Article 356 (President's Rule), but that is not always a tenable option. It has huge political implications. Also because if something is wrong in one district then whole state cannot be brought under president's rule.
Mostly the approach required is unitary as is the case with Naxalism. Under the Disturbed Area Act the districts that are declared disturbed will come directly under a central authority of experts, which will bring the Police, local area governments, administration under their authority. Hence if today whole of Red Corridor districts across the states are under the authority of this central authority with police, CRPF and State and Central Government Schemes, this unitary approach will definitely be much more effective in fighting Naxalism at all levels. The District can be declared disturbed by both State or Central government.

3. Water Distribution act
Water is a issue which will become more of issue in the future. The Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over the Rivers and this is decided the center. This is highly unscientific method and many times mired by Politics. With bigger states breaking, this would increase the risk of more conflicts
Internationally there are treaties and methods which govern the process on how river waters should be divided based on catchment areas, drainage areas. A similar process should be taken for all Major rivers and codified. Based on this process the water will have to be distributed and should be brought under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court.
A Central Independent Constitutional Water Authority Body needs to be set that will have the control of releasing the water as per the code to ensure that politics cannot hamper the process

4. GST
At present there are many different types of taxes levied by both center and states, many times making it tax on tax. Then different states have different types of taxes. Then there are Octroi's which many states levy.  This makes movement of goods in the country highly complex structure increasing costs of companies and also the taxes. This increased cost has to be born by the common man. With more number of states it would increase the complexity.
GST is Good and Sales Tax, is a tax implemented at each stage of product on the value added to it. It can be implemented in various ways, but a common way would be a Central and State GST. Implementing GST will have many benefits. GST would be implemented in the state of origin and final destination which would make transit very easy across the country even if it has to pass through many states. Secondly it will make easy for companies to operate with a single standard way of paying taxes, and many unnecessary costs can be saved like having multiple warehouses, simple single way of paying taxes. Thirdly it will means benefit for the end consumer in terms of prices by companies getting more efficient. Fourthly it will make the domestic industry much more competitive internationally. Finally it would means industry can move to any state offering better infrastructure and facilities and would force the states to be more competitive for the benefit of people. Besides that there would be many other benefits that will be realized as the process strengthens.

NCTC is the National Counter Terrorism Center. It will be a central authority which will keep a track on the terrorist activities in the country with moves such as central database. It will also be responsible for coordination the intelligence from various agencies in the country and act on the information. NCTC can also conduct operations in any area where it feels a threat is there
Terrorism is the biggest threat faced by the nation, and NCTC is absolutely essential, as a unified approach is required. More states coming in being, the terrorists should not be able to live with impunity my moving across different states.

6. Aadhar Card Implementation
Aadhar provides a unique identity for every individual like the Social Security Number in USA. India should fast track it's approach to ensure that each and every individual of the country is having Aadhar card
The benefits of Aadhar card would be many. Firstly it would allow government to link every detail bank accounts, PAN number, ration cards, LPG connections etc linked to the number. It will help government save million of rupees in the subsidy that leaks out. Secondly it will allow government to control various schemes in a much more effective way. With use of direct cash transfer the target person can be identified in a much more effective way. Thirdly with many more states coming, a person should not lose his rights if he moves from one state to next. The Aadhar card will allow the person to take his benefits wherever he or she is.
With everybody covered under a central database the benefits can be unending.

7. Conservation of Forests and Ecologically sensitive areas
Forests are a national treasure that need to be preserved. Take the 2 forest zones of Western Ghats and Himalayas. The Western Ghats are not only essential for living of people near the forest but infact 6 states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu & Kerala. How, the rains that are received in Western Ghats makes it the source of water for all South Indian Rivers of Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri. No Western Ghats would mean these rivers shrink up and hence disastrous consequences for whole of Western and Southern India. Similarly Himalayas are essential for all the Northern and Eastern States states of India.
The Approach required here again should not be left on the states but a unitary approach. Hence forest and Ecologically Sensitive Zone should be brought under the central list. Center should have power to declare any zone a sensitive area and ensure essential steps are taken

8. IT Connectivity at Panchayat level
This is a time of IT. The Government has already initiated steps but the effort needs to be accelerated. IT connectivity at the grass root level can mean a transparent form of governance, effective way for government to reach with it's plans, essential knowledge transfer to grassroots and finally the rural India and agriculture can keep remained connected to the mainstream

9. Lokpal, Lokayukta and an Independent CBI
With smaller states it will run the risk of powerful families ruling the roost. An Independent Lokyukta would mean that there is a check on state government and make it far more accountable. This is a very essential step to ensure fair governance stays at all level in the country

10. North East Zone Sub Parliament
North East comprises of many states and all of them do not fall in the definition of good governance states as defined in the first part (Click here). These states cannot be made into that zones as the area consists of many tribes spread across the area. The traditions of the region are different from most of the country and a change of approach is required. Also the area being landlocked and separated from rest of India through a narrow zone makes development difficult here. And Finally the low population means that representation at center is low and hence low focus on the area
In the future where right sized states are proposed, North East still would have states much smaller than the effective zone and some more of that size (Gorkhaland, Bodoland) may be formed. This means this area has a danger which can make it to lag behind and make it prone to becoming troubled areas.
The culture of these areas is also much different from rest of India, and hence a different localized approach is required to understand and progress in the area.
In lieu of the above requirement a Sub Parliament for the region is very much required. This Sub Parliament by the Act of Constitution have jurisdiction over some power of Union and Concurrent List, and have it's own separate funds. Center government already spends more on these states as compared to other states. The Sub Parliament fund here would be what government already spends here and nothing extra and it would be transferred to the Sub Parliament. Powers like Infrastructure, Taxes etc can be transferred to this Sub Parliament. The local planning & implementation and focus in the region can transform and bring progress as there is high unrealized potential in the region.
A small example of contribution and effectiveness is that with it's funds & local planning & implementation, NESP(North East Sub Parliament) can go ahead with building a North East Super Highway as shown below. The representative working with the foreign ministry can also pressurize the center into making an agreement with our neighbors and extending this Super highway to be connected with port of Sitwe in Burma and through Bangladesh. NESP with it's own fund, can accelerate the project as it would be top priority for them, while in present case the center has much more priorities like that Golden Quadrilateral which drops North East
North East Super Highway. Such projects can be taken on priority by NESP and transform North East while it may take years for Center which is bound by so many other priorities
The members of Sub Parliament should not be separately elected but rather would be the 25 Lok Sabha Members, 14 Rajya Sabha Members, 8 CM's (Maybe in future 1 more CM of Bodoland, 2 Administrators of UT's of Gorkhaland and Karbi Anolang). The Sub Parliament should be based at Guwahati and the MP's function both as member of NESP and the central parliament.

As already said, more states or not, all these steps are required even today itself to have good governance in the country. With these steps the country would progress faster and adding more right sized states to it would really accelerate the whole process

In the next part of the article I will discuss how many and which new states need to be formed by the state reorganization commission (Click here to go to article)