Why we need a state

Notes to a future states reorganisation commission

Although the Congress has studiously avoided pronouncing on any demands for statehood other than Telangana, the debate about other pending statehood calls is naturally picking up in other regions across the country. There have long been calls for the establishment of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to take a more comprehensive look at the shape and size of India's states. Both those who seek a thorough, dispassionate analysis of the issue and those who seek to kick difficult political decisions into the longer grass have called for a fresh exercise. If one were to be established, and this is far from certain, a new SRC might address a range of questions.

Firstly, does India need more states? India sits at the bottom of the federal league table of numbers of states per capita population. It has an average of over 35 million people per state. That compares to about 7 million people in Brazil, 6 million in the US or 4 million in Nigeria. However, in geographical terms, the size of its states is less startling. India's states are an average of about 110,000 square kilometres in size compared to almost 200,000 sq km in the US and over 300,000 sq km in Brazil. German Länder are much smaller, at an average of 22,000 sq km, while Swiss cantons are an average of only 1,588 sq km. So, in per capita terms, it lags behind other federal systems, but it is not an outlier in terms of geographical area.

Secondly, a new commission might ask whether smaller states are likely to improve governance. One thing that the creation of new states is likely to do is to increase the density of the state. New states require new capitals, administrative structures, high courts and personnel to man them. While this idea of a "gravy train" is one of the reasons that critics sometimes rail against the expense and inefficiency of creating new states, an increase in the depth of the state may improve its capacity. As Milan Vaishnav has pointed out, India has one of the lowest rates of public sector employment among G20 countries. Gaps in the public workforce undermine the ability of the Indian state to tax, deliver justice, security and basic goods like education and healthcare. Yet, filling vacancies depends critically on improving skills and higher education — new states hold no guarantees in this regard.

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