Column : Reorganise states, but for right reasons

Written by Yoginder K Alagh | Updated: Dec 21 2011, 08:29am hrs
On the important issue of smaller states, there are arguments for geographical reorganisation to improve well-being. But the issue is being raised in a bizarre manner, which can only harm the polity. Serious arguments for reorganisation of states can be traced back to the well-known Panikkar Commission. At the conceptual level, the major advances were made in the 1980s. It was then that two powerful principles were enunciated. The first was to decentralise effective governance power through the Panchayati Raj principle. Regional political parties find that anathema, for it erodes their sectarian base and, in fact, raises empowerment and development issues, which they find difficult to handle. The second was the need to reorganise development along geographical resource lines called agro-climatic considerations. Land, water and climate was the base of poverty and exploitation, but the problmatique could be turned around from a viscous to a benign circle.

Local bodies supported by resource-enhancing policies could frontally attack rural backwardness and poverty. It was also perceived that cultural strengths were built around the soil of this great country. In the long run, that would be the base of political reorganisation moving away from the divisive games played to hang on to the crumbs of power.

In fact, these principles are becoming more urgent. Globalisation has not only meant an 8% annual growth but a great churning in which millions of people, including farmers, artisans and workers, are moving in search of higher incomes from small villages to large villages, and from there to small towns. Major political parties, our great globalisers and the Planning Commission have all missed this great movement. Rahul Gandhi had his finger on the pulse when he said that while travelling he learnt that millions of people are moving but nobody is bothered. Since it is the truth, and the neglect hurts the existing myopic leadership, instead of doing something about it, the reaction we get is to trash the legitimate comment on the system giving beggar wagesworse still to break up the problem so that our political backyard is intact. There is no earthly reason to break up the Indo-Gangetic Plain into Paschim, Awadh and Purva. The Purva has been exploited on account of the irresponsibility of the powers and, in fact, will link very well with the Paschim and the Awadh. The migration has not only happened to the metros but also to the Paschim, which has been ignored.

The chapter on rural transformation in the Approach to the Twelfth Plan begins by saying: The Census of 2011 estimates that 833 million people continue to live in rural India. But until very recently, the Planning Commission was projecting that 870 million persons would live in rural India in 2011. They underestimated the rural population moving to small (Census, not official) towns by 37 million people. That is a whopping number and, for an approach titled inclusive growth, a critical slip up. More perceptive leaders are catching up with this great movement.

Worse still, the Planning Commission, having missed the bus on decentralised urbanisation in the last decade, still continues with its old projections for the future. Rural population, it reiterates, will be 60% in 2030. This author in his columns since 2006 has been projecting that the rural population going to small towns and bigger ones is underestimated by 10%, by 2020 and for that matter 2025. The persons living in villages will go down to 58% in 2020 and 55% in 2025. This compares with the official projection of 68% in 2020 and 64% in 2025. We refer to the UN studies and several others to buttress our work. Now the facts are in for the country. Such serious mistakes in policies are made because of an inability to catch major societal trends.

For infrastructure, having missed the emerging markets, the Approach Paper is terribly weak: Road connectivity, development of horticulture, dairying & other animal husbandry and expansion of cash crops, provide the necessary wherewithal for greater market access of the farm sector. This is particularly important for the segment of high value agriculture, where the demand pressures are going to be most intense in the coming years, and major investments are needed in the development of efficient value chains to save on high wastages and intermediation costs. This is logically the domain of the private sector. For the run-of-the-mill politicians, the press and the planners to miss out on the fact that infrastructure for a diversifying agriculture is a planning task and even PPPs are difficult in small towns is sad. So, in spite of all the good words, there is no strategy for widespread agricultural growth. Instead, it is easy to shoot the postman when he says you are ignoring the poor migrating to towns. That way you dont have to build the infrastructure for the farmer in the Paschim and the Awadh. You can try and get more votes by dividing for a few more years. The resource and cultural base of political organisations and the efficiency requirements of administering land, water and social programmes, which were the core of the Panikkar Commission, are being ignored.

The author is a former Union minister