From 31st October 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 came into force breaking the then state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Apart from the debate on the way the bill was passed, many acknowledge that separating the state into two regions with different ethnicities will benefit both. Ladakh was always in a vehement demand for a separate union territory status. This article, is, however, not on Kashmir and Ladakh. I intend to analyse the merits and demerits of making India more federal horizontally, i.e. breaking the existing union into more and more states.
India is said to be an “indestructible union of destructible states”. The Constitution of India does not guarantee the existence of a state. Under Article 4, it empowers the Parliament to create new states and alter the existing ones. This is not considered as an amendment under Article 368 and hence, requires only a simple majority. The same provision has been used several times to create new states of Telangana, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, etc. as well as to change names from Orissa to Odisha and Mysore to Karnataka.
The current states are too large by population; so much so that 4 out of top 10 largest country sub-divisions in the world by population are in India; with the top 3 themselves being Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar. Uttar Pradesh is itself larger than Brazil, which is the 5th largest nation by population. As per census 2011 data, India’s states have an average population of 3.27 crores (which is roughly the size of Malaysia) and a standard deviation of 4.22 crores (considering 37 territories). On the other hand, the 50 states and District of Columbia in the US have an average population of 60.53 lakhs and a standard deviation of 67.56 lakhs. Ideally, India should have larger number of states than the US on account of its larger population. This is also given the fact that creation of states in India is much simpler. Only China has such big states; but we need to keep in mind that China is not a federal nation. Hence, the size of its states doesn’t matter much.
Smaller states have several advantages. They have smaller assemblies. Hence, decision making is faster, and their laws are applicable only to their specific area. Often, this has to do with their culture, geography and language. This also helps them to preserve their culture distinctly. When several states with different culture were carved out of Assam, the identities of Nagas, Mizos, etc. became increasingly well-known all over the country. Same would happen if Kodagu and Tulu Nadu are carved out of Karnataka, Gorkhaland out of West Bengal, or Kutch and Saurashtra are carved out of Gujarat. These new states, then, would be enforced to set up their machinery, mainly education policies on their new state language.
This would also help in creation of new cities. When Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravathi is being developed. Obscure cities like Ranchi, Dehradun, Raipur, etc. came on everyone’s tongue when they became the capitals of new states. Few in 1990s would have imagined that a new international stadium and an airport with flights as faraway to Bengaluru and Hyderabad would be built at Dehradun, a city which wouldn’t even be in the top 10 cities of Uttar Pradesh then. Creation of new cities always helps in bringing new industry and jobs to the area.
Currently, some areas in certain states function as autonomous councils; such as the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration in West Bengal. By promoting these councils to the status of a state, they would get more powers and would be able to fulfil their duties without any interference from the government at their respective state capital. This will also enable their local parties to rise to the ranks.
However, by far, the biggest advantage according to me would be getting granular state level data. Currently, most data published by NITI Aayog is state wise. Although the HDI of Maharashtra is 0.695, it may vary from as high as close to 0.8 in Konkan to as low as 0.5 in Marathwada. This will also help granting state wise aid through the Finance Commission more accurately, based on the needs of these smaller states. The Centre would indirectly get more power in determining the developmental fund to be allocated to each state; as against currently being done by the state governments in their respective regions. Today, the state governments like that of Karnataka and Maharashtra are often criticised for neglecting the causes of people in their backward regions, such as Hyderabad Karnataka (now Kalyan Karnataka) and Marathwada. This will help the state governments of these richer states to concentrate more on their own affairs rather than assisting their poorer regions.
Splitting existing states into smaller ones; however, would have its own new problems. There are currently 61 subjects in the State List and smaller states having different laws of their own would lead to confusion; especially when such laws are related to investors doing business. Rates of electricity, petrol, diesel, water, etc. would greatly vary from state to state. Although this problem is also observed today, it would be aggravated with many smaller states. Another problem which would primarily come to anyone’s mind would be more inter-state water disputes. One can also not forget the fiasco of providing special status to certain states and determining which states should it be granted to. Huge infrastructure would be required to build new assemblies, Raj Bhavans, etc. in new states and this is a costly affair. Jharkhand got its new, grand assembly building only recently, after 19 years of its formation and there is an unending fight in progress for lands in Amaravathi, the formerly proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh, on which the current Jagan Mohan Reddy government has no clear stand. In addition, more security forces would be required for more VVIPs. Also, for any constitutional amendment under Article 368, for articles that require the ratification of at least half the states, it would be tough to get a consensus easily as it would be likely that different states would have a different party in majority and not all may abide by the will of the Centre.
Given all these problems, I would still champion the cause of creation of more states. I feel India needs at least 70 states and union territories to address the problems effectively. The problems that would arise from this should be successfully addressed by the states, that would mostly speak the same language and have a friendly separation, in supervision of the Centre. The Centre needs to play an impartial role of an arbitrator to ensure that the cake is cut into pieces that satisfy everyone’s need but not anyone’s greed. The consent of the legislative assemblies of all subject states should be taken and it should refrain from passing any unilateral bill. The States Reorganisation Act 1956 was a major reform to redraw state boundaries on linguistic lines. All districts with non-Hindi majority language were grouped into a state with a common language. However, with the partitioning of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, this linguistic basis has been done away with and we now have the first two states with the same majority language. It is thus clear that more such states can be created. What India needs today is a new States Reorganisation Act.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.