Mohan Guruswamy | Let’s move from unitary state to Union of States

The Asian Age.  | Mohan Guruswamy

Opinion, Columnists

The delimitation exercise now underway will reduce the weightage in Parliament of the states that did better

Members in the Lok Sabha during a session of Parliament, in New Delhi. (Sansad TV/PTI File Photo)

India’s Union of States has reached a critical impasse. Its diversity bound together by the Constitution that was meant to make us a modern, democratic and secular state based on equality and equal availability of justice, education, healthcare and social services, and division of government based on functions is now under grave challenge. India was never intended to be a saffron-hued monochromatic state, but a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual state whose diversity made it a nation as never before. Its demographics compound its problems by threatening to swamp the non-Hindi/Hindutva belt into a saffronised dominion.

Each state in India is a veritable nation, and hence maintaining the balance of political and economic power between them is critical. The delimitation exercise now underway will reduce the weightage in Parliament of the states that did better on giving their people a better quality and standard of life, and hence curbed the population. States which performed poorly by relation will be rewarded by the delimitation with more places in Parliament. We need a permanent freeze of all parliamentary constituencies. The delimitation must stop.
We have entered the new technologically driven age and the quality of education will determine the outcome of societies. The Centrally administered system of higher education has largely failed and the quality of education now leaves much to be desired. All education must be made a state subject. The jurisdiction of the AICTE, UGC, etc, over the states needs to end. The national need is upgraded medical, legal and social sciences education. The states must be made to compete with each other in the quality of education and not be bound down by a Centrally administered mediocrity.

True federalism can only be achieved when the states achieve greater fiscal autonomy. This simply means the states must have more financial means. At present, the states are supposed to get about 42 per cent of the tax revenues, as per the Finance Commission’s recommendations. There is a tendency towards a greater concentration of resources with the Central government. The ratio of tax revenues should progressively go up till it reaches 66 per cent of the tax revenues gathered. The allocation to the states must be made on a composite index of revenue contributed, population and distance from the mean. We also increasingly see the Central government withholding the sums due to the states, and using legitimate state incomes to finance itself. We need to evolve a system of pay at source to ensure that states fulfil their plans and commitments to the people in time. Delayed payments to the states should also entail interest charges at the Reserve Bank’s prime lending rates.

Our nation has a varied history and each of our regions have unique historical and cultural resources. These are largely expressed in our monuments and art treasures. The Central government, through the Archaeological Survey of India, has done a poor job of protecting and maintaining them. Vandals have destroyed ASI-protected sites with impunity. Since all our states and regions have their own distinct culture and history, the protection and maintenance of the connection with the past should be the responsibility of each state. The state resources of the ASI must be transferred to each and every state immediately. There is also a visible tendency of the ASI and the ministry of culture to focus on certain regions for narrow ideological reasons.

The procurement under the MSP is now restricted to a few states and regions. This procurement, which actually amounts to a subsidy, should be allocated to the states based on their agricultural acreage. As cereals account for the bulk of our foodgrain production and are nationally grown, at the first stage a guaranteed MSP procurement must be assured to all states. If the Centre thinks that proportionate procurement under MSP may not be feasible for all states, it should make compensatory grants in lieu of it.

Hydrocarbon fuels contribute to one-fifth of the air pollution now. In addition, the indiscriminate use of cheap plastics for packaging and disposals irretrievably damages natural water resources, and clogs natural and manmade water drainage.

A new tariff regime is called for on raw materials for single-use and disposable plastics. We must also encourage the conversion to electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for personal transportation, with a tax-free regime to incentivise their use.

The non-Gangetic regions are rich in mineral resources such as coal, iron ore, alumina, copper, zinc, nickel, etc. These natural resources naturally belong to people below whose land they exist. All mineral exploitation rights and revenues should devolve to the states.

Recruitment into the armed forces and the paramilitary forces tend to get concentrated into certain regions. The military, in particular, with its limited tenure, followed by lifetime pension and benefits tenure, delivers concentrated benefits to the so-called martial nationalities. The oldest infantry regiment of the Indian Army is the Madras Regiment, which is headquartered in Wellington in the Nilgiris, with 21 battalions. Its catchment area is the whole of South India, comprising almost 270 million people or 22 per cent of all Indians. The Sikh Regiment, that is a one-class regiment drawn from a population base of about eight million, has 22 infantry battalions to its name. If you add up all the essentially Punjab-based regiments, we will have almost 74 battalions drawn from a state that has a population of about 30 million. This is disproportionate representation in an institution that offers our rural youth the finest employment. The nation needs to increase recruitment into the armed forces from other regions.

Both the print and electronic media are capital intensive and controlled by the Central government and big business interests. Radio news, which still reaches the majority of Indians, is still entirely controlled by Central government. We must open this channel to local players, particularly on the FM bands. What cannot be understood is that when news can be got on print and television from private and public sources, why can’t the large numbers who depend on radio for information not get it from both private entities and state governments?

India’s unity must be based on equal respect to all its nationalities and denominations. Any attempt to transform a political bouquet of states bound together by the Constitution, giving voice and space to each of its peoples instead of turning it into a monochromatic and centralised monolith, will only lead to the collapse of the original idea and the break-up of the union.

The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy.