Is Federal Structure Failing India?

Written by: Pathikrit Payne
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New Delhi, Aug 9: Two very critical constituents of the Indian society are agriculture and the subject of law and order. While more than 70% of the Indian population is some or the other way dependent on agriculture, law and order is something which impacts nearly 100% of the population.

Incidentally both these subjects are exclusivities of the states so far as jurisdiction goes. As per India's federal structure, there are certain subjects such as defence, external affairs, national financial and economic policy making on which the central government has complete authority whereas there are subjects like law & order or agriculture where the constituent states of India have more sway or authority to bring changes or implement reforms.

Now if one looks at some of the major issues plaguing India today, surprisingly they are related to agriculture and law & order. It is a matter of real surprise that in an era where electronic gadgets, mobile phones and television sets have become extremely affordable for the common man, food is gradually becoming more expensive.

Today it is extremely difficult to find someone who lives either in the urban, suburban or even in rural areas and who does not have a cellphone connection. The penetration of cellphones in India has been such that even in villages where access to electricity is scarce people have cellphones there as well. One has to no doubt thank the free market economy for that.

The Appalling Condition of Agriculture- A State Subject

Yet the worrisome contrast is that, even when many of the consumer durable products are becoming more affordable, thanks to economy of scale, it is the basic food items which are becoming more and more expensive. Surprisingly, the high price of agricultural commodities has not resulted in the farmers becoming more affluent. Sadly but true, the farmers continue to get paid a pittance for the farm produce that he mandatorily has to sell in the local wholesale market called mandi.

Inflation for the Common Man and Super Profit for the Middlemen

Thus it is the middlemen in between who essentially add not much value to the product but make a killing by charging an exorbitant price from end consumer while paying a meager amount to the farmer. Archaic regulations under the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee or APMC prevent farmers from getting a better price for their produce as they are bound by law to sell in the local wholesale market while the end consumer is held to ransom by the monopolistic approach of the local wholesalers and the retailers of agri-commodities.

In spite of sky high food inflation and increasing cases of distress to the farmers due to the stranglehold of the local agents and not being able to recover even the basic cost of production (even while being stifled by neck deep debt as a result of borrowing money from local money lenders), constituent states of the Indian federal structure have seldom shown any willingness to reform agriculture to bring in more investments and to make the market more competitive.

No Willingness of States to Amend APMC

It is sad but true that unless constitutional changes are brought it, the Central Government can only play an advisory role and cannot do much if the states don't show interest in bringing in the much needed reforms in the agricultural procurement system. Everyone knows how the local Mandi system and APMC is stifling agriculture and yet no one is willing to bite the bullet. The net result is high inflation which is compounded more by issues of hoarding by wholesalers and on which too, states have not been too willing to impose stringent penalties.

Even though stringent provisions like Essential Commodities Act are there which can be imposed to heavily penalize hoarders, there always seem to exist a tacit understanding between the vested interests to make sure that states never apply it too harshly on the hoarders. Thus, prices are allowed to jack up and the vested interests make money out of it while the common man suffers and the condition of the farmer remains same as before or worse.

For successive years and even decades, agricultural growth has been dismal and been almost a drag on the overall growth in the economy which has been growing all thanks to the service sector and industry. Investments continue to be nonexistent because of lack of a viable market. None of this would change unless agriculture is brought out of the stranglehold of state control in India.

The Failing Case of Law & Order- Another State Subject

The case if law & order have been equally dismal. It is a known fact that law & order is a state subject and that the Central Government can only play an advisory role in it. As a result, even though the best of manpower and resources in terms of capabilities and equipment continue to be with the Central Government, the common man's security is at the hand of the individual state governments.

Today India's single biggest worry is internal security and law & order issues. While India continues to be one of the biggest victims of terror attacks, states have failed to revamp their intelligence architecture or even increase their police strength. Their sheer dependence on the Central Government for assistance from Central Police Forces, for all and sundry issues, is a reflection of their reluctance to carry out police reforms or increase their own police force strength to the desired level. Thus while states keep on harping that law & order handling is their fiefdom, their dependence on Central Government for force assistance and intelligence is humongous.

Today, the tantrum of law & order being a state subject prevent Central Government to completely take over and manage the anti-Moaist operations even though a substantial portion of the hard work of anti-Maoist operations is being done by the Central Forces but under the operational control of states. The results have been dismal with, in many cases not only coordination between Central and State Police Forces is unsatisfactory, in certain cases there is even lack of trust as well.

States of India are ill-prepared to protect its people

Wherever, on the contrary, the Central Government have taken over the operational control of counter-insurgency operations, such as in J&K, the results have been much better. Further, the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11 was a glaring example of how ill prepared India's states are when it comes to tackling a major organized attack on its states and how much they helplessly depend on the Central Forces for the rescue act.

Even though some improvements have happened since then, the issue of sheer lack of police reforms and India's vulnerability in terms of internal security issues continue to be a real cause of concern.

On the issue of law & order issue, it has to be kept in mind that it is not just about terrorism but also about basic security of common man. In states like Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere as well, the appalling condition of law & order, the sheer defiance and arrogance of criminals, the utter disregard they have for laws, the inability of police to provide basic security, the complete politicization and the partisan acts of police forces, the deliberate attempts to hush up critical cases and put pressure on victims to withdraw complaints, the poor quality of prosecution and investigation as well as a completely dysfunctional intelligence gathering mechanism have made people lose faith in governance.

Add to this the increasing strength of organized crime syndicates and mafias, cases of armed robberies, drug business, kidnappings and human trafficking are all on rise.

Is it time to have a relook at the Federal structure of India ?

Thus India may keep on adding to its arsenal of fighter bombers, warships, missiles and strength of the army but none of this would make India a safer place for the common India because none of the central agencies can come to his aid when the need be.

He would thus have to depend on a collapsing state policing system with questionable integrity, at least in some of the states like Uttar Pradesh. He would have to depend on a police system which has not reformed with time and continues to be a feudal structure.

He would continue to be at the mercy of those law-keepers for whom being politically correct and to keep the political masters happy is more important than the security of the common man. India with all its wherewithal cannot come to the aid of the law abiding Indian because India's federal structure inhibits it. It is therefore perhaps the time to give federalism a new meaning and follow the American model more. Or else India should have a unitary system with Central Agencies having the right to immediately step in wherever State agencies fail to protect people or deliver justice.

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