The Independent India and its Dependent States

By: Pathikrit Payne
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Jammu floods
A little more than a year ago, the ravaging floods in the valley of Uttarakhand was a stark reminder of the kinds of apocalyptic natural disasters that the Indian subcontinent often faces and was also a reflection of the grim reality of the sheer lack of preparedness on the part of states of India to deal with such calamities. Their sheer dependence on the Central Government was evident then and a year down the line things have not changed much.

Be it 26/11 or floods, India's states remain incapable to handle either

In one of the worst instances of floods in J&K that has ravaged several parts of the state and marooned several lakhs, even as the rescue work continues at full pace, two things again clearly get exemplified. The first is the case of complete absence of the state administration from the rescue work and second is the complete dependence of the state on the Indian Armed Forces and other central agencies like ITBP, BSF and NDRF to do all the evacuation and other critical jobs to restore normalcy.

This is a grim reflection of the absolutely failure of states to become self-sufficient on issues of managing situations arising out of calamities or emergency situations arising out of other kind of incidents like that of a massive terror of 26/11. But is it not that law & order is a state subject? Then why is it that states fail to fulfill their responsibilities and develop institutional capabilities?

The vanishing act of the J&K Government

It was not long ago that Omar Abdullah and his government as well as other major leaders of J&K were all shedding tears for the people of J&K and were literally blaming the Modi Government for stalling talks with Pakistan, which according to them, was the sole reason for incessant shelling by Pakistan Army along the Line of Control.

Even though the truth is far from the colossal lies that many of the Kashmiri politicians were spreading, their so called concern for the Kashmiris suffering as a result of Pakistani shelling, now seem to have vanished as Kashmir lay inundated with one of the worst flood situation of several decades.

Not only none can be seen extending the helping hands, fact is none can be seen either even monitoring the relief operations. So the obvious question that arises is that where are the separatist leaders of Hurriyat now? Why is the Omar Abdullah Government missing in action? Why the onus is only on the Central Government to mobilise resources and manpower and take the entire responsibility of evacuating the Kashmiris? Why the Army would have to always do jobs which are otherwise the responsibility of the State level administrations?

When will Indian states grow up enough to manage their issues professionally?

The issue is not just of J&K or Uttarakhand and neither the issue is just about natural calamities. Even in case of the 26/11 terror attack, the sheer inability of the Maharashtra Police to pin down the terrorists and instead their capitulation in front of the handful of terrorists was a reflection of the appalling condition of State level policed forces of the country. Eventually it had to be the National Security Guard (NSG) whose personnel had to be airlifted to Mumbai all the way from Delhi to rescue the city from the clutch of the terrorists.

It's been almost six years since that incident happened and even though considerable amount of efforts have been put by the Central Government to help the states set up their own state level Special Forces to thwart such attacks, fact remains that there is still a massive level of dependence on the Central Forces, be it for countering a repeat of 26/11 if ever it happens again, be it to counter Maoists or be it even to manage basic law & order situations.

Even though states keep stating that law & order is a state subject, fact remains that not only the states have failed to maintain the basic law & order but is often dependent of Central agencies for managing basic law & order issues as well. And yet states continue to resist any reforms to give the central agencies more power to take care of internal security issues.

One also remembers clearly that when the Muzaffarnagar riots took place, a hapless Uttar Pradesh Government, unable to manage the mess it allowed to go out of hand, pleaded for the Indian Army to be sent in.

Equal standing but not equal sharing of burden

The issue here is not that the Central Government is helping the states to tide over difficult situations. After all that is what the Central Government is supposed to do. But the issue at stake is the fact that the moment difficult situations pass over, the states take the excuse of federalism to equate their rights with that of the Central Government in spite of the fact that in difficult times, the bulk of responsibilities is always with the Centre and the states do little to share the burden.

Even on issues of paying heed to the advice of the Centre to develop institutional capabilities to manage difficult situations, states seldom pay heed and often have disregard for what Centre advices.

Central Agencies far more professional

Fact of the matter remains that the Central agencies are far more capable in terms of developing institutional capabilities and manage situations and yet the states keep clamouring for more share of annual revenue from the centre even when most states have utterly failed to even increase the strength of their police forces and take it to a desired level.

Most states have a dismal police population ratio and blindly depend on Central Forces like CRPF to manage critical law & order issues or issues related to insurgencies.

Bottomline- Too much decentralisation did not help India

The incidents of disastrous performance of state governments of Uttarakhand, J&K and Maharashtra as well as many others on their failure to manage situations arising out of calamities and otherwise, vindicate as to why too much of decentralisation makes no sense.

At the end of the day, fact remains that central agencies are far more professional and disciplined than state level organisations. The State level police forces or healthcare institutions or other agencies come no way near to central level police forces, central healthcare institutions, disaster management institutions and of course the armed forces.
Not that central agencies are faultless but on a comparative scale, the states simply don't add up to the capabilities of the Central agencies. Therefore unless the constituent states of India realise their responsibilities and support the centre on equal footing, the narrative of equating central government and the state governments on the same scale in the name of federalism makes no sense.

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