why small states make better sense to politicians

srivatsa krishna, an indian administrative service officer, writes:
It is assumed ex ante, without any causal evidence, by several political leaders that smaller states make for better governance and superior economic performance. But does a Telangana being carved out of Andhra Pradesh (AP) automatically mean lesser transmission and distribution losses, and therefore, better electricity availability? Would a smaller state automatically improve attendance of school teachers and doctors in the villages? Would it automatically rein in the burgeoning fiscal deficit of state governments? We often tend to confuse a smaller state with greater local participation and thus greater accountability in the delivery of services, which may or may not be the case.

Also, a smaller state does not always mean a smaller government. In fact, at least in the short and medium term, the cost of administration will increase, for one would be duplicating a lot of the existing systems and resources in the new state. Thus, instead of “administrative convenience”, what one should be looking at is “administrative necessity”. What is the smallest and most effective size of government to deliver growth and development? Interestingly, there is no evidence in economic literature which consistently proves that government failure is costlier than market failure to the economic performance of a state. As such, it is facile to conclude a priori that a smaller or a bigger government is necessarily superior or inferior to the market, or vice versa. What has been seen to consistently matter is the quality of government intervention, and it is debatable whether this improves with the size of government or with the quality of leadership, as such evidence is still nascent and mixed. [emphasis mine].

the author asks: But does a Telangana being carved out of Andhra Pradesh (AP) automatically mean lesser transmission and distribution losses, and therefore, better electricity availability?

has anyone of the thinking heads among the separatists asked those kind of questions? the government of andhra pradesh says 100% of the villages have access to electricity, but in practice only around 50% of rural homes across the state have electricity.

Would a smaller state automatically improve attendance of school teachers and doctors in the villages? the truth is, the education system in no state in the country is capable of taking in all the children into schools and retain them for the nominal eight years that the rulers think is enough to call them literate. less than half of children enrolled in primary schools (check the number of children enrolled in primary schools in andhra pradesh here, and the total number of children in primary+ upper primary+ high schools here, note the discrepancy) ever go beyond middle school. and there aren't enough high schools to take in more children anyway. so the 'system' is designed to kick children out of school, it'd seem, progressively through all the primary school years and dramatically after middle school.

the number of primary health centres in andhra pradesh, according to the government, is 1570 for a rural population (assuming all those phcs operate in rural areas) of 5.5 crores. that means one doctor for around 35,000 population. but it usually works out to one doctor for 1 lakh population at best, taking into account unfilled posts and absenteeism. now, if half the telangani doctors in the united states and elsewhere now expressing support for a separate state returned and chose to work in villages in telangana, the doctor-patient ratio in the region would probably reach the level of such advanced nations as tanzania, mozambique or even uganda!

i don't think krishna's common sensical skepticism would dampen the separatists' belief in the magical powers of the small-is-beautiful-under-all-circumstances mantra. but krishna also naively questions the strength of this belief, and the motives of the most articulate believers :
The other aside, given the rapid deterioration of India in the Transparency International rankings, is whether the demand for smaller states is a guise for grabbing a larger share of a smaller kitty (as against a smaller share of a larger kitty) when it comes to rapacious rent-seeking by politicians—justified in the name of the “sentiments” of the people. There can be no end to primordial passions and one can justify on the ground of sentiment carving out of ever smaller states till such time that it becomes completely meaningless. All those giving the example of the US’ number of states should not forget that the states which are the economic dynamo of America are the larger ones such as California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and not Montana or Wyoming. Stellar research by Michael Porter at Harvard Business School indicates that within each country there are clusters—the US has at least 400—which are the engines propelling growth, and these are spread all across the US, not correlated to a big or small state.
please go read the article, if you haven't already. i agree with most of what he says, and he says it much better.


gaddeswarup said...

I have been wondeing about this. There is an article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta on this topiv:
and some more linked in the post:

Bhanu Prasad said...


In addition the demand for additional new states smacks of narrow regional sentiments. It is a testament of incapability of cultures to co-exist. A classic case of failure of dialog between different ethnicities.

What a shame for the nation that wants to grow as one of the world's super powers

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