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State Building in India II: Indian Constitution and new states

31 Jul

I had written this post in 2009 when Telengana first became a major political issue. I am re-posting it since major decisions about the creation of Telengana are underway. Minor edits and updates have been made and are provided in italics. 

In my earlier post on the issue of Telengana’s statehood, I tried to provide a look at the high-handed exercise of the central government’s power to start processes for the creation of new states.  In this part, I try to look at two issues (1) Constitutional provisions regarding state formation, and (2) centre-state relations in relation to state formation.

The provisions for creating new states, and changing the boundaries of new states are provided in Articles 2-4 of the Constitution.  Simply put, a simple law passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is enough to create a new state.  However, only the central government (“President”) can introduce a Bill for this purpose.  And before introducing the Bill, the states which will be affected have to be consulted.

The process of consultation followed has the following features: (1) The matter is referred to the legislatures of the affected states.  (2) No specific time period within which states have to send their decision back to the centre has been mentioned in the Constitution.  The central government can specify the time period while referring the matter. (3) The Constitution does not mention that the state legislatures have to agree to the proposed creation/alteration of states.  The Parliament can therefore, pass a law creating a new state even if affected states do not agree to the proposal.

Lastly, the names of the states in the Union are mentioned in the First Schedule of the Constitution.  Similarly, the Fourth Schedule lists the number of seats each state is allotted in the Rajya Sabha.  Any law creating a new state would necessarily affect these two Schedules.  Schedules to the Constitution are usually considered parts of the Constitution, and any change to the Schedules has to be done through a constitutional amendment.  However, Article 4(2) of the constitution clearly says that no law creating or altering a new state will be considered a constitutional amendment.

The implications of these provisions are clear: for all practical considerations, the Constitution only requires that the central government should have a simple majority in both houses of Parliament.  The obvious question to ask is whether this system is representative enough to create a new state, and this brings me to the second issue highlighted at the beginning of the page.

These provisions in the Constitution were created at a time when India’s security and sovereignty was at stake, when a number of independent states were forced to merge with the larger Indian state.  There were obvious concerns about giving greater representative power to states who had recently agreed to be governed under the Indian union.  Over the years however, threats of secessionist politics have reduced greatly.  People almost throughout the country acknowledge themselves to be part of a greater Indian union.

However, maintaining the status quo in the Constitutional scheme has greatly reduced political space for raising legitimate regional or geopolitical aspirations within the country.  The Parliament maybe the supreme representative platform for raising issues affecting citizens, it may however not be representative enough.  Though there is no bar for state legislatures on discussing these issues, there seems to be little substantive gain from debating issues they have no practical control over.

Therefore, not only does the present constitutional scheme make it exceedingly simple for the central government to pass laws  creating new states, the procedure involved also undermines the importance of local governments, constituents and state legislatures in the consensus-building process.  It is little wonder then, that groups resort to violence to attract national consciousness.


Is the Food Security Ordinance a game-changer for India’s poor?

23 Jul

Citing the disruptions in Parliament, the UPA government decided to promulgate the National Food Security Ordinance on July 5. Under Article 123 of the Constitution, the President can promulgate an Ordinance when Parliament is not in session and there is need for ‘immediate action’. It is possible that the government has crossed a line of Constitutional propriety by promulgating this Ordinance since Parliament is about to convene in a few weeks and there is a similar Bill already pending in Parliament. This issue will be explored more fully in my next blog post. In this post, I propose to examine the key highlights of the Food Security Ordinance and whether it would deliver food security to the citizens of this country.

Highlights of the National Food Security Ordinance

  • It entitles upto 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to 5 kg food grains per month at a subsidized rate.
  • Rice, wheat and coarse grains will be sold at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kg respectively.
  • Central government shall decide the proportion of the population to be covered in each state.
  • State governments shall identify the eligible households in the states.
  • Food grains shall be distributed to the eligible persons through the network of fair price shops under the PDS.
  • In case the central government is unable to supply food grains to the state, it shall compensate the state governments who have to give a food security allowance to each entitled person.

Key milestones in India’s food security policy

The notion that access to food should be a right has its origin within the UN’s 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Food security exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.

India’s tryst with food security can be traced back to 1996 when the Supreme Court declared that the “right to live guaranteed in any civilized society implies the right to food”. This was followed by a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Rajasthan in April 2001 against the central government, Food Corporation of India (FCI), and six state governments. The petition contended that the right to food was a fundamental right under “the right to life” provided by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Although no final judgment has been given, the Supreme Court has issued several interim orders in the case. On May 8, 2002, the Supreme Court appointed two Commissioners for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the interim orders (see reports).

Both UPA I and II made food security an electoral promise and entrusted the task of drafting a legislation to the Sonia Gandhi led National Advisory Council (NAC). On October 23, 2010, the NAC made certain recommendations about the basic framework of the Food Security Bill. In response, the Prime Minister set up an Expert Committee under Dr C. Rangarajan to examine the Bill, which submitted its report in January 2011. It stated that it would not be possible to implement the NAC recommendations because of lack of availability of food grains and huge subsidy implications. The NAC however disagreed with it and prepared a draft Bill in June 2011.

The government finally introduced the National Food Security Bill, 2011 in the Lok Sabha on December 22, 2011. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, which submitted its report in January 2013. The discussion on the Bill had been initiated during the Budget session of 2013. The government also introduced a set of official amendments to the Bill, which have been incorporated in the Ordinance that was promulgated recently.

Ordinance: A hit or miss?

Opinion is divided about the need and desirability of the Food Security Ordinance. Some experts such as Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen are staunch supporters of the Bill given India’s malnutrition rates. Others such as Arvind Panagariya, Surjit Bhalla and Abhijit Banerjee have raised certain key issues regarding the need and impact of such a legislation. In fact, the debate on food security has dove-tailed with a larger debate about India’s governance priorities between two renowned economists – Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati (see here and here for the Sen-Bhagwati debate on re-distribution vs growth).

The criticism of the Ordinance mainly falls into the following categories: (a) purpose of the Ordinance; (b) identification of beneficiaries; (c) mechanism for delivering food security; and (d) the impact on the food subsidy burden.

Purpose of the Ordinance: The basic premise of the Ordinance is that India has a problem of persistent hunger which has led to high rate of malnutrition. Therefore, the government needs to provide the population with subsidized food grains. These premises have been challenged by various experts. Prof Arvind Panagariya, an economist at Columbia University, has recently attacked the notion that India’s child malnutrition rates are higher than that of Sub-Saharan Africa. Blaming the flawed measurement methodology of WHO, he makes a persuasive case that it is improbable that India is ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa in all other health indicators except malnutrition.

Other experts such as Arvind Virmani point out that persistent hunger is a much lesser problem than malnutrition. According to NSSO, in 2004-05, about 2% of households suffered from hunger at some point during the year. This Ordinance only addresses hunger while the focus needs to be on malnutrition which is a problem of a higher magnitude. Given the data on hunger, it is clear that malnutrition exists not so much because of lack of access to food but because of faulty diet. However, the Ordinance only focuses on providing cereals rather than nutrition rich food like vegetable, pulses and fruits. In fact, it may even have the unintended consequence of forcing farmers to grow cereals rather than fruits, pulses and vegetables.

Some experts have also pointed out that one of the major causes of malnutrition is the lack of sanitation. Unless policies focus on addressing this, malnutrition will remain a severe problem (see here, here and here). Others such as Prof Kaushik Basu have suggested that there is need to redesign how the government acquires and releases food on the market.

Identification of beneficiaries: While the Bill had divided the population into three groups (priority, general and excluded), the Ordinance only has two categories (those entitled to subsidized food grains and those who are not). However, this does not do away with the need to identify beneficiaries and thus can lead to inclusion and exclusion errors. According to some estimates, 61% of the eligible population is excluded from the BPL list while 25% of non-poor households are included in the list. The only way to completely eliminate inclusion-exclusion errors is by universalizing the scheme or by having a clear-cut exclusion criteria (see here). However, given the issue of financial burden, the problem of identification may be tackled through the biometric-linked Aadhaar number (see here and here). Basically, Aadhaar will enable the government to authenticate the identity of a person. It may reduce duplicate and ghost beneficiaries (non-existent beneficiaries). However, the success of Aadhaar in weeding out ghost beneficiaries depends on mandatory enrolment. If enrolment is not mandatory, both authentication systems can co-exist. In such a scenario, people will be able to opt out of the Aadhaar system (see here).

Mechanism for delivering food security: The Ordinance legalizes the PDS even though there is a large body of evidence about the inefficiency of the system (see Wadhwa Committee reports, Planning Commission report). These committees have pointed out issues such as targeting errors, low off-take of foodgrains by households, leakages and diversions of food grains to the open market, adulteration of food grains and lack of viability of Fair Price Shops.

Many experts have suggested other alternatives to the PDS such as cash transfer (see here, here and here) and food coupons. There is evidence that these methods have worked in countries such as Brazil (see here and here). Some advantages of these are: reduced administrative costs, expanded choices for beneficiaries, and more competitive pricing among shops. Also, allowing alternate methods could give more flexibility to the states to adopt the mechanism that suits their needs (see here).

Impact on food subsidy burden: According to the government’s calculations, the Ordinance will take the total food subsidy bill to Rs 124, 747 crore in 2013-14. However, there are other costs related to the implementation of the scheme that may not have been factored in such as cost of procurement, storage and transport of food grains. The Bill had given an annual estimate of Rs 95,000 crore as the cost to the exchequer. However, various experts refuted this figure. Their estimations vary from Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 3.5 lakh crore (see here and here). The basic problem of having a high food subsidy bill is the effect on the fiscal deficit and inflation. Also, given the limited resources available, if the government prioritises one policy, it adversely impacts resource allocation for other policy goals. Therefore, policy choices need to be made based on what would give the most bang for the buck (see here) rather than on populist rhetoric.

It is imperative that the government considers these critiques while framing its food security policy; otherwise the Ordinance would be another lost opportunity to address a key problem faced by the poor.

Dams and disasters in the Himalayas

10 Jul

This post was first published as an op-ed by Mint on July 9, 2013. The original article can be accessed here


Relief operations in disaster-ravaged Uttarakhand have ended and the time seems ripe to take account of the institutional frailties that have contributed to the ongoing human disaster in the state. Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has been blamed for inaction when the disaster first struck and has also admitted that the state did not meet the norms for national disaster management. The Union government is also mulling changes to the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to make national disaster response more effective.

Dig a little deeper, and the story, however, indicates multiple institutional failures. In short, the story is not of one or two agencies failing to act. Various factors point to a disturbing lack of clear prioritization, capacity, coordination across multiple government agencies.
In 2012, a paper published by Maharaj Pandit and Edward Grumbine in the journal Conservation Biology highlighted that there were 292 dams proposed and under construction all over the Himalayas. If all of them were to be completed, the dam density in the region would be the highest in the world (an average of 1 dam for every 32km of river channel). Figuring out the impact of such large-scale construction on human settlements in ecologically sensitive areas is going to be difficult even if it is not exactly rocket science. This becomes disturbing when one considers the functioning of the expert appraisal committees (EAC) of the Union ministry of environment and forests that clears river valley projects. In one report ( ), the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, and People (SANDRP) noted that:

“The Union ministry of environment and forests’ (MoEF) expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydroelectric projects (RVP) has considered a total of 262 hydropower and irrigation projects in close to six years since April 2007 when the new committee was set up to its latest, 63rd meeting in December 2012. It has not rejected any project in this period.” (Page 3 of the report).

If you are not sufficiently bothered yet, consider this. According to SANDRP the Central Water Commission (CWC), which publishes the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD) apparently, does not contain an exhaustive record of large dams. In response to applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, filed by SANDRP, CWC replied that it only relies on information given to it by state governments. Consequently, according to SANDRP, for 2,687 out of 5,187 large dams listed in NRLD, there is no mention of the name of the river on which these projects stand.
SANDRP’s analysis is not an isolated instance. This year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India issued a report on disaster preparedness in India ( ). The report is scathing with respect to the preparedness and functioning of both the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Uttarakhand disaster management authority. The report, for example, highlights that 653 lives have been lost in the past five years to landslides, hailstorms, excessive rain, earthquakes, cloud bursts, avalanches and fire accidents. Yet, the chief minister stated there is no way the state could have been prepared for cloud bursts. Additionally, the state disaster management plan was not prepared, the state disaster management authority never met since it was created and there was no state plan for early warnings. However, and perhaps revealing the skewed sense of priorities, 71,474 government and non-government personnel had been trained through 546 workshops.
CAG also notes that NDMA and the governments at the Union and state levels have performed abysmally with respect to communications systems, capacity building and planning for specific disasters. For example, to address the problem of communications systems being disrupted during national disasters, NDMA was to set up the National Disaster Communication Network. The concept paper for this purpose was developed in October 2007, but the Union ministry of home affairs had not finalized the project by December 2012.
These examples serve to highlight the vast inefficiencies in existing government design and their cumulative potential to exacerbate natural calamities into man-made disasters. While accountability for lapses at various levels should be fixed, it is also important to get right the design, capacity and incentives of public agencies and officials. We may be able to create a more balanced system of ecological preservation and development by a nuts-and-bolts analysis of what goes wrong within existing government agencies, rather than raise the promise of newer, stronger and better legislation to cure all administrative failures. Focusing on issues of capacity, coordination and creating clear, transparent objectives for different agencies may help government in general be more pro-active rather than reactive in matters such as disaster management. Plugging leaks in this case, may therefore be better than building dams.
Anirudh Burman works on law and governance issues with the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.
He can be reached at

Disaster management: How prepared are we?

25 Jun

The flash floods and landslides caused by sudden heavy rains in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh on June 15 have resulted in heavy casualty and loss of property.  The death toll is likely to be about 1000 while over 20,000 people still need to be evacuated.  Currently, rescue operations are being carried out by several agencies such as the Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Border Security Forces (BSF), and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) (see here for latest updates).

However, various news reports (see here, here and here) have highlighted the lack of disaster preparedness of the authorities in the state and the centre.  In fact, news reports suggest that the Indian Meteorological Department had warned Uttarakhand government of the likelyhood of heavy rainfall within 48 hours.  However, the local authorities failed to issue any warning or analyse the likely effect of such rainfall.  Given the size of its population and the high risk it faces from natural disasters, it would be absolutely criminal for India to be lackadaisical about its disaster preparedness.

In this blog post, I provide a quick analysis of where India stands in disaster management preparedness.

A blue-print for disaster management

India first woke up to the need for a holistic approach to disaster management (and not relief centric) after the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami, the super cyclone in Orissa and the earthquake in Gujarat.  Disaster management was recognized as a development issue for the first time during the 10th Five Year Plan (2002-2007).  In 2005, the government passed the Disaster Management Act, to provide for effective management of disasters.  It defined disaster as a catastrophe, calamity or grave occurrence in any area due to man-made or natural causes or by accident where there has been substantial loss of life and property.  The Disaster Management Policy was framed in 2009.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal ministry for disaster management.  The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is mandated to deal with all types of disasters, natural or manmade with certain exceptions (such as terrorism, counter-insurgency, serial bomb blasts, and hijacking, mine disasters and forest fires).  The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by the Cabinet Secretary handles these issues.  NCMC gives directions to the Crisis Management Group, which actually deals with all the matters related to relief activities in the case of any major disasters.

National level authorities under 2005 Act

  • The Act established the NDMA and provided for setting up advisory committees and a National Executive Committee to aid the NDMA in performing its functions.
  • NDMA’s functions include (a) laying down the policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management; (b) approving the National Plan and the plans of various ministries; and (c) laying guidelines for state authorities.  It shall also recommend guidelines for the minimum standard of relief to be provided to persons affected by the disaster (relief camps, ex-gratia assistance).
  • The National Executive Committee would prepare a National Plan for disaster management of the country.
  • The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) would be under the general superintendence of NDMA but the command of the force shall be with the Director General of NDRF to be appointed by the central government.

State and district level authorities under 2005 Act

  • Every state government has to set up a State Disaster Management Authority, which would be assisted by advisory committees and State Executive Committee.  In addition, it has to set up District Disaster Management Authorities in every district of the state.  The State Executive Committee is responsible for implementing the national and state plans and act as the coordinating and monitoring body for management of disaster in the state.


  • The Act also lays down penalties ranging from one to two years imprisonment and fine for offences related to obstruction of any officer in the performance of his duties, false claims, misappropriation of money or material and for making false warning (relevant government officials have been given blanket immunity from this provision).

On-ground status on implementation

By the end of the 10th Plan, a skeletal structure for disaster management had been put in place.  A central law on disaster management was enacted in 2005 and the National Disaster Management Authority was set up.  However, the Act itself had certain shortcomings which contributed to its poor implementation record.

Shortcomings in the Act

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs had examined the Disaster Management Bill and made certain recommendations, most of which were not incorporated in the 2005 Act.  It suggested that at each level, the respective authority should include elected representatives from the Parliament, State Legislatures and local government bodies.  At the district level, there should be a Relief Commissioner (other than the District Collector/Magistrate) to ensure that affected population in disaster hit areas get relief.  Although the Act included penalties for giving false warning and causing obstruction, it is not clear who would be the complainant in such cases.

Other experts (see here and here) also pointed out loopholes in the Act, which might make it less effective.  They include (a) lack of clear guidelines on who shall be entitled to relief and compensation under the Act; (b) lack of clarity on who shall be monitoring the performance of the various agencies set up under the Act; (c) lack of clarity about coordination between the different agencies; (d) no guideline on how to differentiate between a disaster and a disaster of severe magnitude; and (e) no provision for declaring a disaster prone zone or classifying disasters in various categories.

Poor implementation record

The level of preparedness for disaster management at the centre and the states is very uneven.  According to a 2012 report by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, even after six years of the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, many states have not yet established the state-level authorities.  The report concludes that the present capability of civil administration for combating disasters remains inadequate and they rely on the armed forces for major emergency responses.

In 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released a performance report on India’s disaster preparedness.  It found critical gaps in the preparedness level for various disasters.  It found NDMA to be ineffective in most of the core areas since it neither had information and control over the progress of the work at the state level nor could it successfully implement various projects.  The report stated that the National Executive Committee had not met after May 2008; the National Plan for Disaster Management has not yet been formulated and there were delays and mismanagement in respect of State Disaster Response Fund.

Response to a specific disaster is the best test of the level of disaster preparedness.  However, the response to the Uttarakhand floods has exposed the lack of preparedness of administrative machinery.  While natural disasters may be unpredictable, India cannot afford to wait for the next disaster to strike before getting its act together.

What ails India’s public health delivery system

17 Jun

Recently, the Cabinet approved the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s new programme, the National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), which seeks to focus on the public health needs of the urban poor. NUHM is the new scheme under the government’s overarching National Health Mission (NHM) programme.

The existing National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is the other scheme under the NHM. NRHM was launched in April 2005 to provide comprehensive healthcare in rural areas. The programme focuses on 18 states. Each village with a population of 1,000 in these states are to have an Accredited Social Health Activist. NRHM proposes to (a) strengthen existing infrastructure; (b) prepare district health plans; (c) guide sanitation and hygiene projects; (d) strengthen disease control programmes; (e) foster public-private partnerships in healthcare; and (f) implement new finance mechanisms.

Although providing the urban poor with a well-functioning public health system is a dire necessity, it is unclear whether NUHM would succeed in doing so given the government’s poor track record in establishing a public health system in the country. Having said that, it is also true that India has come a long way from the time of independence in terms of providing health facilities to its citizens.

This post focusses on India’s present status in terms of health indicators and public health infrastructure based on the performance of NRHM. Since the NUHM would follow a similar model as NRHM, its chances of success may depend on addressing the bottlenecks in the NRHM.

India’s track-record so far…

Health indicators

India’s dysfunctional public health system has taken a toll on its citizens, especially the poor. Table 1 comparing India’s status with other countries on key health indicators shows that it lags behind many countries. However, public spending on health in India is among the lowest in the world at about 1.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Also, households in India spend about 5-6% of their consumption expenditure on health.

Table 1: Health indicators of some countries

Country IMR MMR Life expectancy at birth Total Health Exp (as % of GDP)

































Sri Lanka






























Sources:All India Progress under NRHM as on 31 Dec, 2012,” NRHM website; “World Population Prospects: the 2010 Revision,” UN, Dept of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011; “MDG Indicators,” UN; Databank of World Bank; 11th Five Year Plan, Planning Commission.

*Note: Infant Mortality Rate (IMR): Deaths per 1000 live births; Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR): Deaths per 100,000 live birth; Total Health Expenditure: Includes public and private expenditure.


India has an elaborate public health infrastructure but it is mostly dysfunctional with neither proper infrastructure nor trained man-power. According to government norms, urban areas are supposed to have a two-tier system with Urban Health Centres for every 100,000 population, followed by general hospital. There are similar norms for rural areas. Table 2 gives an overview of the multi-tier network through which government health services are supposed to be delivered in rural areas.

Table 2: Norms for public health institutions in rural areas and the shortfall

Tiers Population and staff norms Services Status as of 2012
Sub-Health Centre Level(Gram Panchayat level) 1 Sub-Centre for a population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas.Staffed with Auxiliary Nurse Midwife and a male health worker. Perform tasks related to maternal and child health, nutrition, immunisation, diarrhoea control etc. Provided with basic drugs for minor ailments. 1,48,124 (shortfall of 35,762 Sub Centres)
Primary Health Centres (PHCs)(Cluster of Gram Panchayats) 1 PHC for a population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hilly areas.Staffed with one Medical Officer and 14 other workers. Acts as a referral unit for 6 sub-centres and has 4-6 beds for patients. Provides a package of essential public health programmes. 23,887 (shortfall of 7,048 PHCs)
Community Health Centres (CHCs)(Block level) 1 CHC for a population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas.Staffed with 4 Medical Specialists and 21 paramedical and other staff. Has 30 in-door beds and serves as a referral centre for 4 PHCs. Provides facilities for emergency obstetrics care and specialist consultations. 4,809 (shortfall of 2766 CHCs)
District and Sub-District Hospitals(District level) 1 hospital for each district, which is linked to sub-district hospitals, CHCs, PHCs and Sub-Centres.Staff norms vary based on the size of the hospitals i.e. the number of beds. District hospitals generally have 75 to 500 beds. Sub-District hospitals have 31 to 50 beds. Services include OPD, indoor and emergency services. Provides consultation services with specialists. District hospitals provide secondary level referral services for institutions below district level. 627 district hospitals and 305 health facilities

Sources: Annual Report 2010-2011, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; “Indian Public Health Standards for 201-300 Bedded District Hospitals: Guidelines,” January 2007, MoHFW; “All India Progress under NRHM as on 31 Dec, 2012,” NRHM website; NRHM MIS.

Availability of doctors

Even in places where the infrastructure is in place, there is a shortfall in trained doctors and support staff. Qualified doctors do not want to be posted to rural areas because of lack of educational facilities, irregular electricity supply, lack of potable water, safety issues and lack of well-equipped laboratories. Table 3 shows the percentage of vacancies of doctors at both the PHC and CHC level.

Table 3: Vacancies of doctors in PHCs and CHCs


% of vacancy in PHCs

% of vacancy in CHCs

ChhattisgarhWest BengalMaharashtraUttar PradeshMizoram

Madhya Pradesh


Andaman & Nicobar Islands


Tamil Nadu

Himachal Pradesh










Andhra Pradesh


Arunachal Pradesh




Dadra & Nagar Haveli

Daman & Diu

Jammu & Kashmir
















































































Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available at The data for all states is as of March 2011 except Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi where data is as of 2010

Food for thought for policy-makers…

The existing system does not approach the task of providing healthcare in a comprehensive manner. It takes a fragmented disease specific approach with limited scope for innovations. In addition to dysfunctional health infrastructure, there is lack of accountability and discipline in the whole system. Over the years various committees such as the Bhore Committee 1946, Jungalwalla Committee 1967, Bajaj Committee 1996, Mashelkar Committee 2003 and the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health 2005 have suggested ways to strengthen the health sector. Based on the recommendations of these committees and other experts, below are some policy options the government can consider.

  • Given that out of pocket expenditure on health is very high for Indians, the government needs to focus on reducing household expenditure of the poor by financing comprehensive healthcare package. The Planning Commission’s report on Universal Health Coverage can be a starting point for framing a suitable package that has the most impact on the poor.
  • One of key reasons why the public healthcare system is dysfunctional is the lack of accountability and discipline among the stakeholders. Since government functionaries have security of tenure, there is very little incentive to perform on the job. Therefore, it is essential to establish institutional mechanisms for oversight functions as well as incentivize health personnel to perform well. Some experts have suggested that the community and locally elected bodies through Village Health Committees and empowered management committees be involved in overseeing the functioning of PHCs and CHCs. Similarly, a District Health Authority may be constituted with public representatives. Also, there needs to be performance based monitoring of health personnel.
  • The role of the private sector in providing health care is already well-established. The private sector includes a range of providers addressing different market segments (voluntary, not-for-profit, corporate, for-profit, trusts, and stand-alone specialist services). While there are a number of super-specialty hospitals such as Medinova, Max, Escorts, and Apollo, most providers are sole practitioners or small nursing homes with 1-20 beds. They serve urban or semi-urban clientele. According to some experts, there is need to enforce sufficient regulations on the private sector to ensure that the unqualified health providers or quacks are not able to harm the patients.
  • The focus of any health policy should be the quality of care provided to a patient. A recent study by experts at the World Bank has comprehensively shown that the problem lies not so much in access to public health care but of the quality of care being provided. According to these experts, so far, government policy has focussed primarily on increasing access to public health rather than devising ways to ensure that everyone gets access to quality care. The study suggests some solutions: (a) fundamentally reforming the way medical degrees are awarded and requiring doctors to go for re-certification periodically; (b) doctors may perform better if there is some performance based pay, better monitoring and a denser peer network; and (c) educating people about issues such as over-medication, sanitation, hygiene and waste management.

Are we water-secure or water-starved? – National Water Policy

5 Jun

By Esha Singh Alagh


Recent news reports suggest that Cherrapunji, once the wettest place on earth is now water starved in the summer season. While the population of India constitutes around 17% of the entire world’s population, its water resources comprise of only 4% of world’s renewable water resources.

Accepting the importance of protecting our water resources as well as regulating it, Ministry of Water Resources came up with a draft National Water Policy (NWP) in January 2012 and after many external deliberations and consultations published a revised draft in June 2012. Under the Indian Constitution, water comes under the State List (Item 17 in List II of the Seventh Schedule or the State List). There has been an increasing debate about studying water in a holistic manner with a national perspective in mind. The Ministry has stressed that the water policy consists of overarching principles of water which will be framed in close collaborations with its state counterparts.

Current Status

As of December 2012, the revised draft of the National Water Policy has been adopted by the National Water Resource Council which is governed under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Union Water Minister, Harish Rawat has assured the states that the water framework law[i] will be drafted only after close discussions with the stakeholders to ensure that the powers of the state are not curtailed.

Outline of the NWP

The Draft National Water Policy suggests that water be treated as a common community resource held by the state under public trust doctrine. Another basic principle it stresses on is that water be treated as economic good after certain pre-emptive needs for safe drinking water, sanitation and high priority allocations for domestic needs such as agriculture, ecology and needs of animals are met. Other than these the NWP lists down various aspects relating to Integrated Water Management, steps for Clime Change Adaptation, Water Pricing, Demand Management, Water Infrastructure, Institutional Mechanisms and Groundwater Management.

Merits and de-merits

(a)   Does it account for climate change: The NWP has incorporated many forward thinking principles relating to climate change.

(b)  It moves from supply-based management to demand based management: It has also concentrated on demand management more than the commonly discussed supply management.

(c)   Dam safety: With the construction of large dams across the country, NWP recommends a legally empowered dam safety service.

(d)  Inter-state water disputes: It takes a step further to propose setting up of permanent water disputes tribunal at the Centre and make implementation of projects including clearances time bound.

Is water a community-resource for everyone, or an economic good which everyone should pay equally for?

The earlier draft of the NWP had proposed that various dimensions of water use are to be considered as an economic good including “basic livelihood support to the poor and ensuring national food security” and suggested a water-pricing module for “maximizing value from water”.

This would affect the poor the most especially farmers who might be forced to pay for water similar to say commercial projects like withdrawing water for a cricket field. It could also lead to preferential treatment as commercial projects are more profitable than cultivation. It has since been revised to adopting differential pricing for high priority uses “to achieve food security and to support livelihoods of the poor” reiterating the significant nature of these usages.

This revised approach to the NWP has placed emphasis on water as a community resource and has simultaneously stressed on treating it as an economic good. This dichotomy will have to be addressed very carefully and in detail in the draft Framework Law to ensure that there are no biases in terms of access economically and otherwise.

Depleting groundwater resources

The NWP also lists out the importance of groundwater. Groundwater is generally treated as private/individual property and there are no rules regulating the amount of water which can be withdrawn ignoring the question of sustainable use. The revised NWP suggests “groundwater levels in over exploited areas need to be arrested by introducing improved technologies of water use, incentivizing efficient water use and encouraging community based management of aquifers”. While it does not mandate community based management of groundwater but rather ‘encourages’ it, this might lead to questions over ownership in the future which will have to be addressed. It might also affect agricultural usage of groundwater which is extremely high in India.


The revised National Water Policy has accepted many recommendations from stakeholders and accepted them in its draft but as expressed above there are a couple of issues which might need more deliberation and clarification. While the policy is a forward thinking document, the apprehensions of the state could potentially delay its implementation.


  1. “Draft National Water Policy (2012) as recommended by the National Water Board in its 14th meeting held on June 7, 2012.” Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India.
  2. Balani, Sakshi. “Report Summary: Draft National Water Policy”. PRS Legislative Research. 24 August 2012.
  3. Ramesh, S. “Revising the Draft National Policy.” Infochange Water Resources. September 2012.
  4. “Not The Farmers, Not The Environment: Draft National Policy 2012 Seems to Help Only Vested Interests.” Press release by SANDRP.
  5. “National Water Resources Council Adopts National Water Policy (2012).” Press Release, Ministry of Water Resources, India. 28 December 2012.
  6. Dharmadhikary, Shripad. “Better, but needs more work.” India Together. 25 July 2012.

[i] “Framework law is an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative and/or executive (or devolved) powers by the Centre, the States and the local governing bodies.

How good is the data for monitoring government schemes?

3 Jun

Recently, a news item brought to attention a crucial but not often discussed matter on the quality of data collected at various levels of the government. It quoted a report from the Planning Commission’s think tank, Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR) which found that the data on the government’s many flagship schemes was either incomplete or inconsistent.

Here’s a quick summary of the report.

The report examined the Management Information System (MIS) of 13 flagship central government schemes. MIS is a tool to collect data for a particular scheme or organization to help evidence-based programme management. The 13 schemes this report focused on are:

Total budgetary allocation for all these schemes is Rs 1,71, 582 crores.


  • The study ranked PMGSY and MNREGA in the top bracket in the design of MIS. NRHM, NRDWP, RGVY and TSC were ranked in the next category because they have recently started designing a more effective MIS. However, key schemes such as SSA, MDM, JNNURM and ICDS had poorly designed MIS and needed to take steps to strengthen the process.
  • A very important criteria is the reliability of data. Therefore, reliability and validity checks of data should be done at the district level. However, RGGVY, JNNURM, rural telephony and irrigation checked the data at the state level. Also, many of the data was not up to date.
  • The connection between implementation and outcome was weak for most schemes except MNREGS and PMGSY. There was also inconsistency in data. For example, ICDS and the National Family Health Survey are inconsistent with respect to data on level of malnutrition for each state. Since there was no effort to conduct an independent external verification or authentication of the data, there were discrepancies with the outcome/output data in the MIS and the sample survey data carried out by independent organizations.
  • Lack of use of data was a key weakness of the MIS of flagship programmes. Each scheme used the MIS data to get approval for next year’s budget and action plans but not for course correction.

New initiatives

Under the 12th Five Year Plan, the government has proposed new initiatives for effective management of centrally sponsored schemes. It proposed use of real-time technologies to monitor schemes. Furthermore, it planned to provide each beneficiary with a Unique Identity Number (Aadhaar) linked to his biometric data. This would make it easier to monitor whether the targeted beneficiaries actually receive the benefits. By 2014, about 600 million citizens are likely to have Aadhaar. Currently, there is no information on whether MIS data has been used to achieve the desired outcomes or if the implementation strategy has been modified with the help of MIS data. The 12th Plan intends to change this by focusing on outcome sustainability.

Implications for India

While statistics may not tell the whole story, it is well established that governments need timely and reliable facts to design effective policies. If the database is weak, resource allocation may get distorted and policies may not respond to the real needs of the community. Therefore, India’s lack of robustly designed data collection systems may be one of the reasons why innumerable government schemes fail to actually achieve the stated objectives.

Some experts have raised alarm bells about the lack of reliable data (see here, here and here) in various sectors and how it has hampered policy making. However, the government has not displayed major signs of urgency about tackling this problem. If concerned stakeholders are able to convince the government that designing a robust data collection system is going to give the government more bang for their buck it may actually take steps to address the problem.

Kashmir II: The last Month

23 Jul

In my last blog post, I had summarised the main events in Jammu and Kashmir’s past history to try and give a context to the post I am writing today.  I encapsulate the main events which have taken place within Jammu and Kashmir within the last month or so.  In doing this, I have also relied a lot on local English-language newspapers in Kashmir.  For brevity’s sake, rather than try and tell a story, I am giving a timeline of events collated through newspaper reports:

March 2010: Omar Abdullah stated that more than 35,000 troops have been reduced from J& K over the past 15 months.  He and his party were of the view that an improvement in the security situation necessitates reduction of troops in the Valley.  Abdullah promised that there would be a further decline in the number of troops.  “With the gradual restoration of peace and tranquility, the footprints of the security forces in the state would lessen.”

July 2010: Protests break out in Kashmir over the killing of protesters during clashes with security forces.  A curfew was clamped and the army moved in to assist the civil administration in maintaining law and order.

The valley is witnessing a complete shutdown against the killings on the call by the Hurriyat Conference (G) to protest against the killings. Most of the government and private offices, educational institutions and shops are completely shut and traffic is off the roads. (Click here for source)

July 10, 2010: Farooq Abdullah (CM Omar Abdullah’s father) met Home Minister P Chidambaram and discussed the prevailing situation in Kashmir.  Both believe that terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba has played a role in instigating violence in the valley.

July 17, 2010: Omar Abdullah met P. Chidambaram to discuss the violence in Kashmir.  About 14 civillians have been killed in the unrest.

July 22, 2010: An undeclared curfew in some areas and general strike in rest of Kashmir affected normal life.  Restrictions were imposed by the authorities in all the district headquarters and other townships of south Kashmir to scuttle any effort by the people to come out of their houses and stage protest demonstrations. However, amid restrictions and rains people in Shopian took to roads and staged protests. Police resorted to heavy tear gassing and aerial firing to quell the protesting people triggering clashes. Police arrested nearly half-a-dozen youth after the clashes.

Contingents of police and para-military CRPF personnel were deployed in the streets of all the district headquarters like  Anantnag, Pulwama , Kulgam and Shopian and other townships of the region. Though in most areas of the region heavy rains prevented the people from staging sit-ins on the roads but in some areas, but in Shopian, braving the rainfall, people took to roads after afternoon prayers and staged pro-freedom protests.

The National Conference had a seven hour long working committee meeting which concluded with a demand for the release of Kashmiri political detenues and restoration of greater autonomy.

“It has been our consistent stand. If you remember, the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, told a rally during inauguration of the rail service by Prime Minister in Islamabad that Kashmir is a political problem and needs to be solved politically. The CWC resolved that restoration of the autonomy in its pristine form as guaranteed under Constitution of India is the only way to bring peace.”

July 23, 2010: Authorities on Friday imposed curfew in this north Kashmir town to prevent people from coming out and staging demonstrations.

Kashmir as it stands today – I

17 Jul

The recent violence in Kashmir has dealt a great deal of damage to the gains made there in recent years.  In this and the next blog post (will be up soon), I encapsulate a summary of the main events concerning Kashmir, and also an attempt at making a timeline of recent events there.

Main events in Kashmir’s history (as taken from “Understanding Kashmir“):

1846: Jammu and Kashmir(J&K*) State is created under the Treaty of Amritsar between the East India company and Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu who buys Kashmir Valley from the East India Company for Rs.75,00,000 and adds it to Jammu and Ladakh already under his rule.

1931: The movement against the repressive Maharaja Hari Singh begins; it is brutally suppressed by the State forces. Hari Singh is part of a Hindu Dogra dynasty, ruling over a majority Muslim State.

1946: National Conference launches Quit Kashmir movement demanding abrogation of the Treaty of Amritsar and restoration of sovereignty to the people of Kashmir.

1947: On 15 August, the Indian subcontinent becomes independent. Kashmir signs Standstill Agreement with Pakistan. Rulers of Princely States are encouraged to accede their States to either Dominion – India or Pakistan.  The Maharaja of Kashmir delays his decision in an effort to remain independent.

In Spring 1947, internal revolt begins in the Poonch region against oppressive taxation under the recently imposed direct rule by the Maharaja; Poonch was a predominantly Muslim area. Maharaja strengthens the Sikh and Hindu garrisons in the Muslim areas and orders the Muslims to deposit arms with the police.

In August, Maharaja’s forces fire upon demonstrations in favour of Kashmir joining Pakistan, killing innocent people. The people of Poonch evacuate their families, cross over to Pakistan and return with arms.

In September, massacre of Muslims start in Jammu by armed bands of Hindus and Sikhs with active support from the State forces. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims flee Jammu.

On 22 October, thousands of Pathan tribesmen from Pakistan, recruited by the Poonch rebels, invade Kashmir along with the Poonch rebels, allegedly incensed by the atrocities against fellow Muslims in Poonch and Jammu. The tribesmen engage in looting and killing along the way. The tribesmen and the Poonch rebels are unofficially supported by various individuals and high ranking officials in Pakistan including Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province.

The Maharaja of the State of Jammu and Kashmir signs the Instrument of Accession (IOA) on 26 October, acceding the 75% majority Muslim region to the Indian Union, following invasion by the tribesmen from Pakistan, according to the 1948 Indian White Paper; India accepts the accession, regarding it provisional until such time as the will of the people can be ascertained by a plebiscite, since Kashmir was recognized as a disputed territory.

1948: India takes the Kashmir problem to the United Nations (UN) Security Council on 1 January.

1949: On 17 October, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopts Article 370 of the Constitution, ensuring a special status and internal autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir with Indian jurisdiction in Kashmir limited to the three areas agreed in the IOA, namely, defence, foreign affairs and communications.

1951: First post-independence elections. The UN passes a resolution to the effect that such elections do not substitute a plebiscite, because a plebiscite offers the option of choosing between India and Pakistan.

1953-54: The governments of India and Pakistan agree to appoint a Plebiscite Administrator by the end of April 1954. Abdullah procrastinates in confirming the accession of Kashmir to India. In August 1953, Abdullah is dismissed and arrested. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed is installed in power, who then gets the accession formally ratified in 1954.

1956-1959: On 30 October 1956, the state Constituent Assembly adopts a constitution for the state declaring it an integral part of the Indian Union.

1962: India and China go to war on account of a border dispute in the Ladakh region; At the end of war, China occupies 37,555 sq. kms from Indian held Kashmir at Aksai-chin and Demochok in Ladakh.

In Aug 1965, Pakistan undertakes Operation Gibraltar and sends in a few thousand armed infiltrators across the cease-fire line, and incidents of violence increase in Kashmir valley. A full Indo-Pakistani war breaks out which ends in a ceasefire on 23 September. In January 1966, Tashkent Declaration is signed by both countries agreeing to revert to pre-1965 position, under Russian mediation.

1971: India backs sends troops to East Pakistan to defend its secessionist movement against the repressive Pakistani army. Pakistan launches an attack from the West including Kashmir. India defeats Pakistan and East Pakistan becomes independent Bangladesh. The cease-fire line in Kashmir becomes the ‘Line of Control'(LOC).

1984: Indian and Pakistani armies engage in clashes in Siachen Glacier, a no-man’s land at an altitude of 20,000ft with extreme weather conditions, where the cease-fire line had been left undefined by 1972 Simla Agreement.

1987: Farooq Abdullah wins the elections. The Muslim United Front (MUF) accuses that the elections have been rigged. The MUF candidate Mohammad Yousuf Shah is imprisoned and he would later become Syed Salahuddin, chief of militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahedin.

1988: Protests begin in the Valley along with anti-India demonstrations, followed by police firing and curfew.

1989: Militancy increases with bomb blasts. On 8 December, Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is kidnapped by the JKLF. She is released safely on 13 December in exchange for the release of five JKLF leaders.

1990: In January, Jagmohan is appointed as the Governor. Farooq Abdullah resigns. On 20 January, an estimated 100 people are killed when a large group of unarmed protesters are fired upon by the Indian troops at the Gawakadal bridge.

On March 1, an estimated one million take to the streets and more than forty people are killed in police firing. Massive protest marches by unarmed civilians continue in Srinagar.

The JKLF tries to explain that the killings of Pandits were not communal. The rise of new militant groups, some warnings in anonymous posters and some unexplained killings of innocent members of the community contribute to an atmosphere of insecurity for the Kashmiri Pandits.

Most of the estimated 162,500 Hindus in the Valley, including the entire Kashmiri Pandit community, flee in March.

1991 – 2000: In April 1991, Kashmiris hold anti-Pakistan demonstrations in Srinagar following killing of a JKLF area commander by the Hizb.

JKLF militancy declines. The JKLF faction led by Yasin Malik announces unilateral ceasefire in 1994 and pursues political agenda under the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) umbrella, followed by Amanulla Khan’s JKLF faction’s ceasefire in 1997.

The most serious incident of a communal nature namely the murder of sixteen male Hindus in Kishtwar in August 1993 is condemned by the JKLF and the Hizb. According to official reports, 307 Hindus and 377 Muslims have been killed in the Doda and Rajouri districts as of 1998.

In June 1998 A Farooq Abdullah instituted Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) proposes devolution of political power at regional, district, block and panchayats levels and allocation of funds according to an objective and equitable formula.

In June 2000, the State Autonomy Committee( SAC) Report is discussed and an autonomy resolution is adopted in the J&K Assembly. The SAC Report recommends restoration of Article 370 to pre-1953 status with Indian jurisdiction limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications. The Indian Cabinet rejects the autonomy recommendation in July.

Local Government IV: India’s municipal bodies

13 Apr

Municipal Corporations

Municipal corporations are formed in large urban areas, and usually have one head appointed by the government who is the ‘Commissioner’.  The other head of the municipal corporation is the Mayor, who is elected either directly by the people, or indirectly from among the elected members of the municipal corporation.[i] Though the Mayor is the formal head of the municipal corporation, real administrative authority lies with the Commissioner.  Table below compares the powers of the Mayor in municipal corporations in various states.

Powers of Mayors and Commissioners in Bangalore and Kolkata
Bangalore Kolkata
Mayor Commissioner Mayor Commissioner
Presides over meetings of the corporation. Any power or function vested in the corporation shall be discharged by the commissioner. Presides over meetings of the corporation. Discharge of all duties vested under any applicable law.
General powers of inspection. Discharge of all duties vested under any applicable law. Can give directions for implementing projects he thinks are important. Assign duties and supervise the functioning of all officers and employees.
Can give directions to the Commissioner for the implementation of any decision of the corporation. Power to act in emergencies for public safety or to prevent damage to property. Prepare the annual report and be responsible for the custody of all records of the corporation.
Sources: Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act, 1976; West Bengal Municipal Corporation Act, 2006.

Apart from these two officials, some municipalities also have standing committees which form policies, and direct the functioning of the corporation.  The elected councillors recommend policies to govern the municipal area to the administrative organization led by the Commissioner, and have supervisory as well as financial powers.[ii] These powers are clearly defined by state legislations.  Among these powers are (a) deciding which taxes are to be imposed, and in what proportion, (b) formulating and passing a budget and raise loans if required, (c) formulation of bye-laws relating to water supply, building and construction, public markets, regulation and use of public streets, control and supervision of slaughter houses etc, and (d) preparation of draft development plans.[iii]

Municipal Councils

The governor of a state has the power to notify any area as a smaller urban area for which a municipal council must be set up.[i] Usually, factors such as the population or the economic importance of such an area are considerations for creating a municipal council.  Members of municipal councils are usually elected directly, and the number of members in a particular council is decided in proportion to the population of that area.[ii]The state of Maharashtra for example has created three different categories of councils with fixed number of seats for each category.[iii] Karnataka has also made such a classification.

The head of the municipal council is elected from among the councillors, and is called the President.  Though the president is the elected head similar to a mayor, his powers are much broader.  The president not only presides over all the meetings, he is also required to watch over the financial and executive functioning of the council.  The president is helped in the discharge of his functions by an executive officer usually appointed by the state government.  The powers and functions of municipal councils are almost similar to those of municipal corporations.  Municipal councils may also have to discharge duties under some other acts, which may be specified by the state government.[iv] West Bengal has created a Chairman-in-council for municipal councils, similar to the Mayor-in-council for municipal corporations.

Structure of local governments in other countries

Brazil United States Philippines Malaysia
Constitutional arrangement: Municipal government bodies are independent organs of government. Constitutional arrangement: Largely autonomous and independent municipal bodies exist either on a territorial basis, or are incorporated for specific reasons by the state governments. Constitutional arrangement: The country is divided into a number of provinces (states) and municipalities are subordinate to the provinces.  Apart from this, there are also chartered cities which are not part of any province. Constitutional arrangement: local councils are appointed by the state governments.  Urban local government bodies are divided into city councils and municipalities.
Elections: There is a scheme of separation of powers.  The Mayor is directly elected, and the legislative council elections are held separately. Different models: There are three different models of local government in cities: (a) Mayor-in-Council, (b) the Commission, (c) the City-Manager. Municipalities: Each municipality is headed by a Mayor who is elected directly.  In addition, eight councillors, and presidents of youth councils and local unions form the legislative council. City Councils: Executive power is vested with the Mayor, who is appointed by the state government.
Powers: Municipal bodies share powers regarding health, education, and infrastructure with state governments.

Primary responsibility for pre-school education and urban development plans if the population is greater than 2,00,000

Mayor in Council: The Mayor is elected directly, a legislative council for which elections are held separately.

The Mayor appoints the officials of the departments in the city, and has veto powers in some matters as well.  The Council passes ordinances, decides house-tax rates and allocates money among the departments.

Chartered cities: They are at the same level of government as the municipalities, but are given more subsidies by the central government to fulfill their duties.  They stand on their own and have powers to levy some taxes. Municipalities:Municipalities are led by Presidents who are also appointed by the state governments.  State governments also elect all the councillors.

  1. Primary source of revenue is federal transfers.
  2. Other sources of funding are taxes on industrial production, vehicle and rural property taxes, and short-term loans.
The Commission: Both executive and legislative functions are combined in one group of Commissioners who are directly elected.  Each commissioner supervises the work of one or more departments. Functions: Local branches of government are responsible for public health, sanitation, waste removal, and management.  They also have responsibilities with regard to town planning, and social and economic development.
City manager: A directly elected legislative council appoints a highly trained professional manager to run the administration.  The elected council sets the policies, and the manager implements them.
Sources: Various sources[1].

[1]. “Malaysia’s towns and cities are governed by appointed mayors”,  by Andrew Stevens, at;  “Mayors play the central role in US municipal government”, by Nick Swift, at;  “A country of many governments”, at;  “Brazil’s latest constitution guarantees local government significant autonomy”, by Guy Burton and Andrew Stevens, at government.html;  “State and Local Governments”, at;  “Local government” at

[i]. See for example, Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964.

[ii]. West Bengal also provides for appointment of certain members to the council. Appointed members and elected members are collectively referred to as the Board of Councillors.

[iii]. Maharashtra Municipalities Act, 1965. West Bengal has also done the same under the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993.

[iv]. In Maharashtra, the municipal councils execute the provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

[i]. In Karnataka, the Mayor is elected indirectly from one of the Councillors as per the Municipal Corporations Act, 1976.

[ii]. “Local government in India still carries characteristics of its colonial heritage” by Mayraj Fahim, at

[iii]. Karnataka Municipal corporations Act, 1976, West Bengal Municipal Corporation Act, 2006, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, at

Local Government III: States – Culprits or bystanders?

9 Apr

The Constitution gives the state governments the power to make laws on all matters relating to the local government, the composition and powers of municipal bodies, and other local bodies for the purpose of self-government.[i] All states therefore have legislations setting out in detail the powers and functions of municipal bodies, and other local bodies.

Apart from municipal institutions, there are also a number of other statutory bodies which are set up to administer one particular aspect of urban governance (The Delhi Jal Board for example, looks after the supply and treatment of water within the city of Delhi). Since these specialized bodies also work under the control of the state government, the functions and powers of such bodies (‘parastatals’) and ULBs often overlap, and the state government retains most of the power over urban governance.

State governments also retain control over the finances of the municipal bodies.  Though municipal bodies are expected to raise taxes and duties on their own, the majority of their finances comes from the state government.  One of the principal duties of state governments is however to implement the changes brought about by the 74th Constitutional Amendment.  These changes were to be brought about in the following areas:

Elections to ULBs: State governments are required to form a State Election Commission which would conduct elections for municipalities every five years.  Most states are performing this task as per their obligations.[ii]

Devolution of functional powers to municipalities: The 74th Amendment inserted a list of 18 essential functions  which state governments had to assign to ULBs through enacting new laws or regulations under existing laws.  There are wide variations in the number of functions which ULBs are performing in different states.  Some other functions are being performed exclusively by the state department.[iii] The functions of ULBs in Karnataka, for example, are mentioned in the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964.[iv]

Devolution of financial power: All states were required to grant essential financial powers of raising taxes and collecting duties to ULBs as per the 74th Amendment.  A study of various municipal acts of states shows that ULBs already had the power to levy such taxes. States were also required to set up State Finance Commissions which would allocate funds for rural and urban bodies of local government.  What has been done in this regard by various states is highly questionable.

Next:  Different Types of Urban Local Bodies

[i]. Entry 5 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

[ii]. NIUA report on the Impact of the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act on the working of Urban local Bodies, New Delhi, 2005.

[iii]. NIUA report on the Impact of the Constitution.  The findings are based on a review of some Indian states, but not all.  Karnataka was not among the states reviewed for this purpose.

[iv]. Section 87 of the Act.

Local Government II: Central government and local bodies

8 Apr

The central government does not have a direct role to play in the functioning of municipal bodies.  It however releases funds to state governments annually for urban development.  These funds are released based on the recommendations of the Central Finance Commission’s report.

The central government also has a role in municipal administration by promoting urban development through various schemes.  The Ministry of Urban Development at the centre is the main agency through which these schemes are implemented (See Below).

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)

Sectors under coverage: Water supply, sewage and sanitation, waste management, road network, urban transport, development of bus and truck terminals, storm water drainage, slum area development, street lighting, basic services to the poor, development of inner city areas and heritage sites.

Obligations of state governments: States have some mandatory and some optional obligations relating to legal reform of urban laws, rationalization of stamp duties, making laws for increasing public and community participation.  Municipal level reforms also have to be undertaken.  These include improvement in accounting standards, introduction of e-governance, and provision of basic services for the poor.

How states become eligible for funds: States have to submit a City Development Plan, a Detailed Project Report, and a timeline for Implementation to the central government.

Implementation of projects:

Centre: A National Steering Group frames policies, monitors and reviews progress of various projects.

State: State Level steering Committees are formed, headed by the Chief Minister, and are assisted in monitoring projects by nodal agencies.

Example – The Implementation of JNNURM in Karnataka: A total of 46 projects in various cities have been granted funds by the central government under JNNURM.  Bangalore is one such city where projects under JNNURM are being implemented.  Under the City Development Plan for Bangalore, 35 percent of funds are granted by the central government, 15 percent by the state government, and 50 percent is contributed by the urban bodies in-charge of implementation.  The state government has mentioned in the City Development Plan that the main task of implementation of the projects shall lie with the municipal bodies which are empowered to perform these tasks.

Sources: JNNURM City Development Plan For Bangalore; JNNURM Brochure prepared by the Ministry for Urban Development (GOI)

Erstwhile ‘State’ of Joy

25 Feb

After having spent five years as a student in Kolkata (West Bengal), I revisited the city after a year earlier this month. The difference in perspective as a student and now as an employed professional prompted me to look at the state, and its governance anew.  Given below are some facts and figures I found interesting:

1.  In response to a question in Parliament, it was reported that West bengal is somewhere near the bottom of the pile in rankings on developed on four broad parameters of access,infrastructureteacher related indicators and elementary education outcomes.

2. Though West Bengal introduced radical land reforms in the late 1970s, recent data indicates that the proportion of landless rural households increased from 39.6% in 1987-88 to 49.8% in 1993-94.  In other words, by the end of the decade, nearly half of all rural households in the state were landless.

3. The best features of governance in West Bengal seem to be in the field of decentralization and financial autonomy.  The UNDP report quoted above reports that West Bengal is unique in India in collecting information on areas such as Domestic Product (GDP) on a district-wise basis.

4. Though the overall incidence of poverty has come down in the 1990s, the rate seems to be increasing for agricultural workers.  Nearly half of them remain absolutely poor.

5. About employment: “Employment is one of the most significant issues in terms of the living conditions of the people of West Bengal today.  Quite simply, there are not enough jobs for the people who are willing, or are forced to work.”  The rate of employment generation in terms of total work has been lower than the rate at which population has expanded.  This is remarkable given the fact that West Bengal has one of the slowest population growth rates in the country!!

Should MPs have the job of developing their local area?

5 Feb

Since 1993, Members of Parliament have been given a certain amount of money they can use to recommend works of a developmental nature in their constituency.  The scheme is known as the MP Local Area Development Scheme, or MPLADS. This scheme has become the subject matter of a crucial debate recently.

Initially, all MPs were given 50 lakhs per year.  Since 1998-99 this amount has been extended to Rs. 2 crores.  The main features of this scheme are:

a.  Works, based on locally felt needs are eligible under the scheme, and the role of the MP is recommendatory.

b.   Ideally, Urban Local Bodies (e.g. MCD in Delhi, BMC in Mumbai, KMC in Kolkata) and Panchayats (in rural areas) are expected to carry out the works recommended.

c.  The work should normally be completed in one year.

d.  Such work can also be entrusted to registered trusts and societies if certain conditions are met.

In short, MPs get a sum of Rs. 2 crores every year, in addition to the funds allocated by the government to local departments and municipal bodies, and using such funds, the MPs can recommend developmental activity.  It is seemingly a beneficial scheme.  However, the most important issue arising out of this scheme is:  Is a Member of Parliament even supposed to undertake developmental activities in his constituency? There is also a PIL pending in the Supreme Court on this matter.

MPs are elected to represent the people in Parliament, and debate national issues.  They are expected to frame national policies, and in doing so, represent the views of the people who elected him or her.

The role of developing the local area is of the state government, and therefore, of the MLA.  It is MLAs who represent the people in the state government which actually looks after the development of the state.  It is the state governments who are responsible for planning cities and towns, and for roads and bridges.  They are supposed to ensure proper supply of electricity and water, and so on.

Recently, there has been a growing clamour to increase the amount given under MPLADS from Rs. 2 crore to Rs. 5 crore.  A recent op-ed in the Indian Express also points out that “it has also been rightfully argued that local bodies are in any case better placed to undertake such capital expenditure”.

Interestingly, while the clamour for increasing the money allocated has grown after the 2009 elections, one of the reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission under the current Law Minister Mr. Moily had recommended that MPLADS be scrapped.  In 2005, Mr. Somnath Chatterjee had also stated that:

“The scheme should be scrapped. Note that this scheme was launched immediately after passing the Constitution 73rd Amendment. The game clearly was to sabotage the emergence of panchayats, which were autonomous of the weight-throwing MPs and MLAs.”

Very clearly, it is very controversial whether giving money to MPs which they can throw at their constituents (and occasionally inaugurate roads and bridges built from such funds) actually aids development.  it is more plausible that MPs throw their weight around in front of local authorities, and ensure schemes under MPLADS are given greater priority than government-sponsored schemes for development.

State building in India – I

19 Dec

The re-organisation of states in India may not simply be a question of giving voice to the aspirations of neglected groups within a specific region of the country.  It is also a question of whether such a group will be able to form capable institutions of administration to reap the benefits of statehood.  This is one of the major points of Prof. Mehta’s recent article in the Indian Express.  So on the one hand, while there is a definite case for giving greater regional autonomy to regions which feel they can manage themselves better as independent states, there is also the question of the country as a while assessing whether such a smaller state has the capability to do so.

This is where the central government’s decision to unilaterally concede to the demand for a separate state appears high-handed and arbitrary, and even weak (since they gave in to the demands of a political party which managed just two seats in the last general elections).  It will probably never be known whether the Congress high-command just gave in to blackmail, or whether the decision has been based on a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

What we do know is that even in 2001, the Congress Working Committee was in favour of a separate state of Telengana, and had asked for the creation of a new States Reorganisation Commission to consider the whole issue.  If the ruling party did have an inclination to look at the Telengana issue favourably, why has it failed to constitute a new States Reorganisation Commission so far?  Why could the government not announce the setting up of a States Reorganisation Commission to look into demands for smaller states in a rational and well-thought out manner, instead of conceding to the demand for a smaller state?  Why did it risk throwing its state-party unit into virtual turmoil soon after it had recovered from the unrest created due to YSR’s death?

There is also the justness of the demand to consider:  The first States Reorganisation Commission (1955) had this to say about Telengana:

377. When plans for future development are taken into account, Telangana fears that the claims of this area may not receive adequate consideration in Vishalandhra [Andhra Pradesh]. The Nandikonda and Kushtapuram (Godavari) projects are, for example among the most important which Telangana or the country as a whole has undertaken. Irrigation in the coastal as of these two great rivers is however, also being planned, Telangana. Therefore, does not wish to lose its present independent rights in relation to the utilization of the waters of Krishna and Godavari.

378. One of the principal causes of opposition of Vishalandhra also seems to be the apprehension felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of the coacation is woefully backward. The result is that a lower qualification than in Andstal areas. In the Telangana districts outside the city of Hyderabad, eduhra is accepted for public services The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they enjoy Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately, while Telangana, itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising coastal Andhra.

379. ‘ The Telangana’ it has .further been argued, can be stable and viable, unit considered by itself. The revenue receipts of this area on current account have been estimated at about Rs. 17 crores, and although the financing of the Krishna and Godavari projects will impose a recurring burden on the new State by way of interest charges, the probable deficit, if any is unlikely to be large. In favorable conditions, the revenue budget may even be balanced or indicate a marginal surplus. This fairly optimistic forecast can be explained or justified by a variety of reasons.”

The Committee therefore had focussed on the source and quantum of revenue collection, the capacity of the region to generate revenue, and the apprehensions of the local population.  To put in a nutshell, poorer Andhra would feed off richer but smaller Telengana, and the lack of political space within the state would retard the region’s growth.  For reasons justified or unjustified, these concerns were overlooked, and Telengana has remained a part of greater Andhra for more than five decades.  A new States Reorganisation Commission needs to be setup now, if only to examine whether present agitations  highlight the justification of these concerns, or whether the agitators are merely continuing to voice the same apprehensions which have not borne fruition in Andhra’s history as a state.

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