Telangana Chief Minister makes Cornwallis turn in his grave

Kingshuk Nag, a senior journalist has a superb piece in recent EPW.

He says how the decision to open 31 districts in the newly Telangana state has undone many years of history:

Charles Cornwallis, who became commander-in-chief of British India in 1786, was said to have been instrumental in initiating reforms in civil administration and land management practices for the country’s colonial rulers. Lord Cornwallis is today turning in his grave. Two hundred and thirty one years after he brought in the Permanent Settlement in the dominions of the East India Company and set up a new system of administration of India, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has taken it on himself to dismantle the system irreparably. He may not realise what he is doing to an administrative system that has lasted for centuries.

For those who came in late, Cornwallis, with the main objective of collecting of taxes for the rapacious Company, created the concept of a district—a nomenclature for a contiguous piece of land from where taxes could be collected efficiently—and with it, its administrative head, the district collector (DC). Most of the revenue collections would be from taxes on land taxes. Since many farmers could refuse to pay the harsh taxes, especially in times of drought, a law and order machinery was set up under the collector to ensure that nothing went out of hand. Thus came into the being the office of the superintendent of police (SP) reporting directly to the DC who was also the district magistrate. This was the bulwark of the Indian administration system that stood the British in good stead till it left India.

After independence, the system of administration should have changed. But the Republic of India that was the successor state to the British Indian state showed no inclination to upset the system. So the institution of the DC and the SP continued, never mind the fact that land revenue collections started shrinking over the years and the administrative duo had very little to collect in terms of agrarian imposts.

Madness or method behind madness?

Over the last 50 years, more so over the last two decades, competition has intensified among state governments of different political persuasions to provide various benefits, or doles, to people with a clear but unstated objective of creating an enduring political base, sometimes called a “vote bank.” No government in power has been an exception to these trends. But it goes to the credit of India’s newest and 29th state Telangana to refashion an administrative set-up geared to collection of revenues to one whose job is to deliver “goodies” to people.

On the day of Dasehra 2016, Chief Minister KCR—in a sudden and unprecedented move—increased the number of districts in Telangana from 11 to 31 at one go. As he himself stated, the average population of each district would now be a mere five lakh making the administration “compact” enough to deliver “welfare schemes” to the people efficiently. In an exaggerated manner, KCR said that under the new dispensation the collector would know all the people by their names.

Overnight, small towns in Telangana have become districts. One erstwhile district, Karimnagar, has been divided into six districts! Since there are not enough officers belonging to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) to occupy the new collectorates, KCR has decided to post fresh recruits as DCs. In the coming days, non-IAS and non-IPS officers are expected to be posted as DCs and SPs (in bureaucratic parlance, they are termed “non-cadre” officers posted to “cadre” posts).

Some of the newly-appointed collectors and SPs are without offices and homes and are reportedly running around in circles in search of the bare minimum amenities that they require to fulfil their administrative responsibilities. In some places the new appointees have occupied guest houses of state public sector enterprises and some have even commandeered resources from private individuals and firms. In other places, the new officers have occupied living quarters reserved for their juniors leading to a game of musical chairs of sorts.

The head of the Congress party in Telangana, Uttam Reddy has labelled KCR as a modern day Muhammad-bin Tughluq, hinting at the “madness” that has marked the exercise to reorganise districts. Reddy could be wrong. There is a method behind the madness. By making junior officers—many of whom would be non-cadre officers—as collectors, KCR is ensuring that they are pliant and obedient to him. It is well known that junior officers have less spunk to take on ruling party politicians. In the last two years, KCR has stuffed his Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) with defectors of many hues from various opposition parties.

Hmmm..

It is going to be a good natural experiment going ahead. Did this policy move lead to overall improvement in things in Telangana State is going to be an interesting q to answer…

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