Ourview | The anatomy of failures

Ourview | The anatomy of failures

In an interview to Mint, Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh highlighted something interesting: His ministry has money and ideas, but it is the state governments that have to implement the plans. They are the weak link in the chain of putting developmental schemes into practice.

What he said is true: There is, after all, no such thing as a “Centre". All Indians live in states. Yet, it is curious that any mention of reforms almost always bypasses the states. It is assumed as if everything can be done at the Centre and all will be well.

Today, any roll call of the many failures of governance will show how far state governments are responsible for the mess. From tackling Left extremism to the serious leakages in programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and much more, the responsibility for failure lies with the state governments.

There are two, linked, reasons for this. At one level, the fiscal crisis in the states is far more acute than at the Union government level. The ability of the Union government to borrow its way out or find other ways is much greater than that of the states. Conversely, the elbow room that states have is exceptionally limited. Facts speak for themselves. On average, the outstanding liabilities of a state government are close to 23% of its gross state domestic product. The average state spends around 30% of its revenue on wages and salaries. Spending on education, health and welfare is, well, paltry.

This brings us to the second reason for failure: The capacity of state governments to effect meaningful outcomes is extremely limited. They hardly spend any money on capacity building. Forget more specialized functions such as building development plans and putting them into action, even basic tasks—for example, managing a flood situation —are often beyond their reach.

It is hardly surprising then that the programmes controlled by Ramesh’s ministry have had indifferent success. The blame for that partially, at least, lies elsewhere.

Those who designed these programmes certainly deserve blame for they could not estimate or imagine the abilities of state governments.

India’s developmental failures: Who is to be blamed, states or the Centre? Tell us at views@livemint.com