One of the points made repeatedly by those in different fields of policy-making is to invest enough to make the Indian state more capable of governing the country properly. This debate also finds some co-relation in the continuous debate in the USA where Democrats make the case for a larger government which regulates greater areas of public life, and Republicans plead for a smaller government which in turn leaves larger areas of social and economic life up to individual discretion.
In India, since no one disputes the need for a welfare state, there is no great debate over having a smaller state or a larger state. However, many scholars keep advocating that India’s government is in fact, way too small to meet the demands of a modern democratic government.
For example, this is what one prominent scholar had to say while closing his article on the recent budget:
“The one neglected area the government ought to focus on is state capacity itself. The biggest challenge for the Indian state is not reducing its size; it is increasing it appropriately. On any qualitative or quantitative measure of state capacity, whether it is the number of judges or the number of government functionaries, the Indian state is relatively small. Its lack of capacity has huge economic and political impact. It reduces its capacity to discharge sovereign functions like law and order and in vast areas it has very little capacity. Contrary to common perception, the single biggest crisis facing the state is not corruption, it is lack of capacity. This is true at virtually all levels of government. It does not often even have the full statistical base in some of the most vital areas of our well being, from health to urban economies, to be able to make intelligent interventions.”
This point of view is interesting to an urban audience which is very strongly grounded in a ‘human rights’ point-of-view, and believes that most expansions of state-power are aimed at regulating individual freedoms and autonomy since they give the government more power to regulate individuals. This is especially true when there is discussion of say, increasing the number of policemen in the country. On that specific issue, there is an article by a noted economist in today’s paper:
“The UN recommends a police/ population ratio of 1:450. This is a figure that floats around and can be traced back to a 2002 UN report on public sector management. Cross-country data on size of police forces seem dodgy. But on one such cross-country list, the size of the Indian police force is given as 1,129,200 in April 2009, which means instead of a ratio of 1:450, we have a ratio of 1:1040. The only other country which performs worse is Iran.”
While it is true that more policemen roughly translates into more uniformed officers to harass individuals who cannot seek effective redressal, the lack of enough policemen in itself gives the existing policemen greater clout because finding one is so rare. Again, some reports, including the government’s own Comptroller and Auditor General has made periodic appraisals about the status of police stations in the country. The picture that comes out is dismal. Too large a number do not have telephone connections, vehicles, new weapons, and so on. This also raises two issues:
One, that some amount of cases where citizens have been turned away by policemen may have been due to lack of capacity to address their problems.
Two, that this lack of infrastructure will remain a perpetual excuse to not address complaints effectively.
Therefore, an increase of the capacity of the state might in some cases, actually result in the betterment of systems deigned to promote individual liberties by ensuring greater and easier access to some of the services every individual needs to enjoy his liberties.