Author : Ramanath Jha

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jul 13, 2020
The colossal size of Uttar Pradesh is an albatross around its neck

Quick on the heels of the horrific incident in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, (June 2020), another tragic news involving the police From Uttar Pradesh has hit the media headlines. This comes from Bhikru village in the Kanpur district. While the first occurrence reflected alleged police brutality, the second echoed alleged brutality perpetrated on the police by an infamous gangster and his henchmen. Past midnight, on 3 July, more than a dozen policemen went to the village to nab Vikas Dubey, the dreaded gangster, from his village house. However, before the posse could reach its destination, it found an earthmover parked in the middle of the road and darkness in the area as power in the village had been arranged to be temporarily unavailable.

The policemen alighted from their vehicle and were walking towards the house when heavy firing was directed on them from the nearby rooftops. The police found themselves outnumbered, outmaneuvered and outgunned. Eight of them lost their lives and seven were critically injured. The bodies of some of them were hacked with an axe or riddled with bullets and were shot point blank. By the time reinforcements arrived, the gangster and his henchmen had escaped. Expectedly, the police launched a counter-attack. They began by turning Dubey’s village house into rubble, junking his cars parked in the house and the liquidation of some of his henchmen. Finally, eight days later, on the morning of 10 July, Dubey lost his own life while he was being transported to Kanpur from his place of arrest in Madhya Pradesh.

The incident has exposed many myths that the UP administration had attempted to create. Firstly, the open backing given by the state government to police encounters for the elimination of crime in the state appears to have side-stepped the most wanted and high-profile goons. In this case, the criminals were provided information by a mole within the police ranks that policemen were coming to the village to apprehend Dubey. Despite this, the gangsters decided not to disperse. They chose to confront and take on the police. As it played out, they turned the ‘encounter’ on its head and practiced it on the police with complete brazenness and cruelty.

Second, the capacity of the police as a force to fight and control crime, their preparedness for serious combat, their infrastructure and personal gear, the ability to read the opponent’s strategy and respond accordingly – all of them were found seriously wanting. Thirdly, accurate intelligence about this police operation and their movements was available to the gangsters, but the police found no access to information about the level of intent and preparation the criminals had made to take on the police. Preliminary investigations have revealed Dubey’s deep political links and very wide police connections that helped him prosper over several decades.

Dubey’s death has unleashed the usual debate that follows such incidents – on the methods of encounter, the failing criminal justice system, stalled police reforms and political-criminal nexus. These issues are of great relevance. However, till date, major governance and police reforms suggested by a wide array of committees have been ignored at the political level, even for a serious discussion, leave alone implementation. It is now plain that the longer the country turns a blind eye to them, the cited systems will further atrophy and vitiate the lives of millions of citizens.

"Dubey’s death has unleashed the usual debate that follows such incidents – on the methods of encounter, the failing criminal justice system, stalled police reforms and political-criminal nexus. These issues are of great relevance."

A lot of discussion happens in this country on its economy, economic reforms, economic targets and ways of rendering the economy more robust. It would be difficult, however, to imagine that great economic heights in the country can be achieved with sub-standard governance at state and local levels. The criminal justice system and the maintenance of law and order are the very basic functions of a state. These state systems are critically impaired and cast a direct shadow on the economic performance of the state and relay it to the country. In the last crime statistics for 2017, brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), UP was at the top of the violent crime chart and accounted for 20 percent of India’s murders, culpable homicides and dowry deaths. It is easy to see why businessmen would not like to set up industries in the state.

The fact that this is the state of affairs in India’s most populated state and politically the most significant one, should draw greater attention from all stakeholders in the country. The state holds about 17 percent of the country’s population and sends a little more than 15 percent of members of Parliament. A similar state of affairs prevails in Bihar. Together, the two states constitute about 26 percent of India’s population and elect about 23 percent of the members of Parliament.  These states lag behind, not merely in the maintenance of law and order, but also on a wide array of development indicators. In the list of states ranked on the basis of Human Development Index (HDI) for 2018, using UNDP methodology,  Bihar and UP were found at the bottom of the ladder with a score of 0.576 and 0.596 respectively. These development indicators reflect those of sub-Saharan Africa, despite the state being innately blessed with great growth possibilities.

Clearly, the country has not paid sufficient heed on how to bring them on par in terms of development and modernization with the states of the south and the west. It should be apparent that concerted outside effort and investment of time, money and good strategy would be needed to achieve those goals. Sometimes, regions get caught in situations out of which they cannot deliver themselves on their own. It should also be clear to the nation that 26 percent is a very large portion of the country that it can ignore at its own peril. In the absence of such a national resolve, the state will continue to be a serious drag on India’s developmental journey.

It should also be obvious to a bystander that the state is too cumbersome for good governance. Only half a dozen countries exceed its population. It has 75 districts, 18 divisions, 800 blocks, 15 percent of India’s gram panchayats, more than a dozen metropolitan cities and 600 other towns. Since states have huge implementational responsibilities, it is quite impossible to have any reasonable control on what goes on in all parts of the state. “It needs no great administrative acumen to conclude that these are colossal numbers that will not be amenable to be serviced from one secretariat”.

Moreover, the state appears to be an agglomeration of disparate regions with differences of language, culture and customs. Caste plays a huge role in all aspects of life and decision-making. Despite the political dominance that the state has enjoyed at the Centre, that does not seem to have translated into its socio-economic well-being.  The state is beset with massive regional imbalance. It has sub-optimal agricultural and industrial growth and a disappointing education system. It is not able to provide employment to its people. As the COVID19 epidemic and the migrants’ return to their home states showed, UP accounts for the largest migrant population that leaves the state for jobs in other, more developed states.

"The state appears to be an agglomeration of disparate regions with differences of language, culture and customs. Caste plays a huge role in all aspects of life and decision-making."

If one were to begin the process of UP’s salvation, out of the myriad initiatives that would be required, cutting it down to manageable size, one would believe, should be the topmost priority. Clearly, UP’s elephantine size hangs like an albatross around its neck, disallowing it to rise in governance and development. This becomes even more evident when we find that the states that were carved out of larger states into separate entities, have outdone their parent states. Uttarakhand, carved out of UP, now has a per capita income three times higher than its erstwhile parent state. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh seem to have fared better than Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in terms of development since they separated. Good governance demands that a state as large as UP must undergo a well-thought-out division.

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Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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