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Numbers Tell The Story

Our national leadership is constantly advocating 'out of the box solutions' to meet a rising tide of national crises. But it has persistently and obdurately ignored the quotidian and necessary tasks of governance and of maintaining minimum strength and standards in the institutions already 'in the box'. In India today, basic capacities for governance, enterprise and social action have been allowed to decline to such an extent that the most rudimentary tasks of nation-building, indeed, even of administrative maintenance, cannot be executed with a modicum of efficiency.

Ironically, this has happened over decades of a public and media discourse about 'bloated government', 'massive police force', 'gigantic expenditure on the bureaucracy', the need to 'downsize government', and other politically correct slogans based on extraordinary ignorance of fact. A look at the most rudimentary statistics may help pull some heads out of the sand.

After numberless terrorist attacks and years of hammering away at every possible forum with the basic data, India's abysmal police-population ratio appears to have found marginal registration in segments of the leadership, at least at the Centre. The ratio, at 125/1,00,000 in end-2007 (it is expected to have risen significantly thereafter, though nowhere approaching what is necessary) stands against western ratios that range between 200 (Australia: 209) and over 500 (Italy: 556). Western police forces, moreover, have tremendous qualitative advantages in manpower, technology, infrastructure, financial resources and conditions of work, and are rarely required to deal with proxy wars and insurgency.

The police are not the only organisation in crisis. Every government institution in the country has been hollowed out by political incompetence and ignorance. A look at the 'bloated bureaucracy' is instructive. The embedded principle in American democracy is that 'the best government is the least government'. Consequently, the state focuses as exclusively as possible on 'core functions' and minimises engagement in welfare and activities that can be taken over by the private sector. The administrative philosophy in India is the exact opposite, with government's fingers planted firmly in every possible pie.

That is why the ratio of government employees to population in the two countries is the more astonishing: the US federal government has a ratio of 889 employees per 1,00,000; India's Union government has just 295. State and local government employees in the US account for another 6,314 per 100,000; in sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh has 352; Bihar, 472; Orissa, 1,007; Chhattisgarh, 1,067; Maharashtra, 1,223; Punjab, 1,383; Gujarat, 1,694. Worse, in India, the overwhelming proportion of government employees is in the lower cadres, class III and IV, as against the 'thinking' element of the state in higher echelons. Even in the latter category, qualitative profiles, including modern and administrative skills, training and technological competence, are severely limited.

Then, look at the 'second largest army in the world'. At about 1.4 million, the current strength of the armed forces appears large in absolute terms but is utterly inadequate in terms of India's population, territory and strategic projections as an 'emerging global power'. India's ratio of active duty uniformed troops to population works out to about 1:866. China's ratio is 1:591; UK's 1:295; Pakistan's 1:279; the US's 1:187. Again, the Indian armed forces' technological and resource capabilities compare adversely to those of the modernised western powers, and the army is way overstretched in conventional defence and counter-insurgency deployments. It can only be hoped that the navy chief's dark assessment of capacities relative to China will ring a few alarm bells.

Given the magnitude of delays that mar the judicial process, it is not surprising to find this institution is probably the worst off in terms of human assets. India has about 1.2 judges per 1,00,000 population. The Law Commission, in its 120th report, recommended a much-augmented ratio of 5 judges per 1,00,000 - a more than fourfold increase. But even this projected ratio would compare adversely with most countries that could be categorised as reasonably administered. The US has nearly 11 judges per 1,00,000 population; Sweden: 13; China: 17; and, at the top of the scale, Belgium: 23; Germany: 25; and Slovenia: 39!

The obvious 'solution', theoretically, would be to initiate massive recruitment to fill up these deficits. Government revenues have grown tremendously over the past decades, so that seems feasible. But it is here that the system hits a wall. Forget lack of political will, corruption, bureaucratic delays, interminable selection processes or absence of training capacities. India has an abysmal 9 per cent higher education participation rate, lower than the average for Africa at 10 per cent. An overwhelming majority of 'graduates' come out of third-rate institutions and are in fact unemployable, lacking essential language and reasoning skills. For all our boasting about the 'youth bulge', India simply does not have the manpower profile to fuel a modern nation and it will take decades before suitable profiles can be generated to meet the demands of modern governance, commerce and society.

(Published in Times of India, New Delhi, August 18, 2009)





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