Wednesday, 28 February 2018

India needs well-governed and managed states

Dr.  Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst

Forum for population Action

India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well-governed and managed states. Thus, the demand for newer administrative units will be a continuous one, seeking to bring distant provincial governments in remote capitals closer to the people.

Quartz India



There is a widespread perception that splitting super states into smaller ones will improve administration and governance by bringing power centres closer to the people. [1] Is it time to restructure India into smaller states? The post aims in this direction.


There are 29 states in India. Their populations range massively in size – the largest, Uttar Pradesh, holds around   200 million people, the smallest, Sikkim, just over half a million. About half of the country's population lives in five States, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in 2011; and ten most populated states or super states of India contribute more than three- fourth of India's population (Table 1). 

India's largest state is Uttar Pradesh which, with a population of 199,812,341 in 2011, is larger than most countries in the world. If it were a country in its own right, it would be the sixth largest in the world in 2011, falling just behind China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil. Two other Indian states are home to more than 100 million people - Maharashtra ( 112.4m) and Bihar (104.1m).

Whether level of socio-economic development is affected by the size of an administrative unit? As per the Rajan Panel Report, around 50 per cent of total population of India is residing in the least developed states after 60 years of the planned development.  And most of these states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - are very large containing around two-fifth  of total population in 2011.  [2]  So what kind of achievement did we achieve?

Table 1: Ten most populous states of India in 2011 and ranked if they are a separate country in the world and projected population in 2051



Ten most populous states in 2011

Projected population  in 2051

 in million

(% of total


Total population in million

(% of total population)

Number of children per woman (Total Fertility Rate)

Ranking in the world as if a separate country








Uttar Pradesh





(After Brazil)




















West Bengal








Andhra Pradesh*








Madhya Pradesh







Tamil Nadu






























(After Italy)



Sub total














* The united Andhra Pradesh was divided into two states – Andhra Pradesh (Population 49.4 million in 2011) and Telangana (35. 2 million) – on June 2, 2014.

Source: Census of India 2011; U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base; and Projected figures from: The Future Population of India, Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau, New Delhi.

The truth is that states in India were formed on no real and common basis, as argued by Mohan Guruswamy. There are different reasons applicable for different states. The northeastern states were formed to suit certain tribal aspirations. Goa had its own historical antecedents. Punjab was formed to accommodate the religious sentiments of the Sikhs with the Punjabi language serving as a convenient fig leaf for it. Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were formed for another reason (that is political), which hardly makes any sense. The four southern States were formed for linguistic reasons, just as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and West Bengal were. But now there is demand for separate states among these States. The Government of India has 10 applications for the creation of new states including a separate Vidharba in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Mithilanchal in Bihar, Bhojpur in Bihar and UP, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and Coorg in Karnataka, and Gorkhaland and Cooch Behar in West Bengal, etc.  It means dividing country alone on the linguistic lines in 1956 was not a valid reason.  [3]

While drawing the boundaries of the states, topography was not taken into account. The difference of topography of existing states is huge - and thereby the differences in culture and economy for a state to be ruled from one Capital. Maharashtra is a case in point. Whilst Konkan is water rich with coconut and fish important ingredients in the food - and one can see the effect a humid environment on clothing. Marathwada & Vidarbha on the other hands are dryer and aridest comparably. And all of them are ruled from Mumbai - at the very fast west end. 

Further, Uttar Pradesh is a classic example of how small states make better sense in a democracy. It is the most crowded state in India and additionally the most populated nation subdivision on the planet. Physically, too, it is very big. In a democracy, a dialogue between the ruler and the ruled is absolutely necessary. That is completely out of the question in a state the size of UP. The districts in western Uttar Pradesh, where people are  demanding a separate Harit Pradesh, represent a totally different lifestyle, culture and even language as compared to that of, say, Bundelkhand or eastern UP on the other side of the state. That is another aspect of the problem of size. [4]

In contrast, people of Haryana, which was carved out of Punjab, can go to the capital to air their grievances or get their problems heard in the secretariat and return home by evening, whichever part of the state they are in. But if a citizen in western UP were to be heard in any of the state commissions or courts, he has to travel over 600 km to Lucknow, spending large amounts of money in an attempt to get justice.

In addition, the large states are also most unmanageable states due its population size. Sometime in the late nineties, I was discussing the population issue faced by the state with officials in the Chamber of the Chief Secretary; I was shocked to learn that there was an utter confusion about the exact number of districts of the State let aside their names.

India does need a lot more states to be able to have better governance in many parts. UP can be divided at least into 4 or 5 parts. States like Maharastra   & Bihar and Madhya Pradesh can be divided into 2 to 3 parts each. West Bengal, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat to at least 2 part each.

The Government of India must, therefore, constitute the second States Reorganisation Commission to redrawn the internal map of India.  While India's internal map may not soon start looking like the pre-independence jigsaw puzzle presented by the myriad provinces and kingdoms, the world's largest democracy could add a few more States if it takes its cue from the world's oldest democracy - USA. The 50 States the US has for its population of 300 million is almost double the number of states India has for its 1300 million-plus people. I think that the era of large ungovernable States is past. 

The population of India is projected to increase from 1210 million in 2011 to 1750 million in 2051, as per Population Reference Bureau (Table 1) that is in the next thirty two years – an increase by 540 million. As a consequence, the total population of 10 most populous or super-states of India will increase from 927 million to 1366 million. And this fact must be kept in mind while redrawing the map of Indian Union.  As such, division of existing super states is must. For governance and socio-economic reasons, the total population of to be carved out smaller States should not exceed more than 50 million each with administrative friendly inter-state boundaries not like existing boundaries in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan.

Further, India has become a very youthful country with 70 per cent of its people below the age of 35, of whom about 350 million are below the age of 15. Clearly, the task of government is not only much more enormous, but also much more complex when the rising expectations, impact of new technologies and demographic changes are factored in. Our record so far is a cause for great concern, and is a severe indictment of the failure of the system of governance in India.

In the end, I will like to quote the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission, 1955: ”manageable states are a must if we have to keep the republic healthy and strong”.

[1] Kothari, Devendra. 2011.  “India’s quest for smaller states and development”, blog Population and Development in India at: .

[2] Kothari, Devendra. 2013. “Rajan panel report on backwardness of States of India”, Population and Development in India at

[3] Guruswamy, Mohan. 2006. India: Issues in Development, Hope India Publications, Gurgoan (see chapter “Small States and Better Government”).