Monday, August 05, 2013

Why Neither Telangana Nor Andhra Need Hyd As Capital?

By M H Ahssan / INN Bureau

Who should get Hyderabad, and how soon, will become a major bone of contention between the to-be-created state of Telangana and the rump state of Seemandhra left behind after the carve-up.

By suggesting that Hyderabad should be the joint capital of the two states or that it should be given to Telangana after five or 10 years, the centre will only keep the wound festering. If Hyderabad has to go to Telangana, it might as well be given upfront. Seemandhra can then start the process of building its own capital – assuming it needs one at all. This writer believes Seemandhra does not need either Hyderabad or its own capital to flourish.
Consider the case of Chandigarh: it is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, but the issue is still to be sorted out even 45 years after the separation of Haryana from united Punjab. Chandigarh was given to Punjab, but Haryana is due to receive two small bits of Hindi-speaking areas from Punjab in return, and so the stalemate continues.

However, there is another way of looking at the issue. Regardless of who owns Chandigarh, both Punjab and Haryana are doing very well economically. Haryana is one of the fastest-growing states in the union, and Punjab is also doing quite well, thank you.

Did they need a separate capital city to deliver? Do states actually need something called a capital city to function effectively?

Let’s start by asking ourselves what function a capital city actually serves.

First, they house the government and its ministers. Cabinets tend to meet in capital cities. But they can meet elsewhere too.

Second, they house legislatures. Big domed structures give our democracy its decorative talk-shop. But J&K and Maharashtra have legislatures working out of two cities – Srinagar and Jammu in the former case, and Mumbai and Nagpur in the latter case.

Third, capital cities house armies of government officials – the implementation arm of government. From top policemen to bureaucrats to other administrative employees, capital cities are home to the top of the power structure. But does the entire structure need to stay in Mumbai or Kolkata or Chennai?

Ministers may need houses and office rooms for cabinet meetings. That requires a building or two, not a designated capital city.

Legislatures also need a building and a secretariat. That again needs a building. It helps if the legislature is situated next to ministerial offices, since ministers have to be in and out of the place often. But it is not essential. Keeping ministries away from legislatures will ensure that ministers actually take legislative discussions seriously. Now they can disappear and appear as they please.

Government officers – the Director General of Police, the chairpersons of various state corporations, etc, – also need places to work from. But there is no need to think that everybody needs to be in the same place.

How would a corporation, which has to choose between buying expensive real estate in one place and dispersing its officials all over make a decision?

Barring a small headquarters office, it would let its senior managers work from where they are.

Next, for ease of communication, it would connect all offices with a video conferencing capability.

Third, it would ensure that critical staff work where they need to: sales and marketing would work close to customers, manufacturing and supply chain personnel close to suppliers, etc. Putting up everyone in one place has its downside too. Salespeople will be hobnobbing with top management for favours instead of serving customers.

Corporate boards that think about shareholders don’t work on the assumption that they need huge buildings and edifices to make a style and status statement.

So why should governments think they need a capital – with all the trappings of power – to be effective? Should, for example, an agriculture or rural development minister be sitting in Mantralaya or the capital city to do his work? Or should he be working out of an agriculture university campus? Should the industry minister be in Mumbai or where the new industries are coming up? If  a businessman in Mumbai wants to talk to someone in Nagpur, why can’t he do so over video link?

Why does a legislature have to sit in the capital city? If J&K can have legislative sessions in Srinagar and Jammu, and Maharashtra in Mumbai and Nagpur, surely this only shows that legislatures can theoretically be housed in any city of the state?

States need urban development to hitch their growth plans on to, but they don’t necessarily need capital cities. Creating capital cities retards the growth of both cities and state, since money is invested in showpiece projects and creating the paraphernalia of power rather than building the sinews of growth. Mumbai has benefited less from being the capital city of Maharashtra and more from being the centre of commerce and capital. It would be better off if Mantralaya were moved elsewhere – and the city handed over to a CEO to run.

New states ought to set new norms of behaviour where they try to get closer to their people. Focussing on the capital city is a bad place to start thinking about your citizens.

Capital cities militate against the idea of bringing government closer to the people. In fact, we don’t need anything called a capital city. We need cities, we need capital, we need effective administration. We don’t need capital cities.

Hyderabad needs to go to Telangana primarily because it is in the middle of the new state. The city of Hyderabad is also a useful magnet for industry. But that would be the case regardless of whether Hyderabad is the capital of Telangana or an independent city within that state. My bet is that a Hyderabad administered effectively by a sensible city mayor would be more useful to Telangana than as its putative capital.