One of the most cogent factors that led to Telangana’s creation was that a smaller state would be much easier to administer. Carrying this logic forward, about two months ago, Telangana’s chief minister, K. Chandrashekar Rao, announced his plans to break the state into 27 districts saying this would bring governance closer to the people. Not that unusual on the face of it, except that the state currently has only ten districts and creating so many more in one go would be an unprecedented move. Rao said the new districts would become operational by Dussehra.
Unsurprisingly, KCR’s declaration led to intense lobbying and agitations by people living in the areas that were left out of this district expansion exercise. Reacting to the pressure, the headstrong and usually unyielding KCR declared on October 3 that there would be not 27 but 31 districts in Telangana!
“This is a mockery of the system. So many districts are not viable, it is almost like making a tehsil a district!” commented a senior IAS officer from the state on conditions of anonymity. He illustrated his point by saying that the single district of Karimnagar will now be broken into six districts. “It is like having a neighbourhood district,” the IAS officer sneered. The only district that remains untouched is Hyderabad, an urban district. Rangareddy, the Greater Hyderabad district, is being divided into three parts. Many believe that KCR will not stop at 31 districts. “There will be more pressure on him and with his penchant for number nine or its multiples, KCR may stop at 36,” analysts who have watched the chief minister closely say.
The creation of each district costs at least Rs 100 crore, what with new buildings for district headquarters and other new offices besides houses, cars and other infrastructure for the newly-appointed government officials who will administer the district. This adds up to an extra Rs 2700 crore of expenditure for the planned districts. The bigger problem is the lack of officers and cops to fill the new jobs that will be created.
There are merely 129 IAS officers in Telangana. With most of these officers required in the secretariat and another 11 on central deputation, the state government will be hard-pressed to find officers who can be district collectors. To compound the problem, unlike many other states, Telangana does not even have a state administrative service which is a feeder service to the IAS. “By convention only IAS officers either directly recruited or promoted become collectors. Now the state government will be forced to appoint non-cadre officers as collectors. It is like deputy collectors being appointed collectors,” said one of the most senior IAS officers in the state. Having junior officers on the job will severely compromise the quality of administration in the state. The police service will encounter similar problems, what with there being only 99 IPS officers in Telangana cadre, eight of whom are on central deputation.
Apart from being inexperienced, the new district officers will find it difficult to ward off the increasing political pressure on the administration – not only in Telangana but across the nation.
However, many analysts, as well as the BJP in Telangana, believe that KCR is aiming at political dominance through district administration by undertaking this division. “KCR has encouraged large scale defections from other parties like the Telugu Desam Party and the Congress. This has filled the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) with many heavyweights. All of them want a fiefdom. By breaking the state into so many districts, KCR is creating small fiefdoms for his party leaders,” says the BJP’s official spokesman for Telangana, Krishnasagar Rao. In a similar vein, Administrative Staff College of India chairman K. Padmanabhaiah also hinted at the political benefits that could result from this division saying, “More jobs for politicians will be created in all parties because all of them are organised in district units. There will be more district presidents and district secretaries for all parties.”
The existence of so many districts will not only weaken the position of district collectors in state politics but also concentrate power in the state secretariat. Since most ministers are powerless under the KCR regime, this will lead to the chief minister’s office accruing even more power.
In all fairness, the TRS’s manifesto, released before the 2014 elections, had promised the reorganisation of districts, which implied that there would be more districts but nobody expected there to be quite so many of them. However with the creation of more districts the task of district reorganisation will be left incomplete. There will be more district collectors and district SPs but there cannot be more district judges or courts without the high court’s concurrence – and the court is unlikely to clear the proposal mindlessly burdened as it is not with political considerations.
Kingshuk Nag is the former Resident Editor of The Times of India in Hyderabad. He is the author of several books, including one on the making of Telangana.