12 December 2017

India Doesn't Have Enough Civil Servants

Lately, there has been renewed interest in India’s lack of state capacity. One hardly need explain the dysfunction arising from this problem to the average Indian citizen. It is as pervasive and embedded as any other social, cultural or economic facet of Indian life. Yet, we continue to chug along and sometimes even manage to surprise ourselves—conducting free and fair elections for hundreds of millions of voters, or providing unique biometric identification to close to a billion people. So, it is not a complete failure.

Lant Pritchett famously labelled India a flailing state—one where “the head, that is the elite institutions at the national (and in some states) level remain sound and functional but that this head is no longer reliably connected via nerves and sinews to its own limbs.” . . .  
Almost all of India’s governance problems can find links to the lack of manpower in state services. India has only 12-15 judges per million compared to the US’ 110 per million. The immediate goal is to reach the law commission’s 50-judges-per-million recommendation. Similarly, India has about 129 policemen per 100,000 citizens—only Uganda fares worse. In order to meet the UN recommended ratio, India is short of half-a-million policemen. The situation for judges and the police also holds true for firemen, traffic police, garbage collectors, inspectors, engineers, bureaucrats, and so on.
From here

The author points to over-criminalization of what should be civil violations and obsolete bureaucracies as potential short term solutions, but I'm skeptical that this will matter much. Many better functioning states also have over-criminalization and obsolete bureaucracies, but fixing these things tends to be a trailing indicator of overall improvement, rather that a first line solution.

The elites may be functional in some respects, but they clearly aren't raising funds for and expending enough money on state administration, and that is quintessentially a problem at the top, and not in the detail.

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