Bonuses and federalism

I spent a couple of years working for an investment bank, and the way they would distribute (the rather hefty) bonuses in the organization was rather interesting. Each manager in the firm would receive two sums – the first was his own bonus, and the second was the bonus to be distributed among all his subordinates. If any of the said subordinates were managers themselves, they would similarly receive two sums – separately for themselves and for their subordinates.

This is pertinent in relation to the devolution of power between the states and the third level of government. Even though district, taluk and city governments have been empowered by the 73rd and 74th amendments, they don’t have much real power because their finances are controlled by their respective state governments. In banking terms, this is like giving a manager one pot, and asking him to divide it between himself and his subordinates. The incentive is obviously to distribute the minimum amount possible to keep the subordinates happy. And this is exactly what is happening to federalism in India today.

What we need is a strict rule-based formula of distribution of central government revenues between the central governments, states and the next level (rule can be made based on populations, etc.). What we also need is a requirement for states to enact similar rules to divide revenue between states, districts and sub-districts in a rule-based manner. Until this happens, true federalism will remain a pipe dream.

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