Town Planning and Public Administration - Arthashastra

Background of Kautilya’s Arthashastra
Kautilya (also known as Chanakya  and Vishnugupta) has done a massive contribution to humanity through his famous  work named Kautilya’s Arthashastra written in 350 BC i.e. nearly 2400 years ago.  He is well known as a strategist, and expert in political science, Law and  order, crime detection, town planning as well as good governance.

This book’s principles and  strategies were studied, applied and practiced by rulers for many centuries  namely Chandragupta Maurya, Emperor Ashoka, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj amongst  others.

The following paper throws light on  a few areas of Town Planning, public facilities, maintenance of Law and order and  as it is applicable in today’s world.
The central theme of Kautilya’s  Arthashastra is:

“Prajasukhe Sukham Raja, Prajacha  Hite Hitam..”

“In the happiness of the subjects  lies the benefit of the king and in what is beneficial to the subjects is his  own benefit” – (1.19.34)

Kautilya believed that good  governance comes from understanding the benefit of the citizens. Even kings are  adviced to take into consideration this aspect before they get into any  decision making process. In the well being of its citizens and in their  happiness lies the benefit and the happiness of the ruler, advices Kautilya.

Find below a few areas which may  be beneficial to NGOs, social workers, public servants and decision makers.

Kautilya visualizes the expansion  of the state into new settlements and makes provisions to help them settle in  new places and also financially help them with facilities for easy payments.

“He (the king/ruler) should favour them with grains, cattle and money.  These they should pay back afterwards at their convenience” (2.1.13-14)

Application in today’s scenario
Today every town is getting over  crowded due to rapid population growth. The government should make policies and  strategies either to encourage reverse migration to villages or look out for  new land where the population can stay rather than getting concentrated in one  place. In order to encourage them, they should be provided with the basic raw  materials needed to start new industries which should be given at low interest  rates, tax benefits and easy repayment schemes.

Water is life. All living  creatures depend on water. Hence settlement of people is directly connected  with the availability of water. Hence Kautilya recommends,

“Storage reservoirs were to be built using natural springs or water  brought from elsewhere” (2.1.20)

Application in today’s scenario
Wastage of water should be  totally prevented. Schemes like Rain water harvesting, building of public water  reservoirs should be implemented. Especially in the rainy season plans should  be made at local level to store water for the whole year. The public should be  made aware of the need of controlling water wastage.

Roads are the lifeline of any nation.  Building of roads, connecting the same to the remotest corner and also  maintaining its beauty is of prime importance to Kautilya.

“The king was also to help people volunteering to build reservoirs by  giving them land, building roads, or by giving them grants timber and other  implements (2..1.21)

The king was also supposed to  directly help the people to get better connectivity by providing them required  raw materials used for this particular purpose.

Application in today’s scenario
The government should give  emphasis on building and maintaining good roads. We see that this public  property is being misused by hawkers in a big way. Local authorities have to  take strict action against such persons. The public support also has to be  taken for this purpose.

  Kautilya specifically states that  people shall obey the orders of anyone who brings about an activity in which  there lies everyone benefit. Good local leaders who voluntarily bring out new  projects and initiatives have to be encouraged. And pubic should obey the words  of such leaders who work for the benefit of all.

“They shall obey the orders of one who proposes what is beneficial to  all” (3.10.39)

Application in today’s scenario
We find that the local leaders,  especially the youth, are very conscious of their commitment to preservation of  public places and utilities. Youngsters should be encouraged to take active  interest in such work. Instead of discouraging them they should be encouraged  by giving training and necessary powers to take corrective actions at the local  level. More and more volunteers should be called forward to take such  initiatives under the guidance of able local leaders.

Consumer protection is another  area which receives elaborate treatment from Kautilya. Black marketing,  adulteration, manipulation in selling goods is highly discouraged. Preventive  actions need to be taken.

“The king should prevent thieves and thieves such as traders, artisans,  actors, mendicants, jugglers and other from oppressing the country” (4.1.65)

“Fine is prescribed for cheating the consumer” (4.1.28)

Application in today’s scenario
Direct thieves (who conduct  robbery) and indirect thieves like traders (who sell goods above the prescribed  MRP), artisans (who over charge the customers), mendicants (who cheat the  public in name of superstition); jugglers (gamblers) should be discouraged.  Usually these kinds of people have a direct or indirect connection with the  enemies of the nation. This will finally lead to the loss for the country.  Hence strict action should be taken against them.

Crisis management is another area  in which we find Kautilya was a master mind especially during the natural  calamities.

“Distribution of food at concessional rate to public, seeking the help  of friendly kings, shifting the people to neighborhood, migration and  additional cultivation of coping with the emergency” (4.3.17-20)

Application in today’s scenario
Whenever any natural calamity  (like floods, earthquakes etc) occurs immediately everyone has to get into  action. Support from neighboring places should be asked. If necessary shifting  of the public should also be done in order to get quicker relief work done.

A lot of emphasis has been laid  down to provide and protect pubic amenities in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

“Shades, courtyards, latrines, fire places, places for pounding grain  and open spaces were to be used as common properties” (3.8.28)

Application in today’s scenario
The common public needs to be  provided with public amenities and facilities like shades, natural  surroundings, latrines, warm places and open areas like playground and gardens  in order to have better health and hygienic conditions for the welfare of one  and all.
Kautilya explicitly states that a  king should be accessible to his petitioners and should not make-them wait at  the door for the redressal of their genuine grievances.

“He (leader) should allow unrestricted entrance to those wishing to see  him in connection with their affairs” (1.19.26)

Application in today’s scenario
Government servants, Public  administrators need to have an open door policy. Many key decisions get delayed  either due to wrong or due to lack of information. This can be solved by letting  people come and express their problems directly to the concerned authorities. Moreover  it will help people to feel more safe and comfortable while dealing with  government officials.

  No rule can be fully beneficial  if regular inspections are not conducted and reports are not been monitored.  Hence Kautilya suggests that,

“He (leader) should constantly hold an inspection of their works, men  being inconstant in their minds” (2.9.2-3)

Application in today’s scenario
It is quite natural for a person  to slip into complacency if the boss does not take regular inspection. Over a  period of time the work is taken for granted. Hence strict daily and hourly  productivity records have to be maintained. A good MIS (Management information  system) has to be produced. Only then can we have an efficient system.

Another name of Kautilya’s  Arthashastra is Dandaniti, meaning  the book on the - Art of Punishment.

“If the rod is not used at all the stronger swallows the weak in the  absence of the wielder of the Rod” (1.4.13-14)

“The king severe with rod (punishment) becomes a terror. A king with  mild rod is despised. The king just with the rod is honored” (1.4.8-10)

Application in today’s scenario
If strict action is not taken the  law of the jungle will prevail in any place. However the leader should not  become a terror with his punishment. At the same time he should not become too  soft. The punishment should be just and balanced. Such a punishment and  punisher is always respected. Only if punishment is carried out will there be seriousness  in the work. If not slowly corruption will set into the whole system.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra is one  book that is applicable even in today’s world. The principles in the book are  eternal. Our country can once again use this text as a roadmap to rebuild a  model town which is the dream of every citizen by providing them the basic  necessity of life. This should be supported by an effective Law and order machinery.  It will help each individual to feel safe, secure and also contribute to the  nation building process.

1.   Kautilya’s Arthashastra by R.P. Kangle  published by Motilal Banarasidas
2. Common public facilities envisaged in Arthashastra : C Rajendran (Paper presented at the seminar organised in Pune, by Sahitya Akademi in Collaboration with Centre of Advanced study in Sanskrit University of Pune 29-31st jan 1996)
3. Corporate Chanakya by Radhakrishnan Pillai, Published by Jaico.

About the Author
Radhakrishnan Pillai is an expert  on Kautilya’s Arthashastra. He has done an extensive research on this book. He  is the founder director of Chanakya Institute of Public leadership (CIPL) a  part of Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai. He is a leading  consultant to some of the top companies in India. He can be contacted on or +91-9820374796.

Also read:
1. Corporate Chanakya
2. Life of Chanakya
3. Arthashastra: Its Contemporary Relevance
4. Arthashastra Lessons for Management Theory
5. Traditional forms of Water Harvesting

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