Centre State Relations Issues of Past & Present
relations between the centre and states of our time tested and vibrant federal union are in focus for right or wrong reasons for some time. There have been occasions in the past, when such a issue was debated both in public domain and media owing to some judicial pronouncements. The most notable development has been and probably will be on account of imposition of the President’s rule in the states in pursuance of Article 356 of the Constitution.
Before underlining the matter, if not highlighting the same, it is considered desirable to pinpoint the following characteristic features of our federal setup which has drawn our attention:
First and foremost, there can be and there has been change in the basic nomenclature as well as structure of the States and Union Territories,
Fellow citizens are being reminded and educated about the way the constitution was drafted and the difficulties faced in reorganization of the States.
Role of Governors is always hotly debated. Rather, from many quarters there have been consistent and effective demand for abolition of the post per se,
As a consequence of replacement of Planning Commission by the NITI Aayog – nothing has been heard about annual sectoral plans of the latter. It has been felt that the erstwhile working group meetings followed by C.M. Deputy Chairman level discussions were sensible and more productive. Annual allocations in one go preceded by expenditure and resource mobilization review enabled the States to plan and implement better rather than waiting for installment of funds from the Ministry of Finance supposedly on a quarterly basis.
Three Commissions set up since independence on the subject of Centre-State relations have not produced the desired results. Rather, many recommendations of the most exhaustive of them, i.e. Sarkaria Commission is still under examination even though report of the next Commission i.e. Punchi Commission has been accepted by the Government.
Open defiance of the centre in general and the institution of Prime Minister in particular by some Chief Ministers has been a matter of serious concern. It keeps on surfacing every now and then.
In addition, the issues of confrontation between the centre and the states could be subsumed under the following:
Sharing of Central Revenue – references are made for the ‘rightful’ share even by the non-viable States who hardly make any contribution to the Central kitty,
Demands from time to time for autonomy of States,
Special status to those States which have been ‘affected’ by bifurcation or reorganization,
Demand for more central share in respect of some important central schemes to mainline states on the pattern of North Eastern or Special Category States,
Gradual non-holding of NDC, Inter-State Council and Zonal Council meetings,
Non convening of the joint conference of the Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries and the DGPs,
Withering away of the conference of the Chief Secretaries. Annual DGPs conference, however, is still a live affair,
Non convening of NEC meetings on an annual basis. If convened, approach continuous to be somewhat casual with insufficient fund allocation and change of parameters without showing regional concerns,
Legislative relations between Centre and the States; Passing of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) , controversy concerning National Register for Citizens and National Population Register – it is widely known that Articles 245 to 255 of the Constitution State that the Parliament can make law for the whole of or any part of India while State Assemblies can do so for whole or any part of a State. A proposal after weighing pros- and-cons and comment of various Departments and Ministries or may be, experts is introduced by the concerned Minister in form of a Bill. After extensive discussions, either the bill is referred to a Select Committee or put on vote subsequent to private or official amendments. Once a bill is passed in lower house, same goes to upper house for their consent. Following that, it goes to President or Governor as the case may be, for his/her assent. The bill can be returned to the government once or twice but thereafter, same is binding on the President or the Governor. In the event a Bill takes the shape of an Act, the concerned department frames the rules for implementation of the proposal. Depending upon significance of the subject of citizenship or sensitivity or implication of the issue, it may be pertinent not to rush through even if the concerned ruling party enjoys brute majority, In the same way, the proposal relating to Article 356 should be passed by the full Cabinet and not by Cabinet by circulation or endorsement or confirmation of the decision of the Prime Minster by the cabinet members later.
All India Services – In respect of AIS with regard to their postings and prosecution, occasional hiccups emerge especially between West-Bengal and the North-Eastern States on the one hand and the Centre on the other.
To sum up, much water has flown down the rivers of the country ever since CAA became a legal reality. Even though procedure wise it may be correct and same may be in tune with the relevant provisions of the constitution, it may be perhaps for the first time that a nationwide movement has not only been launched but same is still being sustained in some quarters. As many as six States have openly opposed and five have passed resolutions against it. It is also for the first time that public opinion on the subject is being vociferously sought by the Union Ministers on an Act. The government of the day perhaps could have exercised the options of either Plebiscite or Referendum on such an important and pending national issue. Also it is not in fitness of things to pinpoint a community or two even if a major community has not been named. Arguments regarding ‘inclusion’ at such a late stage may not bear fruit. The issue should be taken up State-wise as in the case of Assam.
Lack of consensus so far gives rise to genuine suspicion on the part of some communities in a hugely successful socialistic and secular set up, such as India. Sitting across the table with a cool bent of mind could lead to a possible and workable solution. If this does not happen, the apex court may carry out its own interpretation or the ruling party may have to come up with an amended version. It is better to be late than never.
By Alok k. Shrivastava
(An IAS officer, the author is a former chief secretary, sikkim)