Analysis: How Modi’s vision of Cooperative Federalism could be realized?
Intro: The issue comes into fanfare because of the policy paralysis of the Congress led UPA governments in the past in diluting the spirit of cooperative federalism.
The recent parliamentary elections turned out to be a historic one, as for the first time since Independence, a non-Congress party has garnered complete majority on its own standing. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 282 seats has crossed the magical number of 272 and Narendra Modi has been appointed as the Prime Minister of India. In the election Modi wave has destroyed the coalition myth in Indian politics and has left no room for bargaining for the regional parties. But, he has given respectable share to BJP’s pre poll NDA allies by giving a cabinet berth, which has strengthened the confidence of the government and NDA.
The issue comes into fanfare because of the policy paralysis of the Congress led UPA governments in the past in diluting the spirit of cooperative federalism. The BJP has responded to it in a positive sense and wants to fulfill the promises made in the election manifesto 2014, which talked about the team India concept and highlights that “The genuine grievances of every state will be addressed in a comprehensive manner and BJP will place centre – state relations on an even keel through the process of consultation and will strive for harmonious centre-state relations.” The issue was highlighted by President Mukherjee in his address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on June 9, 2014. He said, “The Centre will be an enabler in the rapid progress of states through cooperative federalism.” In his response to the Presidential address Prime Minister Narendra Modi again reiterated the path of cooperative federalism by saying that, “In Gujarat, we always said development of Gujarat for development of India. I have experienced how the requests of the state are not approved for personal reasons. As I believe in cooperative federalism, it is therefore important to work with the states.” In this backdrop, we need to know the concept of cooperative federalism in India.
Dr B. R. Ambedkar, chairman of the drafting committee has stated in the Constituent Assembly about the federal nature of Indian Constitution. He stated: “The basic principle of federation is that the legislative and executive authority is partitioned between the centre and the states not by any law to be made by the centre but by the Constitution itself…..The chief mark of federalism as said lies in the partition of the legislative and executive authority between the centre and the units of the Constitution. This is the principle embodied in Indian Constitution. The states in our Constitution are in no way dependent upon the centre for their legislative authority.” Thus, the federal structure that emerged out of the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly says both governments are independent of each other in legislative matters.
Our Constitution clearly defines the spheres of authority between union and the states to be exercised in the fields assigned to them. The Constitution has made an elaborate distribution of powers between the Union and the States in the areas of legislative, administrative and financial powers. The subject of legislative power has, accordingly, been classified into three lists: Union list, State list and Concurrent List in the seventh schedule of the Constitution. The residuary power of legislation has been vested in Parliament under Article 248. The Union Government has, from time to time, taken steps to look into the contentious issues between the Centre and the States in the areas of distribution of powers.
The main contentious issue between Centre and State relations in India is the demand of more power for the States. It is generally seen that when the governments on both sides (Centre and States) are being led by opposite parties, the tension between both increases, but it stands reduced when the same party or parties rule on both the sides of the spectrum. The failure of the Centre in redressing the regional disparities in the context of allocation of resources, by way of plans, seems to be the important contributor to the growth of a feeling of resentment on the part of the various state governments.
The Constitution has provided only limited institutional arrangements for cooperative federalism. There are separate mechanisms of involvement of states at the national level which can reduce the tension between centre and state. These mechanisms are the activation of the Inter-State Council, role of Planning Commission, National Development Council, role of Finance Commission, Zonal Councils, Inter-state Tribunals and National Water Resources Council and Chief Minister’s conferences. These can enable Centre and States to make a meaningful intervention in national decision-making.
The various reports of the commissions like the Sarkaria Commission, the Rajamannar Commission, and the West Bengal Memorandum on Centre-State relations have given important recommendations for healthy working of federalism in India. The above inter-governmental agencies are an essential mechanism to negotiate, regulate and formulate common policies at least in the policy areas of shared jurisdictions. The agencies have played important role in past and, could play an essential role in the future for the harmonious working of a federal power structure by making successful and effective policies and, by providing a platform to resolve the conflicts among the states by bringing coordination and cooperation.
These inter-governmental institutions have not been adequately utilised by successive governments. However, the past record also shows that these bodies have not given effective representation to the States. In fact, these bodies have functioned almost as an extension of the Union Government or its agencies, with an implied bias in favour of concentrating power at the Centre.
The role of various intergovernmental forums could be very useful in fair implementation of what is stated in the Constitution. The new government thus can more effectively utilise these forums as a bridge between the centre and state. This will be in tune with the spirit of cooperative federalism requiring proper understanding and mutual confidence, and resolution of problems of common interest expeditiously. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a four-time chief minister of Gujarat should revamp the National Development Council as well as re-define the powers of the Planning Commission because these institutions were created by an executive order and has been continuing without any constitutional or statutory backing, but, is playing a significant role in devolution of funds to states without accountability. The Inter-State Council, which was non-functional since UPA came to power, should also be made vibrant and functionally effective.
Being the largest democracy, India is also the largest federal and pluralist country of the world. A strong Centre in India is therefore necessary for strong States and vice versa. This is the essence of cooperative federalism.
Hence, one of the challenges for the Modi government would be, how to best utilise these mechanisms of cooperative federalism to strengthen and promote better coordination and cooperation between the Centre and the States.
No doubt the government has started in pursuance of their vision of realising the cooperative federalism by making the States/Union Territories partners from conceptualisation to implementation of new projects and policies for better results, but, the new Government needs to also evolve appropriate schemes to utilise the full potential of inter governmental mechanism in harmonizing Centre-State relations to meet the changed circumstances.
Dr Vivek Kumar Mishra (The writer is Assistant Professor, School of Law, Justice & Governance, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida)