Activate cooperative federalism

Instead of concentrating powers with the Central government, decentralise and empower States to enable good governance

By Author Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao   |   Published: 28th Nov 2017   12:00 am Updated: 28th Nov 2017   2:19 am

DMK leader MK Stalin applauding Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao’s efforts to uphold social justice with reference to increasing percentage of reservations to SC, ST and minorities and for calling a procession at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar demanding such right to the States followed by a phone call from KCR to Stalin thanking him will unveil a new chapter in the Centre-State relations and cooperative federalism in the country.

India is the world’s largest democracy with a federal structure and is supposed to accommodate numerous facets of country’s political system with great flexibility within the broad framework of cooperative federalism. Whether this is happening in letter and spirit is a million-dollar question.

Defending States’ Role

The Chief Minister while participating in the world economic meet in China two years ago strongly defended the federal structure of India. He said that States have a major role to play and realising this aspect, the Government of India has delegated more powers and funds to the States. In place of the earlier Planning Commission, NITI Aayog — consisting of all the Chief Ministers with Prime Minister as its Chairman — came into existence, referred to as Team India. Thus, all the members together need to plan the development of the country and the States.

This month, KCR while participating in a discussion on minorities’ welfare in the Legislative Assembly, however, reiterated that it was time the Centre reviewed its stand on accommodating States’ requirements. He said that for taking forward the country in an integrated manner, the Government of India must transfer to the States several of the schemes and subjects that are under its hold. Peoples’ desires, ambitions and demands are on the increase and, therefore, he called for more decentralisation.

Keeping in view the social backwardness, the percentage of reservations in the State to minorities, STs and SCs must be enhanced, he said. The Union government should either accept this decision and include it in the 9th Schedule or reject it so that the doors of the Supreme Court could be knocked. The Chief Minister also hinted at agitation in the ensuing Parliament session by his MPs to secure their demand.

Towards Unitary Features

Against this background, there is a need for a fresh look at the conceptual evolution of cooperative federalism in India and pass its inoperative nature in several contexts.

The Constitution creates a Central government, which can move either on the federal or on the unitary plane, depending on the situation. Over a period, because of diverse political features in our country, it looks like we are moving towards strong unitary features instead of liberal cooperative federalism despite the NITI Aayog.

For instance, the Industrial Policy of Telangana, the youngest State, needs cheer from the Centre. The two-bedroom house scheme for the vulnerable and disadvantaged community needs full support from the Government of India in all aspects, including liberal funding. The Telangana government is spending a lot of money on providing drinking water. It spends huge funds on irrigation projects and is implementing a plethora of welfare measures. None of these gets the support the way it is expected from the federal-structured government.

Historical Roots

Cooperative federalism has historical roots. During the days of kingdoms, we practised federal policies with non-intervention in local affairs. Even the British government was only regulating the work of East India Company but did not intervene in its powers. The Government of India Act 1919 also provided for a federal India called the dyarchy. Jawaharlal Nehru’s philosophy was ‘cooperation and consultation with the States’. The Princely States joining the Indian Union was with the spirit of cooperative federalism.

For nearly the first two decades it was a Central rule as the Indian National Congress was ruling in the Centre and in almost all the States. With non-Congress governments coming to power in States later, the shift was slightly towards more federalism. This shift was more visible when non-Congress and coalition governments came on the scene both at the Centre and the States, but it did not continue with the same spirit for long.

Many of the Union and Concurrent list subjects continue to dominate the polity of India. If corrective measures are not initiated, cooperative federalism will turn into confrontation structure with States demanding more and more decentralised powers.

The Three Lists

The Constitution has three lists, namely Union List, State List and Concurrent List. In effect, residual powers remain with the Union Government. The Union List has 100 items given in Seventh Schedule in the Constitution on which Parliament has exclusive power to legislate. These include among others; Defence of India; Foreign Affairs; Citizenship; Railways; National Highways and any other thing not listed on State list and Concurrent list.

The State list has 61 items. Notwithstanding all this big list, none of the laws that are made by the Legislature of a State is valid if they are unacceptable to Parliament and for which Parliament is competent to enact. However, if the law made by the Legislature of a State is connected to the Concurrent List and has received President’s assent, then it will prevail in that State. The State list among others consists of police; prisons; local government; public health; liquors and electricity. The Concurrent list has 52 items, which include criminal law; criminal procedure; preventive detention; civil procedure; drugs and poisons.

The term ‘Federation’ has nowhere been used in the Constitution. However, in India, it contains all the usual features of a federation, namely, two governments, division of powers, written Constitution, supremacy of Constitution, rigidity of Constitution, independent judiciary and bicameralism. Despite all this, India is described as a Union of States though it is federal in form and unitary in spirit.

For planning and implementing centrally-assisted schemes such the National Social Assistance Programme; Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme; Umbrella Schemes for Development of SCs, STs, Minorities and Other Vulnerable Groups; Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, National Rural Drinking Water Mission; National Health Mission; National Education Mission; powers could as well be delegated to the States. When this is done, the implementation will be more scientific as the States know the exact requirement of their people. This is the real spirit of cooperative federalism as propounded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first speech at the NITI Aayog.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)