Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Cooperative Federalism in the Time of Covid-19


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: National Plan under DMA 2005

Mains level: Paper 2- Cooperative federalism amid Covid-19.

Federalism is part of Basic Structure (Doctrine) of the Constitution. The article is about the lack of cooperative federalism in some of the Central Government’s actions in its fight against the corona crisis. What are those actions? Read to know…

Opinion of political thinkers on federalism in India

  • K.C. Wheare notes, federalism traditionally signifies the independence of the Union and State governments of a country, in their own spheres.
  • The members of India’s Constituent Assembly carefully studied the Constitutions of other great federations like the US, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.
  • However, they adopted a ‘pick and choose’ policy to formulate a system suited uniquely to the Republic’s need.
  • As a result, India’s Constituent Assembly became the first-ever constituent body in the world to embrace what H. Birch and others have referred to as ‘cooperative federalism’.
  • ‘Cooperative federalism’ is administrative cooperation between the Centre and the States, and a partial dependence of the States upon payments from the Centre.
  • Accordingly, Indian constitutional law expert Granville Austin remarks that despite a strong Centre, cooperative federalism doesn’t necessarily result in weaker States.
  • He also said that the progress of the Republic rests upon active cooperation between the two.

Lack of consultation with States under DMA 2005

  • The zone classifications into ‘red’ and ‘orange’ has evoked sharp criticisms from several States.
  • The States have demanded more autonomy in making such classifications.
  • The Disaster Management Act of 2005 under which binding COVID-19 guidelines are being issued by the Centre to the States mandates consultation with the States.
  • The Act envisages the creation of a ‘National Plan’ under Section 11, as well as issuance of binding guidelines by the Centre to States under Section 6(2), in furtherance of the ‘National Plan’.
  • The ‘National Plan’ then is a broader vision document while the binding guidelines are its enforcement mechanism.
  • Now, Section 11(2) of the Act mandates State consultations before formulating a ‘National Plan’.
  • And when such binding guidelines are ultimately issued under it, they are expected to represent the views of the States.
  • However, the Centre has not formulated the ‘National Plan’, and has chosen instead to respond to COVID-19 through ad hoc binding guidelines issued to States.
  • Such guidelines thereby circumvent the legislative mandate of State consultations.
  • This selective application of the Act serves to concentrate all decision-making powers with the Centre.

Lack of funds

  • The Centre has declared that corporations donating to PM-CARES can avail CSR exemptions, but those donating towards any Chief Minister’s Relief Fund cannot.
  • This directly disincentivises donations to any Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
  • And diverts crores in potential State revenues to PM-CARES; and makes the States largely dependent upon the Centre.
  • Further, the revenue streams of several States have dried up because of the liquor sale ban; negligible sale of petrol/diesel; no land dealings and registration of agreements.
  • States’ GST collections have also been severely affected with their dues still not disbursed by the Centre.
  • All this has made it difficult for States to defray expenses of salaries, pensions and welfare schemes.
  • As it is the States which act as first responders to the pandemic, supplying them with adequate funds becomes a pre-requisite in effectively tackling the crisis.
  • This requires the Centre to view the States as equals, and strengthen their capabilities, instead of increasing their dependence upon itself.

Consider the question-“Cooperative federalism is the key in the country’s fight against the corona pandemic. Critically examine.”


Keeping the spirit of cooperative federalism alive whether in consultation with the States or taking care of their finances is essential as the country is fighting the pandemic. The Centre must realise that we have the best chance of winning the war against pandemic when we are united.

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