- Describe Indian Constituton nature.
- In that context give instances of centralising tendencies and recent events.
- Suggest how it threatens federalism in India.
- Mention some way forward to maintain federalism and its spirit alive.
India is termed as a union of states since independence but in the recent times there have been protests and demands by the states for greater autonomy. The Indian Constitution is a constitution sui generis. On one hand, the constitution contains features which are of high importance for a federal arrangement, at the same time it contains provisions which fight for a strong Centre, thus making it quasi-federal in nature. The fact to be appreciated here is that these dual federalism provisions were deliberately incorporated to best fit a polyglot country like India.
Federalism and Indian Constitution:
Article 1 of the Constitution of India states India as the Union of India. The states in India were an integral part of British India and its periphery and as such became an indivisible part of the said Union.
There is ‘one nation and one citizenship’ adopted in independent India and the nation’s integration have been made paramount.
The Constitution, however, provides states with limited sovereignty for establishing a quasi-federal structure for the country.
It did not intend to make India a unitary country with states functioning as municipalities and their survival dependent on the whims and fancies of the Union Government.
The functioning of the Indian Constitution over the past 66 years doesn’t establish a de facto unitary state.
It is a fact that federalism has been going deep in India in tandem with global trends.
The provisions like a separate state list in the constitution, a second chamber for representation of units at the centre, NITI Aayog, inter-state councils, zonally councils and substantial devolution of funds for the states through various ways ensure required sovereignty to states to function as an independent entity within a federal set-up.
Increasing Centralizing Tendencies in Recent Times:-
The units of Indian federation have undergone multiple transformations since 1947. This is because Article 3 of the Constitution empowers Parliament to create new States. Such a provision can be seen as giving the Union too much power, it has arguably been central to holding India together since it allows the federation to evolve and respond to sub-national aspirations.
Any serious political movement around federalism should question the necessity of retaining such constitutional provisions which are vestiges of colonial rule.
While the flexible nature of federalism under the Constitution has served India well, the continued existence of provisions such as Article 356 (President’s rule) goes against the grain of federalism.
States such as Karnataka, Tamilnadu have asserted their linguistic and cultural rights in the wake of the Centre’s interventions such as a promotion of Hindi.
States are perceiving that their progress is being penalised:-
While the southern States contribute to the nation economically, they don’t occupy a central space politically and are further marginalised culturally.
States are concerned with the centre’s approach to fiscal discipline and downsizing government.
For a long time federalists have been demanding that the Centre cut down or totally wind up some of the ministries that deal with subjects in the State List. This is not happening.
The existing and largely underutilised Interstate Council, created under Article 263 and mandated to deal with coordination between States, has been totally ignored.
States are unevenly equipped to engage in fair competition, since regional disparities in the provision of basic needs and social sector services are overwhelming. Moreover, there are vast differences in governance capabilities, and while special category States may have withered away with , the need for asymmetric federalism remains.
14 th finance commission and Cooperative federalism:-
The14th Finance Commission, in 2015, recommended raising the share of States in the divisible pool of Central taxes from 32% to 42%. However, beyond this measure, the Centre has not inspired much confidence regarding its commitment to federalism.
The Centre directed its axe towards key centrally sponsored schemes in the social sector. Whether most of the States are sufficiently endowed with governance capabilities to absorb and effectively spend the additional resources that have come their way is a moot point.
Governor role being misused shows the mandate to centralisation of power in states. For instance proclamation of President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh significantly advanced unfinished agenda of limiting partisan federalism.
Some of the instances which show that the states are demanding greater autonomy :-
The recent instance of unveiling of state flag by Karnataka
The continued existence of provisions such as Article 356 (President’s rule) are threatening states
Protests against Jallikattu, imposition of preferences on food, exclusion of women form the Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala.
So a central authority cannot draw the boundaries of cultural practice in ways that are sensitive to tradition.
Inter state water disputes
Now, the skewed terms of reference for the 15th Finance Commission have brought the south together in making a strong case for fiscal federalism.
Long-term solution is to foster genuine fiscal federalism where states largely raise their own revenue and face hard budget constraints, i.e. fiscal autonomy accompanied by fiscal responsibility.
Creating a fiscal structure where the states have greater revenue-raising authority, as well as greater decision making power on spending, implies a lower reliance on the Union government in fiscal matters as well as governance decisions.
There has been a steady requirement of the National Development Council, that is a delegate institution of the Centre and the states, should become more energetic and effective.
It may be brought to mind that the First Administrative Reforms Commission had suggested that the NDC be supposed to meet twice a year. Even after more than forty years, this proposal has not been put into practice.
In a true federal spirit, the NDC, instead of becoming a mere routinized rubber stamp, should re-emerge as a verbal and effectual gadget of Centre-state discourse in matters of development. Here is an organization that has the potentiality of making the Indian federal economic structure more powerful and therefore, this instrumentality ought not to become a superfluous union.
A linked problem pertains to the role played by the state planning system. Most of the socio-economic plans calculated at the state level are an upshot and replicas of the priority structures and store management projects of the Central government, more particularly of the erstwhile Planning Commission.
Hence, in order to make the planning process truly federal, “planning from below” be supposed to become the established doctrine of the Indian expansion state of affairs
India needs to move away from centralization-decentralization thinking, and embrace genuine fiscal federalism by permanently creating a fiscal power centre in the states. Demand for more autonomy by states should be gauged on the scale of federal characteristics of Indian polity.