Neither Cooperative Nor Federal

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Centre-State relations in India have seen some bad times and while matters have improved, rising aspirations in a democratic India are often out of sync with prevailing attitudes. The low quality of politics has exacerbated the problem By SWATI DEB

Centre-State relations have a rocky record in India. President’s Rule has been imposed on various states at least 100 times since Independence. In its most pernicious form, it was Indira Gandhi’s misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss no less than nine state governments in 1980. Of course things have improved since then, especially after the Supreme Court judgment of 1994 in SR Bommai vs Union of India, when it stopped the arbitrary use of President’s Rule.

The fact is President’s Rule negates the federal character of the Indian political system where administration is shared between the Union and States. It also works against the doctrine of popular sovereignty since all state governments are elected.

Oddly enough, although state governments are no longer being dismissed, in the last 18 months, the nation has been witness to governors of states being told to quit, and when some refused, they were unceremoniously booted out or transferred.

The governors happened to be appointees of the UPA and were therefore politically unpalatable to the NDA. It reinforced the perception of the governor as the Centre’s eyes and ears, an untrustworthy constitutional functionary who at some point would be used by the Centre to trouble the state government if it belonged to an Opposition party.

Decades back, the illustrious EMS Namboodiripad blasted the institution of the governor, describing it as a major ‘irritant’ in Centre-State relations. “The Governor as the watchdog of the Centre is an institution which cuts at the very root of state autonomy in federal India,” he had warned. Many others had endorsed such view. Recall former TDP leader P Upendra saying: “A time may come when the institution of the governor itself maybe dispensed with.”

Prime Inister Narendra Modi’s ‘Championing’ Of The Spirit Of “Cooperative Federalism” Has Been A Disappointment. The Delhi Aap Government’s Running Battle With The City’s Lt. Governor And Then The Centre, Is Reflective Of The Many Crossed Wires In The Centre-State Relationship

In recent times, the officer of governor has again come under renewed scrutiny. Witness the Arunachal governor, apparently acting at the behest of the Centre, convening the state assembly last December in a community hall because the speaker had locked the assembly premises. Or the Centre telling the Telangana government, that the governor would be responsible for law and order in Hyderabad since the city was presently being shared with Andhra Pradesh as a capital.

There was also the odd case of the West Bengal governor bypassing his own chief minister, and appealing to the Centre for CRP units to oversee security for local elections in the state!

The long secret and conspiratoral relationship between the Centre and the governor may be ignored as a legacy of the past. But what has hit the states financially has been the Centre’s unilateral initiatives on the tax front.

While the Centre has increased the percentage of tax money given to the states, it has also curtailed the flow of funds to schemes run by the states. It means the higher percentage of tax revenues is only being used by the states to run the Centrally-funded schemes already under implementation. As the states pointed out, this is no devolution at all

The feverish enthusiasm to pass the GST is another case in point. It takes away several taxation powers from the states. Add to that various “cess” the Centre is levying, such as Swachh Bharat, which is appropriated entirely by the Centre.

In fact, West Bengal accused the Centre of “unilaterally structuring a large number of centrally-sponsored schemes without consulting the state governments.” State Law Miniser Kalyan Ray asked: “Why are you not consulting the state government? It cannot be a unilateral decision, nobody is under any control.”

He pointed out that the states have been demanding that the revenues from cess and surcharge be shared with them, instead the Centre went ahead with the 0.5% Swachh Bharat cess. “States were not taken into confidence. This is a burden on the common man, it is against the spirit of cooperative federalism,” he complained.

If the Centre is at fault, the Opposition has its share of the blame. The prime minister’s meeting with state chief ministers in the newly constituted NITI Aayog last July was boycotted by nine Congress ruled states. Even some of the non-Congress chief ministers joined the boycott including Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.

“The country has lost a chance of establishing healthy ground rules for cooperative federalism,” Arun Jaitley complained.

Another meeting with chief ministers from the North-east saw boycott by four Congress ruled states (Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal).

Congress spokesman RPN Singh justified the boycott saying: “Since there was no meeting ground between the views of the Congress and the government, there was no use of the chief ministers attending.”

Sadly, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s championing of the spirit of “cooperative federalism” has been a disappointment. The Delhi AAP government’s running battle with the city’s Lt. Governor and then the Centre, is reflective of the many crossed wires in the Centre-State relationship.

The Feverish Enthusiasm To Pass The GST is Another Case In Point. It Takes Away Several Taxation Powers From The States. Add To That Various “Cess” The Centre Is Levying, Such As Swachh Bharat, Which Is Appropriated Entirely By The Centre

One would have expected Modi with his long experience of discrimination at the hands of a Congress ruled Centre, to be more sensitive to the states. Equally, some of the states are being bloody minded, seeking to score political points and gain petty leverage at the cost of their own people. It would seem that Centre-State ties will improve only when the quality of politics improves.

Summary

  • Centre-state relations have improved but Narendra Modi’s cooperative federalism is yet to win acceptance
  • Recent decisions by the Centre on governors has deepened suspicions of Opposition ruled governments
  • The GST and Swachh Bharat cess have come at the cost of states losing their own sources of revenue

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