Federalism and Centre-State relations in India

The constitution of India establishes a federal structure and describes India as a Union of States. Indian Federalism is unitary in nature as powers given to states are not absolute and can be overridden in times of emergency or in some cases, with the sanction of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha).

While the division of legislative and executive powers between the centre and the states is listed in the seventh schedule to the constitution of India, the judiciary in India is an integrated one (not divided between centre and state) with Supreme Court being the highest judicial court of the country.

Seventh Schedule – Allocation of powers and functions between Union & States – Union List, State List, Concurrent List

  • Union List – Defence, Military, Foreign Affairs, Citizenship, Railways, Major Ports, RBI, currency banking, etc
  • Concurrent List – Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Forests. Education, Marriage and Divorce, etc
  • State List – Prisons, Police, Public Order, Public Health, Local government, cooperatives, etc

42nd Constitution Amendment Act of 1976 transferred five subjects to the concurrent list from the state list – 

  • education, 
  • forests, 
  • weights and measures, 
  • protection of wild animals and birds, 
  • administration of justice – constitution and organisation of all courts except the Supreme Court and the high courts.

Cooperative Federalism – synergising efforts.
Cooperative Federalism is a concept of federalism in which centre, state and local governments interact cooperatively and collectively to design and implement policies, rather than working separately.
Competitive federalism is a concept where states compete with each other in their joint efforts to develop India.
Institutions such as NITI Aayog, Inter-State Council, Zonal Council are designed to work in the spirit of cooperative federalism.

NITI Aayog

  • policy think tank of Government of India
  • members of its governing council include
    • chairman – Prime Minister
    • CMs of all states, and UTs with legislatures
    • administrators of rest of the UTs
  • established through a cabinet resolution
    • replaced Planning Commission
  • Organisations/Offices
    • NILERD – National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development
  • initiatives:
    • Agricultural Marketing and Farmer Friendly Reforms Index, digital transformation index, health index, water index, education index, innovation index – to foster healthy competition between states.
    • Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) – Tinkering labs and incubation centres
    • SETU – Self Employment and Talent Utilisation
    • SATH – human capital development – through development of education and health sector.
    • Samavesh programme – to network knowledge and research institutions, to promote an ecosystem of evidence based policy research.

Inter State Council

  • a constitutional body estd under Article 263
  • recommendatory body to investigate and discuss the subjects of common interest between Union and states or among the states
  • formed on the recommendation of Sarkaria Commission
  • Chairman – Prime Minister
  • Standing Committee
    • chairman – Union Home Minister

Zonal Councils

  • Statutory advisory bodies, formed under States Reorganisation Act 1956.
  • Chairman – Union Home Minister
Divisions into Zonal Councils
  • aim:
    • to foster cooperation among states
    • to check growth of acute regionalism – and to serve as a step between state consciousness and nation consciousness (nationalism)
  • The North Eastern States’ special problems are addressed by another statutory body – The North-Eastern Council, created by the North Eastern Council Act, 1971. NEC includes 8 states – Sikkim was included in 2002.

Commissions on Centre-State relations and their recommendations:
Sarkaria Commission (1983)
Punchhi Commission (2007)

These commissions gave the following recommendations on various matters of contention between the centre and the states:

  • Concurrent list subjects
    • Centre should consult states before legislating on a matter in concurrent list
  • President’s pocket veto
    • President should communicate his decision in a reasonable time on a state legislature bill reserved for his consideration by the governor.
  • Treaty making power of the Union
    • there should be greater involvement of states in taking decision on a treaty which has a major bearing on matters in the state list
  • appointment of chief minister
    • there should be clear guidelines for appointment of chief minister to regulate discretionary powers of the governor
  • Governor
    • appointment
      • governor should not have been an active participant in politics for at least a couple of years before his appointment. Sarkaria commission too had recommended that he should be an eminent person and should not belong the state where he is posted.
      • Chief minister should have a say in appointment of governor
    • removal
      • doctrine of pleasure should end. He should not be removed at whim of the central government.

More related information:

Special Category Status states

  • based on features such as hilly terrain, low population density, non-viable nature of state finances, etc, some states are designated the status of Special Category.
  • 11 states have been given this status :
    • eight NE states, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand
    • Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Bihar are demanding the status
  • conferred by National Development Council (erstwhile Planning Commission body)
    • Special States used to receive grants based on Gadgil-Mukherjee formula of 1990s – which recommended 30% of the funds for SCS states.
  • benefits
    • Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSCs) expenditure in 90:10 ratio. instead of 60:40 for normal states.
  • more:
    • With Finance Commission more empowered; and higher devolution of funds to states. 
    • 14th Finance Commission restricted the ‘special category’ status to the Northeastern and the three hill states.

Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS)

  • These schemes are funded by the central government but implemented by the state governments.
  • They usually include which are in the state/concurrent list but crucial for realising national development goals.
  • Many states had pointed out that lack of flexibility in these schemes made it difficult to spend the allocations effectively.
  • BK Chaturvedi Committee 2011 – 
    • to look into issue of restructuring/rationalisation of CSS for enhancing their flexibility, scale, and efficiency
    • Govt took heed of its recommendations and revamped CSS in 2013
  • Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (done in 2016)
    • 2016: Cabinet Approved recommendations of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on rationalisation of CSS. These recommendations included:
    • Categorisation of Schemes
      • Core schemes – comprise the National Development Agenda. States and Centre will work together in the spirit of Team India.
        • Core of Core Schemes – those schemes which are for social protection and social inclusion. These should be the first charge on available funds for the National Development Agenda.
          • include – National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), MGNREGA, Umbrella schemes for SCs, STs, Minorities, Backward Classes, Differently abled and other vulnerable groups.
      • Optional
        • The schemes where the states would be free to choose the ones they wish to implement.

Autonomous Administrative divisions of India

  • Under sixth schedule – Autonomous District Councils in tribal regions of four states
    • Assam
      • Bodoland Territorial Council
      • Dima Hasao (formerly North Cachar)
      • Karbi Anglong
    • Meghalaya
      • Garo Hills
      • Khasi Hills
      • Jaintia Hills
    • Tripura
      • Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council
    • Mizoram
      • Chakma
      • Lai
      • Mara
  • Under other laws
    • Jammu and Kashmir
      • Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council – Kargil, Leh
    • West Bengal
      • Gorkhaland Territorial Administration
    • Manipur
      • Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council
  • De facto autonomous area
    • North Sentinel Island, in Andaman. Govt has followed a policy of minimal interference in the lives of Sentinelese people. They remain virtually untouched by modernity.

The sixth schedule was appended to the constitution on the recommendation of Gopinath Bordoloi subcommittee. Gopinath was a Gandhian Indian independence activist from Assam.

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