Context- The pandemic has been a testing ground for both the Centre and the State. Many tussles have been observed between the Centre and state regarding allocation of resources, shortage of oxygen etc.
- Cooperative federalism has been the essence of Indian democracy.
- The first wave proved to be less disastrous than the ongoing wave due to several factors.
- Effective coordination and cooperation between the centre and the state was one of those.
- However, the last three months have witnessed several issues between Centre and State.
- The Chief ministers of various states have made allegations that the meetings with the PM are one way.
- Accusations have been made against the Union government for not listening to the State's views.
- Keeping the party politics aside, there is need for better coordination between the both.
- As Union Ministers and the PM has himself underlined centre-state cooperation is critical in this fight against COVID-19.
- Experts are of the opinion that as the pandemic develops in coming times, more challenges will be thrown upon the administration.
- In order to efficiently use the scarce resources available, centre and state should be on the same page
- The Prime Minister has outlined the importance of data collection and analyses. He has urged the district administration for the same.
- The collected information can only prove to be successful if both the states and the centre use this and discuss the future course of action.
- A two way communication should be encouraged in order to enhance the efficiency of pandemic management. Both must cooperate to reaffirm the spirits of cooperative federalism.
Various hurdles to cooperative federalism in India:
- Over-centralisation: As widely recognised, India is quasi-federal, with powers and resources being highly tilted in favour of the Union. The Union list has more items than the state list that enables more taxation power to centre. This acts as a major roadblock to cooperative federalism in India. Excessive central character, reduce active participation of states.
- Ineffective inter-state council: The Constitution provided for institutions like inter-state councils to serve as a platform for consultation between the centre and the states. The inter-state council has just turned out as a platform of talks with less progress on real issues. Inter-state council has met twice in 50 years, and has not been taken seriously as a vehicle of cooperative federalism:
- Presidential rule: The constitution has provided the President with power to take over state machinery in situations of state failure and emergency. Unfortunately, it has been misused by political parties to subvert state governments. Between 1947 and 1977, there were 44 instances when the power to impose President’s rule was exercised. In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the limitation laid down by the Supreme Court has placed gentle breaks on exercise of this power, but it had limited effect.
- Taxation: Taxation powers are another contentious issue between the state and the Central government. For example, in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) scenario, States have power to levy tax on sale of petrol, diesel, etc. and these would be revenues of the respective States. However, the GST Council is yet to recommend inclusion of these items under GST.
- Under-represented in finance commission: States are under-represented. Recommendations of the Finance Commission are placed before Parliament and States have no role in the debate. There is no provision for an aggrieved State to challenge the FC report or seek its enforcement.
- Trust deficit: Trust deficit between Centre and States is widening. Several issues such as shrinkage of divisible pools plague Centre-State relations. Together, they make total cooperation difficult. Most state governments believe the thrust on federalism is limited to lofty ideas and big talks. Many States have shown their displeasure with the way the Centre has been dealing with the States. Recently, Kerala has used Article 131 to move against the centre due to displeasure over the Citizenship amendment act.
- One size fits all approach: A ‘One Size Fits All’ approach had been used for years, not taking into account the heterogeneity of different states and their local requirements. Due to this many states continue to suffer. Earlier planning commision and now Niti Aayog both have followed the same policy. This leads to difficulty in Policy implementation and working together.
Centre-State issues due to Covid crisis:
- There has been reconciliation and repositioning between the Centre and states in the course of the response to the pandemic.
- The Centre’s efforts are now primarily focused on achieving economies of scale in vaccine procurement, knowledge production for setting standards and guidelines for the states, and mitigating inter-state externalities.
- States continue to play the dominant role in the execution of the actual response to the health crisis. In other words, the fundamental principles of comparative advantage prevailed, but they were organised on the basis of certain functional roles and responses.
- In spite of health being a state subject, the response to collective threats linked to the subject required some kind of organisation of federal responsibilities on a functional basis.
- A typical response is to recommend shifting subjects to the Concurrent List to enable an active role for the Centre. This is how the High-Level Group, constituted by the 15th Finance Commission, recommended shifting health from the State to the Concurrent List. A similar recommendation was made earlier by the Ashok Chawla Committee for water.
- The GST reforms is the most recent instance. The ongoing friction between the Centre and the states over GST reforms tells us that consensus-building is not a one-time exercise. It has to allow sustained dialogue and deliberation.
How Cooperative Federalism Works in India?
This policy has been worked in India in the following manner:
- Division of Powers,
- The supremacy of the Constitution,
- A Written Constitution,
- Authority of Courts.
Under this policy in the Constitution, Center has assigned dominant authority as evident from the following:
- States have to exercise their executive authority according to the law created by the Central government. It may not hamper the executive power of the Union within the States.
- Governors are appointed by the Central government to check the working of the States
- Centres have the authority to amend the legislative discretion of the state by taking permission from Rajyasabha
- The centre has authority to acquire the executive of the States due to the queries like national security or failure of constitutional machinery of the State.
Measures to strengthen cooperative federalism:
- Empowering states: NITI Aayog was formed to further empower and strengthen the states. NITI Aayog needs to act to provide the strategic policy vision for the government as well as deal with contingent issues. For example, the state should be empowered more to work to enable smart cities.
- Economic empowerment: There are several ways through which a country can achieve higher growth and promote economic activities. One of the ways is to empower states towards optimum utilization of its resources such as infrastructure, buildings, transportation and most importantly its human resource.
- Fostering cooperation: All states should compete with each other regarding policies and its effective implementation. The Union government can include States in how decisions are made and enforced. The Union must develop newer conventions to foster cooperation. Aspirational district initiative has potential to foster cooperation at local level, enabling the states to work with the centre.
- Taxation: States must be given more power to tax and more grants should be given to them. One size fits all policy needs to be changed with focus to specific needs of each state.
The new challenges and issues need the centre and various states to come together. Terrorism, militancy, organised crimes, problem of internally displaced persons, refugees issue, all these require that the country as a whole comes together. Cooperative federalism alone strengthens the nation from within by enabling it to withstand adversities and challenges because of its inherent resilience and malleability. Thus efforts must be made towards cooperative federalism.