BY VIVEK PATTANAYAK IN BHUBANESWAR, JANUARY 21, 2018: When the subject of Centre State relationship is broached in India particularly in a forum of students and scholars of political science, it takes us inevitably to the concept of federalism. Is India a federal State like USA, or Canada, or Australia or Brazil? If not, why not. Is it sui generis?

Issues involved in this complex matter must be understood in historical perspective while most fundamentally it must be examined in the context of the Constitution of India while not ignoring the contemporary national political situation and global developments.

The question must be raised as to whether the relationship has worked well in the past or is it working well now and what will be its future. Next pertinent question is whether there is any need for change and if so whether it can be achieved only through structural change like amendment of the constitution or there is scope of change without tortuous constitutional process within the existing arrangement. Can there be a political consensus among the political parties? If everything is going well, why disturb it. To quote the American saying, “don’t fix it if it is not broken”.

When India, a multi lingual, multi racial, multi religious and multi ethnic geographic entity became independent from the British rule there was trauma of partition and .the sub-continent was left with innumerable princely states free to carve out their own destiny. They were given option to join either Pakistan or India. Landlocked Hyderabad under Nizam wanted to join Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh in Jammu and Kashmir vacillated between India and Pakistan. Travancore-Cochin decided to send emissary to the United Nations. Even Mayurbhanj now in Odisha left people guessing about its political future.

The Government of India Act of 1935 which had envisaged provincial autonomy within the British India influenced the framing of the structure of the constitutional arrangements. The Centre-State relationship adumbrated in the constitution in Part XI in Articles 245 to 263 relating to legislative and administrative arrangements, Part XII regarding finance as mentioned in Articles 268,268 A,269, 273,275, etc. and Part XVIII covering emergency provisions under Articles, 354,355 and 356 are outcome of this historical and legal background.

In last seventy years much, water has flown through the river Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Narmada, Cauvery, Godavari and Mahanadi. Sikkim then a protectorate is a part of India, Goa, Daman, and Diu then Portuguese territory constitute a part of the Indian nation, Pondichery, Mahe, Karikul and Chandan Nagar, erstwhile French colony constitute a part of India.

Much of ice has melted in the globe from Arctic to Antarctica. The world has changed. Fissiparous tendencies have gained ground. Singapore left the union with Malaysia. Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan has seceded to become an independent country. Eritrea has come away from

Ethiopia to be a separate State. East Timor left Indonesia. South Sudan is a free country. Mighty Soviet Union disintegrated into sixteen independent countries. Yugoslavia has verily balkanized into multiple entities. Slovakia is a separate country.

Quebec has threatened to separate from Canada. Scotland asked for a referendum to be independent of Britain. Catalonia showed its independence. Lombardy in Italy asserted that it should be autonomous. Brexit, followed by emergence of ultra-rightist forces in France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary, the Trump phenomenon of “America for Americans”, made Ruchir Sharma an analyst of global political economy identify nationalism as an important trend in the world as opposed to internationalism.

Within this trend one should see sub-stratum of growing sub-nationalism, demand for greater autonomy and irresistible desire for self-rule. Devolution of power and decentralization of authority seem to be the élan of the time against central autarchy. Live TV, internet, mobile telephone and now social media have freed people from shackles of distance and barriers of language and given greater ability to feel more empowered than before.

India has had a share of the fissiparous tendency. Nagas, Mizos, in north east and Gurkhas in West Bengal got their statehood and regional autonomy after insurrection. Tamils had sympathy for Elam in Sri Lanka and Khalistan movement had sympathy of Sikh In Canada and UK. Sections of Assamese had in the past rebellious tendency. Naxals and Maoists are fighting for greater freedom of autochthonous people.

In the light of these developments the question comes to mind whether there should be review of the existing arrangements to give greater autonomy to States in India. Concept of cooperative federalism has been mooted and there is talk of competitive federalism.

How did Centre-State relationship work in the past? Article 356 was and has been an irritant. Judicial interventions have been made to limit misuse of this provision. Role of Governor has been bothering the proponents of greater autonomy of States. There should be appointment of Governors through a consultative process with the States. Confidence of people in this high position will be shaken if appointments are done in brazen political consideration and cronyism. Can or should this provision of Article 356 be eliminated from the constitution assuming there is political consensus?

Should there be a central planning body established through an executive fiat? Is there a place for NITI Ayog based on an executive decision? What is the difference between the two? One had no State representation while the other has Chief Ministers of the States as members? How does one find in the working of newly established GST Council? Is it a feature of cooperative federalism?

What is the basis of federalism? It is a power sharing mechanism between the units and central body. While units should be able to develop politically, economically, culturally based on their resources and unique characteristics and maintain their individua identity the centre should be able to defend them from external aggression and provide necessary coordination.

Is Centre able to resolve the dispute between the States? Why the dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh on the river Mahanadi persisting? Why Odisha Andhra dispute on Kutia group of villages are still unresolved and why Polavaram is still hitting the headline? Article 262 provides for adjudication of disputes between States under Inter State Water Dispute Act,1956. Clearly the arrangements are having difficulties when the ruling political parties at the Centre and States are different.

While we talk of greater autonomy of States we forget that there should be equally greater devolution of power to districts, blocks and villages. Zilla Parishad, Panchayat Samity and Gram Panchayat after amendment of constitution in 1993 are constitutional political units.

Time has now come for a national debate on greater autonomy of States and devolution of power to grass root constitutional units.

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