- 28 Nov 2023
The framers of the Indian Constitution pointed out that the Indian scheme was one of ‘Cooperative Federalism,’ which indicates a desire for a federal spirit. Therefore, Indian federalism aims at promoting close cooperation between the Centre and the State(s). The Constitution demarcates the areas that can be exclusively legislated by the Centre, those exclusively legislated by the States, and those concurrently legislated by both the Centre and the States. If any law passed by a state legislature conflicts with a statute of Parliament in the concurrent list, Parliament law shall prevail. Thus, the Indian Constitutional framework gives precedence to the laws passed by Parliament over those of the states.
The Central government is endowed with greater authority by the Constitution and their interference in the administration of the States has caused major strains in Centre-State relations as follows:
1) Imposition of President’s Rule: Article 356 was made to be used as a last resort.
- Dismissal of a State government with a majority in the legislative assembly, emphasising its exceptional use in extreme circumstances.
- Suspending or dissolving the Assembly in a politician's consideration.
- Not giving a chance to the opposition to form a government when an electoral verdict is indecisive.
- Denying the opportunity to the opposition to form a government when a ministry resigned in anticipation of a defeat on the floor of the House.
- Not allowing the opposition to form the government even after the defeat of a ministry on the floor of the House.
A clear misuse of the President’s Rule was seen in 1980 when the Janata Government at the Centre dismissed the Congress Governments in nine States.
2) Deployment of Central Forces: to maintain law and order, the Centre deployed para-military forces into the States without consulting the State’s Government, and at times against the wishes of the respective State.
3) Reservation of Bill: A Governor usually reserves a Bill against the advice of a State’s Ministry, but, on the advice of the Central Government. This act of the Governor is looked upon as serving the interest of the Central Government.
4) Fiscal Matters: Tensions arise concerning fiscal matters because of -
- Comparative powers of taxation
- Statutory versus discretionary grants
- Economic planning
a. Taxation power: The Centre controls vast resources granted through deficit financing, loans from the organised money market in the country as well as in the form of foreign aid. In addition, the Central government can collect a surcharge on taxes and raise additional funds in times of emergency. On the other hand, the States lack resources to discharge their responsibilities and at times fail to mobilise their resources. Thus, the State is Centre-dependent.
b. Statutory versus Discretionary Grants: There are four methods of devolution of funds from the Centre to the States, viz, Obligatory sharing of Union taxes on income, allocation of Union duties and taxes to the States, permissive sharing of Union excise duties, providing financial assistance to the States in the form of grants and loans.
c. Economic Planning: In the context of economic planning, the intention behind planning in India was to promote greater centralisation. This is exemplified by the transfer of industries from the State List to the Union List without a constitutional amendment. This transfer was justified on the grounds of expediency for the public interest, indicating a shift of authority over certain economic matters from the states to the central government.
Despite the conflicts, the Constitution of India has given a distinct role and responsibility to the Governor.
Governor versus State Government: What Constitution Says?
The Constitution of India delineates the roles of the Governor and the State Government. The Governor, appointed by the President, represents broader interests, while the State Government, elected by the people, caters to local concerns. Instances of conflict arise when Governors deviate from constitutional norms, sparking debates with the elected State governments. Despite political differences, both entities must adhere to the Constitution's framework. The ongoing tussles underscore the need for a balanced interpretation of their respective roles and functions to maintain constitutional harmony in India's diverse federal structure.
Political War of Attrition: State vs LG
According to Article 155, the Governor of a State is to be appointed by the President of India by warrant under his hand and seal. Post-2014, Governors have been appointed, including in States (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Telangana) where the party ruling in the Centre is not in power; which in turn leads to a political war of attrition. The ruling party considers the Governor as a puppet of the Central government while the latter thinks they have to impose evaluation by adding resources, expertise and external impartiality.
Let us look at a few examples:
- West Bengal:
Governor Dhankhar has summoned the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police on multiple occasions, highlighting the strained relationship between the state government and the Governor.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has stalled the election of the Speaker since the post fell vacant in February 2021. In this case, the Governor refused to accept the recommendation of the 12 members' nominations to the Legislative Council recommended by the Council of Ministers and waited for the case to reach the High Court.
- Tamil Nadu:
Governor R.N. Ravi has not taken action on the T.N. Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, adopted in September 2021. The prolonged delay in decision-making has undermined the legislative process, affecting the state's governance.
- About Governor vs Kerala Government:
Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has expressed a desire to dissolve Finance Minister K N Balagopal, citing concerns about the Finance Minister's speech. The Governor has also raised issues related to the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of a Technical University, alleging that the appointment was politically motivated rather than based on academic credentials.
These instances illustrate the ongoing political struggles between state governments and Governors, where disagreements over appointments, decisions, and governance processes contribute to an atmosphere of tension and conflict.
LG vs Delhi Government: What is the problem?
The special setup involves the presence of a Lieutenant Governor (LG) and an elected government in Delhi. This special setup worked well mainly because the same party held office at the Centre as well as in Delhi for much of the time. Several situations were changed when different governments ruled the city and the Centre. This was complicated when the Delhi High Court judge declared that the LG is the only decision-making authority in the NCT.
Presently, SC is looking into the issue of jurisdictional conflicts between Delhi’s elected government and the Lieutenant Governor (LG that whether the elected government is the final authority in respect of matters assigned to it by the Constitution and also deciding on who has the final say in case of any conflict of opinions that may or may not arise between the LG and his Council of Ministers on matters of governance.
- The Supreme Court verdict establishes that the Delhi Lieutenant Governor must generally follow the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, with exceptions for matters related to public order, police, and land.
- The ruling reinstates the significant role of the "representative government" in decision-making.
- While decisions by Delhi's Council of Ministers must be communicated to the Lieutenant Governor, it does not imply that his approval is mandatory.
- Importantly, the Lieutenant Governor does not possess independent decision-making authority, except in matters under Article 239 or those beyond the government's jurisdiction.
- It's crucial to note that the national capital enjoys a special status and is not considered a full-fledged state.
- As a result, the role of the Lieutenant Governor differs from that of a Governor. In instances of disagreements, both the Lieutenant Governor and the NCT government are expected to adhere to Constitutional morality.
Governance Model of New Delhi?
- The status of Delhi was that of a Union Territory under Schedule 1 of the Constitution but was later designated as the ‘National Capital Territory’ under Article 239AA.
- As per the 69th Amendment Act of 1991 to the Constitution of India, Article 239AA dictates that the Union Territory of Delhi is to be administered by a Lieutenant Governor (LG), who functions based on the aid and advice of the elected legislative assembly.
However, the 'aid and advice' clause applies solely to matters within the elected assembly's jurisdiction under the State and Concurrent lists, excluding public order, police, and land. This dichotomy often results in a power struggle between the LG and the elected government.
As underlined in Article 1 of the Constitution, “India that is Bharat is a Union of States”, and that devolution of powers is necessary for such a setting. Conscious recognition of the federal character of India’s polity is crucial to protect its national character.
As a diverse country, we should focus towards bringing reforms while balancing Federalism and extreme political centralisation or decentralisation must be avoided at all costs. Also, there is a need to strengthen inter-state relations by reaching out not only during crises but Chief Ministers must create forums for regular engagement on any issue. This would be crucial in supporting the crucial demands for example - the extension of GST compensation to 2027.
In conclusion, we can expect that the Centre-State relations will strengthen over time and hope that both the government and the State government cater to enhanced cooperative federalism which is a determining factor of governance of the country.