Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Significance: The current government believes in promoting competitive cooperative federalism without discriminating between states on the basis of the party in power. P.M. of India said he would work shoulder-to-shoulder in each state’s march towards progress. The Centre would move ahead with the pledge that the fate of  the country would change only by adopting the path of progress

Evolution of Cooperative Federalism: The concept of cooperative federalism gained currency during the 1930’s in the United States of America. In a strict sense, it would appear that the word cooperative is redundant as it is the basic postulate in political theory of federalism that two or more sovereigns surrender part of their sovereignty to work together for common good. Cooperative federalism envisages that national and state agencies undertake government functions jointly rather than exclusively. The nation and states would share power without power being concentrated at any government level or in any agency. The advantage of this system is that distribution of responsibilities gives people and groups access to many avenues of influence which may otherwise be inaccessible. With the advent of multi-party system and coalition governments — since the States and the Centre are no longer ruled by the same party, giving rise to considerable tension between the States and Centre — the idea of cooperative federalism has become crucial.

Conflicts under Cooperative Federalism: 

  • Formation of New States:  The views of the State Legislative Assembly have no binding effect on the Parliament’s decision to form a new State.  there are no established principles which determine when the boundary of a State needs to be altered, or what considerations can legitimately trigger the process of formation of new States. As a result, short-term political gains for the political party at the Centre may dictate the process of formation of States. Example: Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2013 was  rejected by the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly but Parliament went ahead with formation of  State of Telangana.
  • Governance of Delhi: The high-decibel altercation between the Chief Minister of Delhi and its Lieutenant Governor over the power to appoint bureaucrats masks a fundamental question about the right authority to control the governance of Delhi. Article 239AA represented a new compromise with an elected Legislature having powers over all, save a few State List subjects. Ultimate authority however remained with Government of India which could override the Delhi Government on any subject.
  • Backward Area Development: Under the 2015-16 Union Budget, the Backward Region Grants Fund Programme was discontinued and subsumed into the total expenditure of States. Hence, State Governments now have the primary responsibility of identifying backward areas and allocating funds for reform in these areas. However, evidence so far from the administration of backward areas has shown that State Governments have been unable to ascertain the criteria for backwardness with sufficient clarity. Further, political factors have meant that they have also been slow to bring development required in such areas.
  • Weakened Inter State Bodies: The Inter State Council has had little impact on Centre-State relations in all its years of existence, and it has not been reconstituted regularly. Since the present government had abolished Planning Commission and constituted Niti Aayog , there are concerns whether he duties of both the bodies overlap or not in its mandate. Additionally, NITI Aayog has been authorised to set up regional councils — this is similar to the role currently played by the Zonal Councils.  Such artificial separation imposes undue burden on the exchequer, results in proliferation of councils that
    lack an integrated and authoritative approach, and makes intergovernmental consultation processes cumbersome.
  • Conflicts in Governor’s role: Governors appointed by previous Central Governments are removed from office for not being ‘in sync’ with the political ideology of the current Central Government before their terms end. Numerous such premature removals, with no assignment of cause or opportunity to be heard, have shattered the security of the tenure of the office and lowered the prestige of the institution, making it impossible for Governors to function impartially and remain apolitical. This has struck at the heart of the federal character of our Constitution.

Solutions to the existing conflicts: 

  • Changes to Article 3: Two elements in current process require change. First, the constitutional scheme needs to be reworked to ensure that Parliament takes a greater measure of consideration of the views of the State Legislative Assemblies. Second, Parliament needs to adhere to certain principles while voting upon a reorganisation Bill. To establish such principles, a body in the nature of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) can be formulated under the Constitution.
  • Redesigning Delhi governance: As recommended by the Sitaramayya Committee, Delhi must have a responsible government. This necessarily entails a government that is constitutionally equipped to serve the needs of its people. Second, for such government to be responsible to its people, the principle of subsidiarity must apply equally to Delhi as it does to all other States. This implies that the municipal corporations and other local bodies in Delhi, with enumerated exceptions, must be answerable first and foremost to the Delhi Government and not the GOI.
  • Developing Backward Regions:  A provision may be added under Part XXI of the Constitution by means of a constitutional amendment that lays down guidelines and systematises the process of development for any backward area in any State.
  • Strengthen Inter State Bodies:  Strengthen the intergovernmental organisations by granting  formality and accountability  by constitutional or statutory status, and establishing procedures for consideration and implementation of its recommendations. A policy document should demarcate the role of the existing intergovernmental organisations.
  • Strengthen Governor Role: This interpretation of the doctrine of pleasure is resonant of the doctrine applicable in a feudal setup, where the power of removal of servants of the Crown was absolute and unfettered. Article 156 requires amendment to insert limitations on the doctrine of pleasure. This would protect the Governor’s tenure from unjustified removals. An attempt to restore the functionality of the office of the Governor through a sanctified constitutional amendment will empower the Governor to fulfil his constitutional role without the need to pander to the Central Government’s ideology and without the threat of removal.

Conclusion: Cooperative federalism demands that the responsibility for managing them also be shifted where it rightfully belongs that is at the State and local levels. For a long time federalists have been demanding that the Centre cut down or totally wind up some of the ministries that deal with subjects in the State List.  Political will and vision is needed to break the stranglehold of New Delhi’s Bhavan’s in areas where the States should be empowered. However, the existing and largely underutilised Interstate Council, created under Article 263 and mandated to deal with coordination between State raises the question of what the new vision of cooperative federalism entails, beyond coordination.