For the first time since India became a republic, it finds itself in a state of flux. Powerful States are getting increasingly belligerent about the Union government’s attempts to invade their respective terrain. And they want more say in adoption of national policies that hitherto related to the Central list, such as finance, security of the State and foreign affairs.
Few Union governments had been hemmed from taking crucial legislative and administration decisions on vital issues as the UPA-II. Be it the setting up of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), enactment of the new Land Acquisition Act, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, or the decision to open the retail sector for FDI, the Centre finds the States and regional parties as its most insurmountable hurdle. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has held up India-Bangladesh moves, while the Tamil Nadu parties have forced the Centre to shift its policy on Sri Lanka.
While the debate on federalism in the backdrop of the growth of regional parties is likely to continue before a consensus can be arrived at for amending the Constitution to strike a fresh balance between the States and Centre, it is worthwhile to explore possibilities for pushing the developmental agenda meant essentially for the people.
The crux of the problem is the absence of adequate consultation between the Centre and the representatives of the States. Similarly, many more legislations are awaiting parliamentary approval for want of political consensus. Second generation reforms are equally caught in the cross fire.
Fortunately, in most cases, the gulf between the Centre and the States is bridgeable. While there is near unanimity among the security experts on the urgency of an NCTC, the move has been seen by almost all the non-Congress ruled States as a violation of the principle of federalism as ’law and order’ is a state subject. The Centre has called for a meeting of Chief Ministers to resolve the differences, but informal consultations must be held to prepare the ground before the issue is brought to the official domain.
Some structures for Centre-State consultations are already in place, but need to be strengthened. One such organisation is the National Development Council (NDC). It was set up on August 6, 1952, with the aim to strengthen and mobilise the effort and resources of the nation in support of the plan to promote common economic policies in all vital spheres. The council is composed of the Prime Minister, all Union ministers, Chief Ministers of all States and Union Territories and members of the Planning Commission. Secretary of the Planning Commission is the secretary of the NDC. Till date, 56 meetings of the NDC have been held, with the last one on October 22, 2011.
The NDC has been used to set targets of the National Plan under the changed or changing power equations between the Centre and State. Its ambit can be enlarged for evolving consensus on contentious issues of national resources and their equitable distribution. Apart from enlarging its scope, the NDC should meet more frequently.
A similar instrument is available in the form of the Inter-state Council which was set up in 1990. The council consists of the Prime Minister, all the Chief Ministers of States and Union Territories with legislative Assembly, administrators of UTs not having an Assembly and governors of States under President’s Rule, six ministers of Cabinet rank in the Union council of ministers as nominated by the Prime Minister and four ministers of Cabinet rank as permanent invitees.
It is high time that the entire political class, irrespective of the narrow party loyalty, collectively applied mind to evolve consensus on mechanisms that could remove roadblocks from the developmental path.
(Dr. Satish Misra is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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