Originally Published 2012-01-16 00:00:00 Published on Jan 16, 2012
Though the Constitution framers were themselves divided on the issue of federalism, yet a healthy compromise was arrived at which ensured a balance of power between the Centre and states.
Is it time for a fresh look at Federalism?
The concept of federalism assumed lot of traction in the recent debate on Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in the two Houses of Parliament with different regional parties joining hands with the BJP in opposing the legislation on the plea that making Lokayuktas mandatory for states violated the Constitution's federal structure and curtailed the autonomy of states. Similarly, the issue of FDI in retail was opposed by chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati and other state leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav on the ground that retail was a state subject. A little earlier, Mamata Banerjee had stalled the Teesta River water sharing treaty with Bangladesh.

While Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the recent interventionist in the field of foreign policy, similar voices have been passed in the past, particularly from the states with international borders. Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab have been asking the Centre to take them on board while discussing water issues with Pakistan. Sikkim's view had to be sought on the issue of border trade with China. Views of states had to be incorporated during India's ongoing discussions with the WTO on agriculture-related issues.

The debate becomes all the more significant in the light of skewed socio-economic development of states, with some enjoying higher economic growth and others lagging behind on the same parameters. North-eastern states have borders with countries like Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Nepal and their proximity to countries east of India demands that their economies benefit more from the economies across their borders.

The question that needs to be answered is whether federalism is being used as a mere ruse to oppose the Centre because of political compulsions or there is really something more to it? Has time come to have a fresh look at the entire issue of states versus Centre? Are these demands because of a fractured polity or because of growing political ambitions of some regional leaders?

Part XI of the Indian Constitution elaborately defines the distribution of power between the Centre and the states. In the Union list with around 100 items, the Centre has the exclusive power to legislate. The constituents of the republic have exclusive powers on issues contained in the State List and both the Centre and the states can make laws related to subjects under the Concurrent List.

The Constitution not only demarcated the powers of the Centre and states but also made provision of Article 249, 250, 252 and 253 which enables the Centre to legislate on issues mentioned in the State List. So to say, the Constituent Assembly took care of every possible exigency.

Though the Constitution framers were themselves divided on the issue of federalism, yet a healthy compromise was arrived at which ensured a balance of power between the Centre and states. Dr B R Ambedkar and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were in favour of unitary state while Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel with many others stood for the cause of federalism.

With the passage of time, more and more states have been added to the Indian union, with a strong clamour from different parts of the country for more states even today. At the same time, states have been demanding more autonomy with stress on financial and judicial federalism. Threat to the country's sovereignty and integrity from forces of terrorism, insurgency and separatism can't be overlooked while debating the issue of federalism.

"There is no single pure model of federalism that is acceptable everywhere," says Ronal L Watts an authority on the subject. After all, federalism is not a solution to people's problems and needs of food, shelter, employment, health and education. Undoubtedly, the time has come to take stock of the prevailing situation and demand States of Indian Union rather than an Indian Union of States.

(Dr. Satish Misra is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

Courtesy: the expressbuz.com

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.