Centre-State Relations (DAMP)
- Explain why the Indian Constitution has been argued to have created a ‘federation with a centralizing tendency’.
- The doctrine of Separation of Powers is the bedrock of Indian parliamentary democracy. Discuss.
- Strengthening federalism in India depends on effectively empowering the third tier of its federal structure. Analyze the statement.
- Despite the Central and state governments’ efforts to revamp Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), various challenges persist in ensuring their effective operation. Discuss.
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The debate whether India has a ‘Federal Constitution’ and ‘Federal Government’ has been grappling us since the conception of our Constitution. In India, Federalism is considered as a basic feature of the Constitution, even though the word is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.
Features of the Indian Constitution which makes it closer to Federal state are as follows:
- Written Constitution and supremacy of the Constitution- Written Constitution ensures that there is
a clear division of powers between the central and state governments.
• Rigid Constitution: All the provisions of the Constitution concerning Union-State relations can be
amended only by the joint actions of the State Legislatures and the Union Parliament.
• Division of Powers: The Seventh Schedule divides the subjects of administration into Union, State
and Concurrent Legislative Lists.
• Independent Judiciary: The Constitution establishes an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court.
• Bicameral Legislature: A bicameral system is considered essential in a federation because it is in the Upper House alone that the units can be given equal representation.
• Dual Government Polity: In a federal State, there are two governments, one at the centre and the
other at the state level.
But Indian Constitution also has some unitary features with centralizing tendency:
• Strong Centre: The division of powers is in favour of the Centre and highly inequitable from the
federal angle. For instance, the Union List contains important and higher number of subjects than
the State List.
• Special powers: The Parliament can make laws on subjects of state list under certain circumstances.
For instance, under article 249, Parliament can make laws even on any of the state list matter.
• Emergency Provisions: During the time of emergencies the Federal apparatus transforms into
unitary system without any formal amendment to the Constitution.
• States not indestructible: The states in India have no right to territorial integrity. The Parliament can
by unilateral action change the area, boundaries or name of any state.
- Role of governors: The Governor is appointed by the President on the advice of central government and his/her actions are viewed as interference by the centre in the functioning of the state government.
• Financial Powers: There is concentration of financial powers in the hands of the union as more revenue generating items are under the control of the central government. Besides, the union government also uses its discretion to give grants and loans to the states.
K.C. Wheare characterizes India’s Constitution as quasi-federal rather than strictly federal, exhibiting a unique blend. Indian federalism can be described as ‘federation with a centralizing tendency,’ designed to suit the nation’s distinctive requirements.
The doctrine of separation of powers mandates that the three branches of the State – Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive – function independently to prevent encroachments on each other’s jurisdiction. In India, this principle is reflected through various Constitutional provisions:
- Article 50: Calls for the separation of Judiciary from Executive to ensure judicial independence.
- Articles 122 and 212: Shield proceedings in Parliament and State Legislatures from judicial scrutiny, upholding legislative autonomy.
- Articles 121 and 211: Prevent discussion of judges’ conduct in Parliament and State Legislatures, safeguarding judicial integrity.
- Article 361: Provides immunity to the President and Governors for official duties.
The Indian Constitution is based on this separation, with clear functions assigned to each branch. The Legislature makes laws, the Executive implements them, and the Judiciary resolves disputes and ensures constitutional adherence.
However, functional overlaps are seen due to factors like:
- Members of the political Executive also being part of the Legislature in the Indian Parliamentary system.
- The legislature is exercising judicial powers in cases of privilege breaches, impeachment, and judge removal.
- Executives exercising legislative power through ordinances under Articles 123 and 213.
- The judiciary uses judicial review to assess constitutionality of laws and executive actions.
Conflict between branches, particularly the Legislature and Judiciary, is recurrent. Instances include land reform laws, preventive detention laws, and laws regarding property acquisition and compensation. The doctrine’s importance was highlighted in the Kesavananda Bharati case (1973), asserting its integral nature in the Constitution.
In cases like R Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (2007) and Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain (1975), the Supreme Court recognized limited separation of powers in India. The rejection of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, reinforced judicial independence.
In Indian democracy, separation of powers is adapted with checks and balances to prevent arbitrary use of authority.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts of 1992 mandated the establishment of Panchayats and Municipalities, constituting the third tier of governance in every state. These amendments aimed to strengthen local governments and standardize their structure and operations across the nation, recognizing the importance of local governance.
Empowering the third tier of the federal structure in India is pivotal for reinforcing federalism through the following avenues:
- Empowering Local Representation: The 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts ensure local representation, fostering a stronger connection between leaders and the masses, facilitating bottom-up solutions.
- Accountability and Transparency: The reduced gap between leaders and the local populace enhances accountability and transparency, enabling people to monitor the actions of their representatives more closely.
- Wider and Inclusive Participation: The Gram Sabha serves as a public forum for discussing local governance and development, allowing communities to create need-based plans, with the Panchayat implementing programs under Gram Sabha supervision.
- Inclusion and Empowerment of Marginalized Groups: Local bodies incorporate provisions for the representation of marginalized groups, such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women, providing them with a more significant role in the political structure.
To further empower the local governance structure:
- Devolution of Power: Constitutional amendments should mandate state governments to devolve functions mentioned under schedule 11 of the Indian Constitution to local governments.
- Clear Function Delineation: State Legislatures must amend laws to clearly define functions between the state and local governments, taking cues from exemplary models such as the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994.
- Empowering Village Panchayats: Granting exclusive powers to Village Panchayats for certain matters, such as managing dispensaries and primary health centers, is essential.
- Financial Autonomy: Local bodies need increased revenue-generating avenues and access to untied funds. Granting them the exclusive right to levy and collect professional taxes, as seen in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is a step in the right direction.
India’s decentralization efforts represent the world’s largest democracy experiment. However, decentralization will remain symbolic unless local bodies are empowered and strengthened in alignment with the federalism spirit.
ULBs represent local self-government in urban areas through elected representatives. Rapid urbanization in India necessitates the improvement of urban residents’ lives, requiring reforms in urban governance and the strengthening of ULBs.
Central Government Reforms:
- The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, constitutionally recognizes urban local bodies.
- The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs introduced the Comprehensive Capacity Building Programme (CCBP) under the AMRUT scheme.
- The Municipal Performance Index (MPI) assesses Indian municipalities’ performance, covering various parameters from basic public services to complex areas like urban planning.
- A National Municipal Accounting Manual enhances ULBs’ capacities in municipal accounting, fostering transparency in public funds utilization.
State Government Reforms:
- Stamp duty rationalization aims to establish an efficient real estate market with fewer barriers to property transfer.
- Rent control law reforms seek to balance the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, promoting construction and housing development.
- Encouragement of municipal bond usage for fund-raising, with cities like Nasik, Nagpur, Ludhiana, and Madurai accessing capital markets since 1998.
- Repeal of the Urban Land Ceilings Regulation Act, 1976, in states like Maharashtra increases land supply and establishes an effective land market.
Challenges in ULBs:
- Financial scarcity and corruption persist due to inadequate financial devolution and tax collection inefficiencies.
- State control in urban planning limits ULBs’ role, hindering their functionality.
- Multiplicity of agencies leads to coordination problems.
- Inadequately trained personnel in smaller ULBs lack exposure to best practices in areas like urban planning, citizen participation, and municipal service delivery.
- Irregular elections and postponements in some ULBs, along with delays in constituting State Election Commissions, are common.
- Implement targeted capacity-building programs to enhance the administrative capabilities of ULBs.
- Increase financial devolution to ULBs to align with their responsibilities.
- Implement measures to enhance tax collection efficiency and transparency.
- Encourage streamlined coordination mechanisms among various agencies to reduce redundancies and improve efficiency.
- Strengthen training programs for personnel in smaller ULBs, focusing on areas such as urban planning, citizen engagement, and service delivery.
- Ensure timely reorganization of ward boundaries and extension limits to prevent delays in elections.
Proactive coordination among the Centre, state, and ULBs regarding urban planning is necessary to tackle the identified challenges.