Conflict between the Centre and State!
In some of the states in 1967 Samyukta Vidhyak Dal and United Front Governments came to power, while in others Communist parties came to power. At the centre, Congress party, however, remained in power. Thus Centre state relations got somewhat strained.
In 1971, situation, however, again changed when Congress party again swept the polls and was saddled in authority both at the centre as well as in the states, resulting in harmonising of relationship between the centre and the states.
In 1977, when general elections for the Lok Sabha were held in the country, Janata party came to power at the centre, but at that time many states were being ruled by the Congress party. Relationship between the centre and the states again posed a problem.
But the Janata government at the centre decided to dissolve nine Congress ruled state assemblies, on the plea that electoral verdict had shown that the governments in these states had lost contacts with the people.
When elections in these states were held, the Janata party came to power and thus there was no straining of relationship between the centre and the states. In 1980, general elections for the Lok Sabha were again held in the country. Janata party was defeated at the polls and Congress (I) party came to power at the centre.
This again was likely to strain relationship between the centre and the states because in many states Janata party was then in power. In order to avoid problems and taking several other factors into consideration Congress government at the centre, dissolved nine Janata and other opposition ruled state Assemblies.
Since Congress (I) which was in power at the centre, swept polls in 8 out of the 9 states in which elections were held, therefore, straining of relations again could be avoided.
After 1980 general elections in the country few the Lok Sabha were held at the end of 1984. in …which Congress (I) was returned to power at the centre with a thumping: majority. In, however, many states, as and when, elections for the state Assemblies were held, it lost heavily.
Half of India began to be ruled by non-Congress (I) political parties, thus, causing great strains in centre-state relationship. Congress (I) lost its majority at the centre as a result of elections held in November, 1989. But National Front government headed by Shri V.P. Singh remained in power for less than a year, therefore, the question of centre’s relations with the Congress ruled states is a matter of guess.
When election for the Lok Sabha were held in 1991 Congress (I) party returned as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha and formed the government. B.J.P. was returned as the major opposition party.
This party, however, was in a position to form government in the states of U.P., Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Central Government, however, dissolved these Assemblies though these enjoyed majority in the State Assemblies, in the wake of demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhaya.
Today more than half of India is being ruled by non-congress (I) political parties and it is straining relations between centre and the states.
Suggestions for Improving Centre-State Relations:
Since some of the states felt aggrieved these asserted themselves. As said earlier in 1968, West Bengal government of Shri Ajoy Mukherjee created such a situation that the Central Government was obliged to recall Governor Dharam Vira. In 1979, Charan Singh governments promulgated Preventive Detention Ordinance.
But several state governments refused to implement its provisions. South Indian states could create a situation compelling central government to assure them that Hindi would not be introduced in these states till these were ready to accept it.
Centre has failed to resolve Chandigarh issue and its future set up because of its failure to produce a formula acceptable both to Haryana and Punjab. It has also failed to solve water and boundary disputes between Maharashtra and Karnataka and Haryana and Punjab.
Such disputes as well exist among Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Such insistences on the part of states create a difficult situation in amicably solving centre-state problems.
Several suggestions have been made in improving Centre-State relations. Some of the suggestions made are as follows:
One suggestion made relates to the role of the state Governors at a time when there is break down of constitutional machinery in the state. It is argued out that the Governors quite often oblige the Central Government in the dissolution of non-Congress Ministries.
This in itself needs looking into. After the dissolution what should be the role of the Governor of the state concerned and of the President, should be decided by a code of conduct.
Then it is also suggested that Planning Commission, which is to prepare plans for non-Congress ruled states also, should not be under the exclusive control of the Congress ruled central government. It should be made an independent body and have autonomous character.
Then it was also suggested that Finance Commission should not concern itself only with statutory funds which were very limited. In order to enable it to play its role very effectively discretionary funds should also be placed at its disposal for distribution.
A suggestion was made that the Central Government should follow the policy of least interference in the affairs of the states and thus give comparatively free hand to the states in financial, legislative and administrative matters. It was suggested that the centre should give up policy of dictating the states but should work on the principle of co-operation.
Then another suggestion which was made in this regard being that in order to avoid centre-state disputes an inter-state Council may be set up which should include among others the former Chief Justices, Prime Ministers and Attorney General. The Council may deal with such matters as the justification of promulgation of President’s rule in the state and the appointment of Governors.
Even inter-state disputes could also be referred to the Council for settlement. In this regard suggestion was also made that the decisions of the Council should be binding no matter whether these suited to both the parties or not. Then another suggestion made was that financial resources of the country should be so re-allocated that the states became financially less dependent on the centre.
In 1970, Tamil Nadu Government set up a three member committee headed by P.V. Rajamannar to make recommendations on the improvement of centre-state relations.
The Committee was of the view that:
(a) Inter-State Council should be immediately be set up. In case there was need for a parliamentary legislation which effected more than one state the measure should be introduced only with the prior approval of this Council.
(b) Planning Commission should be made an autonomous body.
(c) Finance Commission should be made a permanent body.
(d) States should be made financially less dependent on the centre.
(e) Some of the subjects should be transferred from the central to the state list so that the states become administratively more independent.
(f) All the states should be given equal representation in the Rajya Sabha.
(g) The centre may appoint Governors but the appointment should be made with the approval of the state cabinet. If that was difficult a high powered body may be set up which should help in deciding the names of such persons who could be appointed as Governors.
(h) A person who was once appointed as Governor of any state should not be appointed to any other post in the Central Government
(i) Provision that the Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor should be deleted.
(j) Except in the cases involving constitutional interpretations, the State High Courts should have final jurisdictions in their respective states.
(k) Special status of Kashmir should be maintained.
(l) English should be link language between the Centre and the States.
(m) Inter-state water disputes should be settled only through Supreme Court.
Reaction of Central Government:
But the Central Government did not agree to any suggestion either by way of the amendment of the Constitution or by introducing any legislative measure on the lines suggested by the Committee.
In the opinion of the government each state was getting its proper share in Finances and law and order situation must be over viewed by the centre because such a problem was not only that of maintaining peace and tranquillity but created many social and economic problems. In the opinion of the Central Government the country was passing through very difficult period of history both in administrative and financial matters and any laxity at this stage was likely to result in serious consequences which could result in chaos and disintegration.
Centre-State relations would have assumed much greater importance and significance and would have drawn still more attention but situation somewhat changed in 1971. In that year mid-term polls were held in the country and Congress party under the leadership of Mrs. Indira Gandhi came to power with two-thirds majority at the centre.
Meanwhile two major developments took place in the country, which had far-reaching effects on centre-state relations. In 1969, there was split in the Congress party. Mrs. Gandhi headed one section whereas the other was headed by then Congress President.
But Mrs. Gandhi could maintain her hold on the party and keep her own persons in power in the States, where possible. In seven states UF and SVD governments which came to power in 1967, did not fair well.
The constituents of these governments could not pull on well with each other and began to disintegrate under their own weight. Instead of working for the people of the state, each one began to care/or his own interest. There was a chain of ‘Aya Ram’ and ‘Gaya Ram’.
This frustrated the people of these states and thus as the time passed even these states could not pose a serious challenge to the authority of the Centre. When in 1972 elections to several state Assemblies were held, Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s party came to power in almost every big state and in this way monolithic political party system again came back in the country to same extent. There was thus less strain on Centre-State relations.
In 1975, internal emergency was declared in the country and that continued for about 19 months. During this period there was not much challenge to the central authority and relations between the centre and the states were not under pressure.
But situation changed in 1977 when General Elections were held in the country. As a result, for the first time Janata party, a non-Congress party came to power at the centre with a massive mandate from the people. But in the states still Congress party was in power.
Though many states had completed their normal term of five years, yet these were continuing because of Forty-Second Constitution Amendment under which life of state Assemblies had been extended from 5 to 6 years. Since at the centre, there was a non-Congress government and in most of the states Congress party was in power, therefore, the relations were likely to come under heavy strains.
Dissolution and Dissolution:
In order to save the situation, the then Home Minister, Chaudhry Charan Singh wrote to Congress led states to recommend to their Governors the dissolution of their respective state Assemblies. The argument advanced was that these were living on borrowed time and had lost contacts with the people of the state.
But the state governments instead of co-operating with the Central Government decided to go to the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of its decision to dissolve the State Assemblies.
The Court, however, decided that the Central Government was fully in empowered to dissolve a state Assemblies under the circumstances under which these were being dissolved. As a consequence Janata government at the centre decided to dissolve nine state Assemblies in which Congress party was in power.
In June 1977, elections to these Assemblies were held and the Janata party came to power. It was even now not a monolithic political party system because in some of the states still non-Janata party governments were in power.
But, by and large, there was not much strain on central-state relations, because in very many states the Janata party on its own or with the help of some other political parties managed to come to power and form government.
But this situation did not last for long. Constituent of the Janata party began to quarrel with each-other. In fightings became so clear that the people lost faith in their capacity to work together in the national interest.
But the worst was that the party could not pull on as a united body. In 1979, when the party had hardly remained in power for about two-and-a-half years, that Y.B. Chavan as leader of the opposition moved a vote of no-confidence against the government.
There were defections in the party, resulting in the resignation of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Since Y.B. Chavan could not form Government, Desai was succeeded by Chaudhry Charan Singh as Prime Minister with the support of Congress (I) headed by Smt. Indira Gandhi.
But after few days when the Lok Sabha session was convened. Congress (I) decided to withdraw its support reducing Charan Singh government to minority in the House who tendered resignation without facing the Lok Sabha. The President then decided to dissolve the Lok sabha, elections for which w ere held in late in 1979.
As a result of these elections Mrs. Gandhi’s Party Congress (I) came to power once again.
The history repeated itself. This time Congress (I) was in power in the centre whereas in most of the States Janata party or non-Congress (I) led governments were in power. Again there was likelihood of the relations between the Centre and the States getting strained.
This time Congress (I) took the same stand, which Janata party had taken in 1977 and dissolved nine state Assemblies and Delhi Metropolitan Council, in which the party had not faired well. Elections to several State Assemblies were held as a result of which Congress (I) was returned to power in 8 out of 9 states. Only in Tamil Nadu, All India ADMK managed to come back to power, defeating Congress (I) DMK alliance.
West Bengal Memorandum, 1977:
When all these changes were taking place, West Bengal government prepared a memorandum on Centre-State relations in which it was pointed out that during the last ten years non-Congress (I) ruled state governments had come under heavy pressure and these were snatched of their powers. With the passing of Forty-second Constitution Amendment Act education has been transferred from the state list and the centre has got a right to send its forces to the states.
In the opinion of the government the states were being reduced to the position of department of Central Government. It suggested that present tilt towards centre should be checked and the states should be left free in the sphere of their activities.
It demanded that the powers of the centre and the states should be clearly defined and those of the Central Government should be limited to such matters as defence, foreign affairs, foreign trade, etc. Such channels as Central Reserve Police, Border Security Police, through which centre can frequently interfere in state affairs should be done away with. Planning,
Commission should be given constitutional status and 75% of the total revenue should be automatically transferred to divisible pool to be divided among the states. Finance Commission should not indicate amount payable to each state but should only indicate the principles on which the amount should be divided.
The Memorandum also demanded that the states should be given equal representation in the Rajya Sabha and that the states may be given right to use mother tongue at all levels. In addition, English should be continued as a link language between the centre and the states. It also demanded that all water disputes should be decided by the Supreme Court.
The Central Government did not accept the demands made in the Memorandum. In Punjab Akali Dal passed Anand Pur Sahib Resolution in which it demanded state autonomy and vast powers for the states and limited powers for the centre.
In the Resolution it was demanded that authority of the centre should be limited to defence, foreign affairs, railway, communication and currency. It also demanded that residuary powers should be vested in the states and that authority and representation of all the states at the centre should be equal.
Central Government’s View:
Whereas the states were clamouring for more powers the central government held the view that the present arrangement was quite satisfactory. In its view strong centre was the need of the hour and that the state governments in most of the cases have failed to discharge their functions adequately. There has always been law and order problem in the states. These have proved incapable of maintaining political stability.
The states have not given a good account of themselves even in such spheres which are exclusively in their jurisdictions. There are always allegations about misuse of power and authority. As regards more financial powers, central government held the view that the states even do not fully and properly utilise financial resources which are at present made available to them. Availability of more resources and grant of more powers will result in corruption and inefficiency. Moreover, every time an opportunity for division of financial resources comes, the states are always given more funds than what these used to get. In the opinion of the centre greater autonomy to the many states is not Likely to accelerate the process of development in the states.
Mean time President Sanjiva Reddy, in 1981, expressed the views that the states should be given more autonomy and resources. In his opinion (a) administrative machinery at the centre was in no way more efficient than what it is in the states and (b) as the opportunity arises the state responses quicker than the centre to meet an emergency situation.
Obviously his views were not cherished by the Congress party but were very much lauded by the opposition political parties and opposition parties ruled states.
On the other hand, Congress party felt that “Being constitutional head the president should not have made such a statement. He has bigger duties to perform. Containing the party spokesman said “I am opposed to the concept of greater autonomy to the states and instead want a strong centre.”
Harcharan Singh Longowal while reacting to these views of the President said that “The President views are people inner voice and that more autonomy would make India more united and strong.” Left Front in Bengal also said, “We have been pressing for greater autonomy for the states. It is good that the President agrees with our view.”
Prelude of Sarkaria Commission:
It was in this atmosphere that the Central Government decided to set up a Commission to look into centre-state relations. But before that it is essential to note that because of various reasons powers of the Central Government were much increasing to the annoyance of the state governments.
The Centre, as compared with the states, already had very vast powers. But several Constitution Amendment Acts had made it stronger. In 1953, Third Constitution Amendment Act was passed which empowered the central government to fix the prices of even foodgrains.
In 1956, Sixth Constitution Amendment Act was passed which reduced the powers of the state governments to levy sales tax. In the same year by passing Seventh Constitution Amendment Act the central government got powers to appoint special officers to look offer educational interests of linguistic groups.
But powers of the states were considerably curtailed with the passing of 42nd Constitution Amendment Act. Judicial judgments also considerably increased the powers of the Central Government.
The Supreme Court held that autonomous organisations created by the states were subject to the payment of income tax. Similarly it held the view that the Central Government could tax all goods manufactured in the state and so on. Central control over Planning Commission also made it very powerful.
Whereas Central Government was getting more and more powers the demand for autonomy by the states was not on political grounds alone. Though theoretically demand was made in the name of democracy and nationalism but practically it was because of geographical, cultural, political and economic considerations.
Cultural minorities in several regions feared their absorption in majority culture and felt the need for effective protection in their regions. Demand for autonomy came more frequently from the states where one or other ethnic, religious or cultural groups were concentrated.
During recent years agricultural classes have started taking more interest in politics and have developed a desire to have effective control over state level politics and to become economically powerful and political elites. Thus desire to preserve culture, to have better economic conditions, love for region, acquisition of political power all combined together have strengthened demand for more autonomy for the states.
Demand for setting up a separate Commission was gaining currency day-by-day. In 1981, a meeting of the opposition parties held in Sri Nagar demanded that radical changes should be brought about in centre-state relations. In 1983, Janata party government in Karnataka brought out a white paper on centre-state relations.
Accordingly on March 24, 1983, Central Government announced the appointment of a Commission under Justice R.S. Sarkaria, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, to review existing arrangements between the centre and the states in the context of socio-economic developments on the one hand and keeping in view unity and integrity of the country on the other.
The other members of the Commission were B. Sivaraman, S. R. Sen and Ramasubramaniam, who acted as Member of Secretary of the Commission.
Some of the opposition ruled states in their memorandum to the Commission demanded that the institution of the Governor should be reformed. In their opinion Governors had become party agents.
Inter-state Councils, as provided under Article 263 of the Constitution, should be created to enquire into disputes between states and discuss matters of common interest and make recommendations for better co-ordination and policy action.
The President may decide about procedure of working, etc., of these bodies. Residuary powers should be left with the states and not with the centre, as is the case at present. A Bill passed by the legislature should not be withheld and must be consented. IAS and IPS cadres should either be reformed or abolished.
Suggestions were also made for bringing some subjects from the Union to the state list. All revenues must be compulsorily shared between the Centre and the States. Emergency provisions, particularly those dealing with centre’s right’s to interfere in state affairs, should be abolished.
The Centre should perform only those functions which are specifically allotted to it under the Constitution.
The Terms of Reference of the Commission:
Following were terms of reference of the Sarkaria Commission:
(1) To examine and review the working of existing arrangement between Union and states with regard to (a) powers, (b) functions and (c) responsibilities in all spheres;
(2) To recommend appropriate changes and other measures in the existing arrangements:
It was said that while making recommendations the Commission should keep in view social and economic developments which have taken place over the years.
Due regard should also be paid to “…the frame work of the Constitution which the founding fathers had so sedulously designed to protect independence and to ensure the unity and integrity of the country which is of paramount importance for promoting the welfare of the people.”
Recommendations of the Commission:
The Commission submitted its report in 1988.
It recommended that:
(1) It was not proper to curtail the powers of the centre as a strong centre was necessary for presenting the integrity of the country.
(2) In the view of the Commission there was no need for making drastic changes in the existing provisions of the Constitution as these have all along with stood stresses and strains of changes in society.
(3) In the financial sphere these was no need for major changes in the basic scheme as provided in the Constitution.
(4) It favoured some amendments to provide for sharing of Corporation tax and levy of consignment tax on advertisement and broadcasting.
(5) It did not favour transfer of any subject from the central to the state or concurrent list.
(6) It favoured deployment of central forces in consultation with the state government concerned.
(7) No change was needed in Arts 246 and 254 of the Constitution.
(8) It did not favour the idea of abolition of the office of the Governor and also the idea that the Governor should be selected from a panel of names given by the concerned state-government. It, however, favoured the idea that Governor should be appointed in consultation with the Chief Minister of the concerned state.
(9) The Governor should appoint only such person as Chief Minister who was either the leader of majority party in the Assembly or could command a majority in the Assembly which he should be asked to prove within 30 days.
(10) It did not favour deletion of Art 356 of the Constitution but suggested number of steps to ensure that the power was only rarely used.
(11) No state Assembly should be dissolved unless Parliament has approved proclamation of emergency and that before imposition of President’s rule the possibilities of forming an alternative government should be explored.
(12) It recommended that no Commission of Enquiry should be set up against any minister of a state government unless a demand to this effect is made by both the Houses of Parliament.
(13) In the view of the Commission the Centre should hold consultations. with the states before legislating on a subject mentioned in the concurrent list.
(14) It favoured setting up of Inter-State Councils.
(15) It also favoured activating Commissioner for linguistic minorities.
(16) It recommended implementation of three language formula and also suggested creation of several new All India Services.
When report of the Commission was submitted at that time Congress (I) was in power at the centre. Instead of accepting the report in decided that the report of the Commission may be circulated throughout the country for eliciting public opinion and that a final decision will be taken in the light of reactions received from the people.
But before this could be done in the general elections for the Lok Sabha held in 1990 Congress (I) party was voted out of power and National Front government which succeeded it accepted some of its recommendations.
In 1991, Congress (I) again came in power and it also accepted some other recommendations of the Commission. Thus, so far only few and not all recommendations of the Commission have been accepted.
Whereas states have been demanding more powers and financial resources, M.C. Setalwad has opined that, “Fissiparous and divisive tendencies have intensified and taken roots in the factors other than lingualism, communalism, provincialism, stateism and other narrow loyalties.
Far from the unions powers needing curtailment one feels that in many directions they need be widened. A large section of community is of the view that these powers require expansion in fields like education, agriculture, production of goods which are basically needed by the common man.”
Whether the states should or should not be given more powers the main issue which emerges from the discussion is that unity and integrity of the country should remain intact and in no way be jeopardised. The commission and committees which have been set up from time to time to examine the issue of Centre.
State relation have stress the need of setting up active Inter-State-council, as provided under Art 263 of the Constitution. Sarkaria Commission has suggested that Inter-Governmental Body should have a General Body and also Standing Committee.
The former should comprise of Prime Minister as Chairman and Six Chief Ministers one each from each zone selected annually and six Union Ministers to be nominated by the Prime Minister as members. It should meet at least twice a year. In so far as Standing Committee is concerned it should meet four-time in a year. The Council may also appoint ad hoc committees if need be.
In the national interest it is very essential that country’s unity must be maintained at all costs and there should be very harmonious relations between the centre and the states.
For this it is essential that:
(i) Central leadership of the ruling party should always give the impression to the state governments that is considering and deciding every issue, taking national interest and not party interests into consideration. They should create image of a national and not a party leader.
(ii) The Centre should confine its activities as assigned to it through the Constitution and avoid using powers got by it by extra constitutional means, as that will leave an impression with the states that it is not interested in interfering in their autonomy.
(iii) The Centre should use its powers under Article 356 very rarely and exceptionally.
(iv) The Centre should try to allocate more financial resources to the states so that these can undertake more developmental activities.
(v) To the extent possible Centre should not impose any Governor of its choice an the state but consult Chief Minister of the state concerned before deciding the name of the Governor for that state.
(vi) The Centre should not feel that every demand for autonomy is call for the disintegration of national sovereignty but should treat it as a normal centrifugal tendency in a federation.
(vii) The Central government should consult the state government before enacting any legislation on a subject mentioned in the concurrent list.
(viii) The states should be given by the Centre essential and very reasonable functional autonomy.