People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Inter-State Council: Some Progress For States Rights
THE Inter-State Council met in New Delhi on November 16. This meeting considered the recommendations made by the Standing Committee of the Council concerning the Sarkaria Commission recommendations on certain important aspects of Centre-State relations. The Inter-State Council is provided for in the Constitution as a forum for the Centre and the states to discuss common issues concerning Centre-State relations. Till 1989, the Congress governments had never bothered to convene the Council. It was the V P Singh government which first constituted the Council. Since then, the Council has been meeting periodically. This in itself is a result of the prolonged struggle waged by the state governments belonging to the Left parties and regional parties.
The Vajpayee government cannot afford to ignore this body as the NDA consists of many regional parties who are strong advocates of utilising the Inter-State Council to strengthen the federal structure of the Indian Union. The Sarkaria Commission report and recommendations lay unimplemented for a long time. Though the changes in Centre-State relations suggested by the Commission are of a limited nature, even then both the earlier Congress governments and the present BJP-led government had not shown much urgency in dealing with the matters. The recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission were taken up for discussions seriously in the Inter-State Council during the period of the United Front government. The proposals of the Standing Committee were a continuation of the process initiated then.
Fiftynine of the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission were taken up by the Council this time. The agenda at the meeting of the Council dealt with legislative relations between the Centre and the states and the role of the Governor.
The outcome of the Council deliberations show that the decades long struggle for a more federal setup has made some headway, though it is of a limited nature. One of the major issues concerned the residuary powers not listed in the Constitution. At present, these are vested with the Union government. The Left-led governments of West Bengal and Tripura and various other state governments run by the regional parties demanded that these residuary powers should be vested with the states. The Sarkaria Commission had recommended that the residuary powers except taxation should be transferred to the Concurrent List. The final decision of the Council was to accept this recommendation with an important change, which is that residuary taxation powers would also be listed in the Concurrent List -- a demand which has been resisted so far by the Union government.
The Council also adopted the Sarkaria Commission recommendation that for legislation in respect of subjects in the Concurrent List there should be consultation with the state governments. Though this does not meet the demand made by the Left-led governments that there should be a review of the Concurrent List based on the need for decentralisation of powers, the acceptance of the need for consultations with the state governments as a prerequisite for all Union legislative actions in the concurrent sphere is a step forward. Certain other aspects of legislative relations were also adopted which provides some safeguards against encroachment of the Centre on the rights of the states. The reduction in the period of revision of royalty rates for states from 4 to 2 years for mines and minerals at ad valorem rates and the acceptance of states representation in the UGC in principle are some such steps. These limited steps only underline the necessity to continue the struggle for transferring more financial and legislative powers to the states.
ROLE OF THE GOVERNOR
The other main agenda taken up by the Council was the role of the Governor. The Governor has been used as the agent of the Centre and repeatedly Governors have acted against elected state governments and the legislature, throwing democratic norms to the wind. The use of Article 356 is only the worst manifestation of these arbitrary powers vested with the Governor as a representative of the Centre. As against this, in tune with a genuinely federal set up, the Left-led governments have been arguing for a basic change in the nature of the post. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, reiterated a proposal first mooted in the Council by Jyoti Basu that the Governor should be appointed by the President from a panel of three eminent persons suggested by the state Chief Minister. The Constitution should be suitably amended for this. The Sarkaria Commission had recommended that the state Chief Minister should be consulted about the person appointed as Governor and the procedure of consultation should be prescribed in the Constitution.
The Standing Committee of the Council also recommended that the Constitution should be suitably amended to make the consultation with the state Chief Minister obligatory. This proposal was accepted by the Council and the Union government has promised to enact a constitutional amendment for consultation with the Chief Minister in this regard.
Whether it be the earlier Congress governments or the present BJP-led government, they have been appointing Governors to serve the political interests of the ruling party or coalition at the Centre. The Congress had made it a practice to put in cashiered Congress politicians as Governors in the states. The BJP is no better. The Vajpayee government had appointed a senior RSS-BJP leader, Sunder Singh Bhandari as the Governor of Bihar to facilitate the toppling of the RJD government there. In doing so, they had violated the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission that politicians from the ruling party at the Centre should not be appointed as Governors in states which are run by opposition parties. In the present dispensation under the Constitution, the Governor is seen as a representative of the Union government. The CPI(M) would like the Governor to represent the interests of the state too. The process of "consultation" would be a mere formality as it does not mean concurrence of the state government.
The other recommendations accepted by the Inter-State Council pertain to prevention of arbitrary actions and misuse of the post of Governor especially on the question of the Governor's powers to appoint the Chief Minister. The Council accepted that where there is no absolute majority, the Governor should call the leader of the largest party or group of parties to form the government; it should be mandatory to seek a vote of confidence within thirty days and the claims of majority strength cannot be decided by the Governor outside the legislative assembly. All these measures need to be codified. The decision that the Governor after retirement should not take up any public office or private appointment and on retirement be given a pension should also be enforced.
Two other matters were taken up by the Council. On the question of the mass media, the Chief Minister of West Bengal argued that since Doordarshan is being run more or less as a Central government department and the electronic media being privatised, there is no reason why the state government should not be given a say in running the Prasar Bharati TV and Radio channels. This was a demand, which was widely supported by other Chief Ministers.
As far as the language policy is concerned, it was decided to continue with the three-language formula and leave the implementation of this formula to the states keeping in mind their specific conditions.
Overall, the Inter-State Council deliberations have highlighted the need to press on for further reforms in Centre-State relations so that the states acquire rightful powers within a federal setup. The BJP-led government like its predecessors will try to block and delay any further progress in this direction.
POTO AND FEDERAL POLICE AGENCY OPPOSED
The Central government had called a meeting of Chief Ministers on internal security, the next day after the Inter-State Council. The opportunity was used by the Home Minister to try and push through measures which were earlier mooted but which had been opposed by the Chief Ministers. Just as the way POTO was promulgated, the Vajpayee government sought to utilise the current concerns about terrorism to try and push through measures, which would have meant increasing centralisation of powers. The POTO was opposed by a majority of Chief Ministers both for the manner in which the ordinance was promulgated and for its contents. It was not only the Left-led governments of West Bengal and Tripura, the RJD government of Bihar and the Congress governments, which opposed the measure. Within the NDA fold, the Akali government of Punjab opposed the measure outright and the TDP government of Andhra Pradesh suggested some modifications before adopting the Act. The Chief Ministers conference made it clear that the Central government has no support for this draconian law except from the BJP Chief Ministers.
As for the Home Minister's proposal for a federal police investigating agency which can directly initiate investigations and take up cases which would be outside the purview of the state governments, practically all the non-BJP Chief Ministers opposed the move vehemently. The Chief Minister of West Bengal spoke for the majority when he said:
"As regards the need for a federal agency to deal with certain specified crimes threatening the integrity of the country I would like to make it clear that our Government is totally opposed to this move. Public order is the prime responsibility of the State Governments as per provisions of the Constitution of India and management of the internal security remains the responsibility of the State Governments .Cases involving international ramifications threatening national security may be investigated by a specialised wing of CBI after obtaining concurrence of the concerned State Government in each case."
The discussions in the conference of Chief Ministers on internal security made it clear that the Government has no mandate to enact POTO into law. Further, the Centre cannot encroach upon the powers of the state in the name of internal security.