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This week we take a look at the broader canvas of Centre-State relations in different domains such as administrative, legislative and financial. First, it needs to be kept in mind that it is in the States that the people of country reside, and it is them (the people) that all bodies, agencies and mechanisms – constitutional, statutory or otherwise – exist to serve.

After India became a Republic, it was found that the states were not only administratively weak and unevenly developed, but were also strapped for resources. As regards the ability to levy taxes and mop up resources, there was a completely lopsided situation, with the Centre having been vested with almost all the authority.

The Indian Constitution a provides for a quasi–federal system of government which is neither totally unitary nor completely federal. The arrangement is not purely federal for several reasons which include the absence of prior agreement between independent units,a written constitution which can only be amended with the consent of the states, an independent judiciary and the division of the powers between the Centre and the States.

In support of the strong unitary character is seen in are features such as the absence ofseparate constitutions for the states, the right of Parliament to amend a majority of the Articles of the Constitution, unequal representation to the states in the Rajya Sabha, the right of Parliament to change the names, territories or boundaries of States, the provision for All India Services and the emergency powers provided for exercise by the President of India.

As evidence of the mixed character,we have the requirements that states exercise executive powers in compliance with central laws, and without interfering with central laws, and that the states should maintain the means of communication of national or military importance.

The provisions that States should undertake protection of Railways, a single official language, the right of the Union to adjudicate between the States in inter–state river water disputes, and thata state should ensure the welfare of Scheduled Tribes in that State through its Governor also support this view.mThe Constitution spells out a dispensation that is clear and rigid as also flexible and open to changes over passage of time.
Unfortunately the situation has since deteriorated.

The Centre has grown stronger withthe States increasingly dependent on it. Finance Ministers of the states today have far less freedom and authority than a decade ago. In fact, the “budgets” presented in the Assemblies are purely symbolic, often being a repetition of prior agreement with the erstwhile Planning Commission and, now, the NITI Aayog, and the various departments of the Government of India in regard to programmatic content.Non-plan expenditure has always been strait-jacketed as it deals only with salaries, allowances and other related expenditure.

Finance ministers can neither propose any new programme nor levy a fresh tax, without exacerbating the existing deficit on revenue position – having to borrow in order to service existing indebtedness.

The situation is much worse in India than in any other federation in the world.Unlike Australia or Canada,states have no claim on shared taxesand, unlike the United States of America, they have nofree hand in the matter of formulation of policies which respond to the needs of people.

While the legislative and administrative domains are important, the field of financial relationsis most important.The Finance Commission of India, its powers, functions, and the terms of reference are of successive Commissions,are important examples of howbody politic has dealt with this concern.Thus, frequent misunderstandings between the Centre and the States leading to strained relations are not surprising, causedby factors such as the present claims of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana States and the stand of the Centre thereupon. 

The media have carried reports that KCR wants the Union government to control subjects such as agriculture, education, rural development and urban development, and take action to amend the Constitution to have them transferred to the State lists. His view is that the Centre should confine itself to handling defence, finance, external affairs and inter-state disputes. KCR also lamented that funds for such grassroots level programs as NREGA also have to come from the Centre. Another report says that, referring to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, he said “Pradhan Mantri ko gaon mein kyaa kaam hai.”

KCR’sviews and those of Chief Ministers heading non-BJP governments may sound politically motivated, but have a point. The structure of the Constitution, the laws made thereunder and the programmes devisedso far have been heavily biased in favour of the central government, leaving little leeway for the State governments. From the Centre to the States, and then on to the local self-government bodies, we see that only some reluctant delegation has taken place,but no substantial decentralisation, either of power or of authority.

Today, the Government of India has denied a special package to Andhra Pradesh State. Indications are that the Centre will offer, instead, support through a special purpose vehicle (meaningthrough institutional finances), or from the funds it receives from bilateral, multilateral or international arrangements or agencies. In other words, noting will come from the Government of India.

The Centre’s ambivalence, for over 14 years, in the matter of the sharing of Krishna river waters between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States is another case in point. The BJP has finally taken note of the resentment in the States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana arising from release of funds from the Centre and is taking steps for initiating a dialogue. Any further deterioration can even threaten the alliance between the TDP and the BJP at the Centre.

It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why the consequent disaffection resulting from those issues is sometimes going to the extent of regional parties joining together and challenging the ruling party at the Centre.

And now it looks as though KCR is firm about challenging the central government’s supremacy by forming a “third front.”Over the last seven decades and more, nearly every state in India has experienced the same, or at least, similar problems.In legislative and administrative areas, differing political ideologies or mismanagement by the states of natural calamities or law and order situations etc., have frequently damaged relationships.

While saluting the Constitution makers who had the sagacity and the wisdom to hormonisefederal and unitary features, one must remember that the states’ hands need to be strengthened.Without a visible increase in decentralisation of authority, at all levels, bitterness and frustration can creep into the atmosphere, with entirely disagreeable consequences.