[Editorial Analysis] Out of My Mind: Power of Centre against that of states

Mains Paper 2: Indian Polity

Prelims level: Govt. of India Act 1935

Mains level: Issues and Challenges pertaining to the Federal Structure, Dispute Redressal Mechanisms, and the Centre-State Relations

Context

• The issue is the power of the Centre against that of the states, or the nature of federalism.

• Few people remember that as late as July 1946, the proposed Constitution of India (undivided) was going to be a Confederate one with powerful Provinces whose elected heads were called Prime Ministers and a weak Centre with Defence, Foreign Affairs and Currency among its subjects.

• The Government of India Act 1935 was the basis for the 1946 elections which created the Legislative Assembly which became the Constituent Assembly.

Features of the Government of India Act of 1935 (Highly important)

• The Act intended to bring completely responsible government in India.

• It provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of provinces and princely states as units. (However, the federation never came into being as the princely states did not join it.)

• Act divided powers – Central list, Provincial list and Concurrent list; Residue powers to Governor.

• Abolished ‘dyarchy’ in the provinces and introduced ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place.

• Act introduced responsible governments in provinces (i.e. governor was required to act with the advice of ministers responsible to the provincial legislature) – was in operation only from 1937-1939 18
• It provided for the adoption of dyarchy at the Centre i.e. Federal subjects be divided into ‘transferred’ and ‘reserved’ – But this also never came into operation.

• It introduced bicameralism in six out of eleven provinces.
• Extended separate electorates for depressed classes (scheduled castes), women and labour workers.

• Abolished the Council of India (which was estd in GOI, 1958 to assist SOS). SOS was provided with team of advisors.

• Establishment of a Reserve Bank of India to control the currency and credit of the country.

• Federal PSC + Provincial PSC (on lines of UPSC + SPSC).
• Establishment of a Federal Court (in 1937).

Weakening federalism

• Partition changed everything. Instead of a Union of powerful Provinces and weak Centre, the Constituent Assembly chose a strong Centre with states whose boundaries could be altered by the Centre.

• There was an implicit assumption that the Congress will rule at the Centre and all the states forever, which would allow Centre-state disputes to be settled at party level.

• That lasted till 1967, though the arbitrary dismissal of the first Communist government of Kerala showed that even Jawaharlal Nehru’s commitment to democracy had limits.

• It got worse and the Centre misused the President’s Rule powers shamelessly, not to mention the Emergency.

• States’ demand for revenue sharing was accommodated by successive Finance Commissions, but on political matters the power equation between the Centre and states alters with personalities.

• There is no redress except via the Supreme Court. When the Centre was weak during 1988-1998, the Supreme Court gathered lot of power to itself and became autonomous, as its system of Collegium shows.

• It has not given up that power despite a Constitutional amendment to establish a National Judicial Appointments Commission.

• Here the disproportionate weakness of the principal opposition party has helped the court. Lately, the fissures within the topmost judges and the cavalier attempts to impeach the Chief Justice of India have done no one any good. The system may not be broke but it is not working as expected.

Conclusion

• The most recent fracas, between the West Bengal CM and CBI, has shown once again that it is not rules of established practice that govern Centre-state relations.

• The Centre showed restraint and did not slam President’s Rule as in the old Congress days, but the fact remains that the balance between the Centre and states is not as was assumed in 1949.

• States are developing tariff barriers when it comes to jobs and reservations wanting to favour their ‘native sons of the soil’, as the most recent example of Madhya Pradesh shows.

• This will only grow as the NRC issue in Assam demonstrates.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Which of the following organisations are collaborating with World Health Organisation (WHO) in the first Global Climate conference on Air Pollution and Health?

1. UNEP

2. UNFCCC

3. Climate and Clean air coalition

4. WMO

5. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Select the correct answer using the code(s) given below:

(a) 1, 2 and 3

(b) 2, 3 and 4

(c) 2, 3, 4 and 5

(d) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Ans: D

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Is the Government of India Act 1935 relevant in modern times? Give your argument in this regard.

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