“The method of dividing power so that general and regional governments are each within a sphere co-ordinate and independent” is how K.C Wheare, the Father of contemporary federal theories, defined federalism. In the Indian context, the unconventional adoption of “cooperative federalism” by the Constituent Assembly as a result of their labor at strategically devising a form of governance where the Indian family could live and thrive together.
Cooperative Federalism at its best means, administrative cooperation between the Centre and the States and was enacted throughout the many facets of the Constitution for political equilibrium. However, what was initially sought as a way to live together often faces a crisis with any political party holding majority in the parliament, be it the Congress in earlier years or the Bhartiya Janata Party today.
It was in January this year that Kerala became the first state in India to join hands with the people across the country to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2020 and challenge its constitutionality before the Supreme Court. With this uprising, one could only think of the possible Centre-State debacles that 2020 was set to witness.
Not long into the year, ‘my house, my rules’ politics at the Centre resulted in the altercation of powers of the States, leading to a row of tussles-
The Goods and Service Tax Compensation
The implementation of GST was one of the finest examples of Cooperative Federalism. However, the CAG report on the unlawful allocation of funds guaranteed for the states by the Centre elsewhere resulted in the breach of trust between them which only got deepened with the growing COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Citing huge tax and cess shortage, the Centre withdrew itself from any responsibility towards allocating the states their fair share of payments which they were legally bound to. Such breaches not only put the integrity of GST- One country, one market, one tax, at stake but also undermines the power of the State and limit them in engaging in further such administrative relations with the Centre.
Auto-debit of Unpaid Dues from Jharkhand
In what was a tripartite agreement between the Centre, State, and the Reserve Bank of India, the Union Power Ministry wrote to the RBI to automatically debit Rs. 1,417 crores from Jharkhand’s account to the Centre’s account as the installment of the outstanding dues to a Central Public-Sector Unit. This step came when discussions for the amount to be paid was underway. The CM Hemant Soren office stated that it was a “veiled conspiracy” from the Union Govt to increase the dependency of the states on the market in the economically unstable circumstances being faced by the states. He further said that the move by the Centre prima facie appears to be “unconstitutional, immoral and an attack on the federal structure.”
The Recent Farm Bills
The Opposition MPs in the Upper House wanted the bill to go through a committee and for which they demanded a division vote, in which each MP would have to record their position for the same. Instead of consulting and giving due representation to the recommendations of the states, especially in matters of agriculture, the Centre passed the third farm bill with indefinite voice votes in the Rajya Sabha, practicing the tradition of for uncontested bills. While what BJP adherents believe to be necessary for the face of ‘frivolous’ obstruction from the States, it simply undermined the right of every MP present in the house then.
The Corona Virus Pandemic
In the face of the growing crisis of the pandemic, what could have been effective in tackling the situation better was “cooperative federalism”- a Centre-State initiative towards determining the saliences of the crisis and decentralization of policies and guidelines specific to each state.
Under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 (under which binding COVID-19 guidelines are being issued by the Centre to the States) is a provision for the creation of a “National Plan” under Section 11 as well as the issuance of guidelines by the Centre to the States under Section 6(2). The National Plan then is a wider vision document with the guidelines as its implementing mechanisms. Now Section 11(2) of the Act mandates state consultation before formulating the National Plan to the extent that the guidelines issued under it are the representation of the States. However, the Centre has not formed the “National Plan” in the first place while it issued rigid guidelines to the States.
The latest we saw was the politics over Vaccines during Bihar Elections when BJP promised free vaccine if the party comes to power again. The development hinted at the willingness of the Centre to play pity politics over vaccine instead of collaborating with the States at nipping the crisis at its bud.
Any developments that suggest a potential crisis to the federalism in India in the ‘Modi-Era’ are brushed off as anti-BJP propaganda. The centralization of power within BJP with two people- Narendra Modi and Amit Shah resonates well with the loss of BJP in other states across the country. This can be the reason for the hegemony practiced at the Centre which has dried up the power of the States. What constitutes India as a union of States has now only translated into a hegemony with gross violation of cooperative federalism and it should be checked and resisted to protect the democracy and power guaranteed to us by the Constitution.