Cooperative Federalism: Reality or Myth?

We all are aware of the latest political developments at the heart of the capital city where Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, an elected chief minister, had been sitting on a ‘Dharna’ at lieutenant-governor’s office for over a week while the LG incessantly refused to come over and meet him. In the light of these recent developments a question that becomes imperative is this: Has the idea of ‘Cooperative federalism’ enshrined in our constitution become a myth now?

Before we come to answering aforementioned question, let’s look at some constitutional provisions regarding ‘Federalism’ in India. Article 1 of the Indian constitution states, “that India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.” There are three lists with disparate subject matters that come under the domain of Central government(Union list) and State governments(State list) and the third list being ‘Concurrent list’ on which both Union and State governments can make laws, with primacy to the centre. Residuary matters are rested with the centre. The Upper house(Rajya Sabha) in the central legislature where representatives from the states contribute to the making of central statutes keeping in mind the issues which are centric to the respective states, also enhances the spirit of cooperative federalism.

However, despite these and some other similar constitutional provisions being in force, the centre has time and again misused its powers and has imposed ‘President’s rule’ in several states using ‘Article-356’, even on fallacious grounds in some cases, the latest example being Uttarakhand where centre government imposed President’s rule in the state in 2016 on the grounds which couldn’t convince the Supreme Court and it struck it down in no time. There have been countless similar attempts in the country since Independence which aim at stifling states’ freedom, to drain out their resources and to curb their constitutionally embedded powers.

Nevertheless, India saw a flicker of hope when NDA-2 came to power in 2014 and Mr. Modi talked of the need of the cooperative federalism without mincing words and looked resolute to acquire it even at the expense of mitigating centre’s powers. Thereafter, ‘Planning commission’ was changed to ‘National Institution for transforming India’(NITI Aayog), yet performing almost the same functions. Things began to shed away soon and today we have come to a situation where centre ostensibly doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the chief ministers belonging to the parties other than the one at the centre. Today, many state governments are upset with the centre because it didn’t give them ‘special status’ which they deem necessary for the development of their states given egregious disparities in the states in terms of their population, development, resources at disposal etc. This gives further impetus to the already deteriorating relationship between centre and states.

The issue of cooperative federalism reflects as much on the relationship among states as it does on the relationship between centre and states.Today, there is an unprecedented degeneration of this relationship where we can see states fighting over commodities like water let alone trade disputes, the latest example being ‘Cauveri water dispute’ between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and in spite of the directives from the honourable Supreme court the issue stands unresolved either due to the lack of cooperation between the states or due to the dillydallying of the centre. In any case, it’s a major blot on the spirit of cooperative federalism.

A reasonable sequitur from the above mentioned examples can be that the spirit of cooperative federalism is hemmed in more than ever before. States, I opine, need to resolve their inner issues first and then must stand together before the mighty centre. We owe this federal structure to our farsighted constitution makers and our forefathers who trusted posterity with it, so, we can’t simply let it evanesce in the times of crisis like today’s.


Picture Credits: DeccanHerald

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