It seems like a strange coincidence that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would convene a high-profile Inter-State Council meeting on Saturday, just at a time when the Arunachal Pradesh State Assembly is scheduled to witness a trial of strength – to prove the majority of the Nabam Tuki government.
Ironies are often inveterate companions of politics. For first time in a decade, the Inter-State Council has been convened to tackle the issue of cooperative federalism and to improve the Centre-state relations. The meet would also mark the first time that PM Modi – along with 17 Union ministers – would interact with all the chief ministers on a single platform, since assuming office in 2014.
The council, which defines the contour of the federal structure, will tackle critical agenda like the GST, professional tax, Direct Benefit Transfer for providing subsidies, the Aadhar act and terrorism. Significantly, it was preceded by five meetings of regional chapters of the Inter-State Councils, headed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, held at different places over the last one year.
Chief ministers from across the country would gather, along with the prime minister and his senior union ministers, under one roof to discuss the issues at length and arrive at a conclusion by the end of the day.
But can we expect a conclusion from the meeting? It is quite unlikely. As there is a strong possibility of the Congress and some other regional satraps putting more efforts to lend voice more to cacophony than towards consensus. The shadow of Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the bitterness the Centre shares with the Delhi government, all together, would be quite difficult to discard.
The Inter-State Council is a critical statutory body that flags the issues to smoothen relations between the Centre and the states. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time, the Council held frequent meetings and took up the recommendations of the Sarkaria commission, which gave a broad outline on how to iron out the differences between the union government and the states.
Though the council became a defunct body during the UPA regime – last meeting of the Inter-State Council was held in 2006, and only two were convened during the decade long UPA regime – a new commission under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice MM Punchhi was appointed to review the Centre-state relation in 2005.
Justice Punchhi’s recommendations are quite instructive, especially in view of the on-going controversy in Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the most important recommendations were:
- Governors of the state need to be appointed by a committee comprising prime minister, Lok Sabha speaker and chief minister of the concerned states.
- Governors must be given full five-year terms and not treated as “football”. He can only be removed by impeachment in the State Assembly.
- President’s rule will be imposed not in the entire state but in a certain geographical area where internal security disturbances are beyond control of the state government.
- Governor should invite a coalition of parties with clear majority in a hung house and that should remain till five years.
- In the situation of internal disturbance, the Centre should be authorised to deploy the central forces and take control of the situation despite resistance by the state government.
- State ministers, if found indulged in corruption, be prosecuted at the concurrence of the Centre. Chief minister’s approval is not required.
- Communal violence act must be deliberated and brought into force to fix responsibility of the state and the Centre in the event of communal disturbances.
- The discretionary powers of the Governor must be drastically curtailed. Governor must be given a fixed time-frame to clear bills passed by the Centre. A person with strong political credential be debarred from becoming governor.
It seems that some of these recommendations of the Justice Punchhi commission are bound to set the cat among the pigeons, as neither the Centre nor the state governments seem to be ready to cede any ground to each other.
Yet, the entire exercise of the Council is expected to restore the delicate balance between the Centre and the state governments. The continued tiff between the Delhi government and the Centre, and the imbroglio of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, may reduce the entire exercise to mere optics.
But the revival of a defunct forum like the Inter-State Council is certainly a positive step to take the debate of cooperative federalism to a new level.