Devolution of Power to the States

Story Summary: 

What causes protests and disorder in the House is the complaint that the government has not been taking Opposition parties into confidence while taking decisions on major policies.

BY D C PANDE

MOST people who have been following the functioning of Parliament in recent years would have noticed that which causes protests and disorder in the House is the complaint that the government has not been taking the Leaders of the Opposition parties into confidence while taking decisions on policies which are in violation of the national consensus evolved over a long period. An interesting feature of such protests is that the demand is for prior consultation with the leaders of the political parties represented in the House and not with the chief ministers of the states.

While it may be desirable, it is not always possible in the present state of multiplicity of political parties represented in the House. If we had a two-party or three-party system in our parliamentary democracy, such interactions between the government and leaders of the Opposition parties would have been practicable. But in our present system of coalition governments the number of political parties supporting the government will be over 20 or so, with more or less equal number in the Opposition benches. This makes what is desirable not practicable.

Power to the Centre

When the Congress had a clear majority in Parliament without having to depend upon coalition arrangements supporting it from outside, as for example during the stewardship of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister had on many occasions taken the chief ministers of some states into confidence on important decisions to be taken by the government. Meetings of the Congress Working Committee, parliamentary board etc provided good opportunities for such interaction between the chief ministers and the Prime Minister. Above all, Nehru was not merely the leader of the Congress in Parliament but was the unquestioned leader of the Congress in the country as a whole whether or not he was occupying the office of the president of the party.

Unfortunately, the office of the chief minister has been devalued so much that the opinions and advice of chief ministers now hardly count for decision-making by the Union government. The chief ministers who belong to the national parties, of late, have been nominees of the high commands of the parties with weak electoral credentials of their own. The absence of inner party democracy has made them dependent on the pleasure of their high commands to retain their offices as chief ministers.

In fairness to the chief ministers it must be pointed out that the Constitution of India has been deliberately framed in such a manner that the Union government could, if it chooses, function like the government of a unitary state.

The blatant misuse of the powers of control over the states vested with the Union government has contributed to the further dilution of the authority of the states and the trend is already set by which states will be reduced to the level of the subordinate offices of the Union government in most sectors of administration. Article 1 of the Constitution states that India shall be a Union of states. Even though the Constitution lists the powers of the Union and of the states separately, residuary powers are vested with the Union. Article 249 allows the Union to encroach upon the state list while Article 356 and 357 allow the Union to take over the executive and legislative powers of the state on the ground of failure of the constitutional machinery in the state. Even the existence of states as permanent or indestructible entities is denied in the Constitution as Article 2, 3 and 4 make it clear that new states may be formed by changing the boundaries or even altering the name of any state by Parliament through ordinary legislation passed by a simple majority of votes in Parliament.

It is important to note that the major decision for the setting up of the Planning Commission, whose function is to make an assessment of the material, capital and human resources of the country and to formulate plans for their efficient and balanced utilisation, was taken in March 1950 without even a statutory backing, leave alone a constitutional one.

Over-Centralisation

The Constitution has no doubt enabled the Centre to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation and facilitate accelerated development in several crucial sectors of the development in the states. People in general are in favour of retaining the Constitution without any major changes. But even without amending some of the provisions of the Constitution which have led to over-centralisation of power at the Union level, it is time to take necessary steps for greater devolution of powers from the Centre to the states and the states to panchayati raj institutions in order to strengthen democracy from the grassroot levels. Over-centralisation has also had the most unwelcome result of frustrating the formation and development of local leadership and of distorting the concept of genuine democracy.

With the adoption of economic reforms in the country involving large-scale liberalisation in imports and investments, it is time that a close look is given to Centre-state relations as they have evolved over the last six decades and ta ke such steps as are necessary to devolve on the states much larger powers relevant to social and economic development.

Along with decentralisation of powers to the states, the state governments should delegate to the local self-government institutions much larger powers and responsibilities so that the panchayati raj becomes a genuine grassroots level reality. Even though great hopes were entertained about the panchayati raj institutions in India when they were established through the necessary constitutional amendments, in actual practice they have not been allowed to function in the way visualised for them. The MPs in some of the states seem to believe that once elected MP they should have control over the panchayati raj institutions as well. This desire to dominate over the panchayati raj institutions shows how much some MPs are influenced by the motive of power rather than of service.

In this connection there should be a review of the need for allowing large sums, called Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds, to the MPs to be spent on development projects in their constituencies. The problem of shortage of funds for panchayati raj institutions can be met to a large extent if the MPLAD funds are added to the resources of the panchayati raj institutions with, of course, suitable provisions to ensure efficiency and cleanliness in their management.

In a country of India’s huge dimensions, democracy can be real only if power is devolved to the states and from the states to local self-governing institutions to the maximum extent possible. The present is the right time to make a beginning. A strong union of states needs strong states, which, in turn, need a strong network of local bodies.–INAV