Constitutionally mandated forums in a federal set-up, such as Zonal Councils and Inter-State Council, should be given more importance than the National Development Council.
The National Development Council (NDC) meeting convened on December 27 to ratify the 12th Plan was notable for the walkout staged by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, for not being given adequate time to put forth the State’s concerns.
The issue, on the face of it, points to dissatisfaction over the conduct of the NDC meeting by some non-Congress-ruled States. However, the reaction of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister also signifies the discontent of the States over the Centre’s approach to handling Centre-State and inter-State relations.
The entire approach to development since Independence has been steered by extra-Constitutional bodies like the Planning Commission and mechanisms like the NDC.
It is a sad commentary on India’s development policy that it has had to resort to extra Constitutional bodies when the Constitution provides for mechanisms like Zonal Councils and the Inter State Council (ISC) to deliberate upon the concerns of constituent States in a federal set-up.
If India is to move beyond the middle-income trap to attain its growth potential, apart from getting the macro contours of policy right, it needs to harness growth potential in the States.
The need for better Centre-State and inter-State coordination is also felt on account of internal security threats since the mid-1980s. Internal security concerns can be effectively tackled through the coordinated skills of the Centre and the States.
In addition, inter-State coordination on issues such as river water disputes, problems pertaining to the location, funding and execution of mega projects, ecosystems management, climate change and natural disasters, development of tourism will help States harness their growth potential.
This would require making the most of the available institutional mechanisms like Zonal Councils and the Inter-State Council, to promote better Centre-State and inter-State relations. However, these mechanisms are yet to be fully utilised.
Post-Independence, hostilities arising out of reorganisation of the States on linguistic lines posed a major challenge to the unity of the nation. To counter this situation, the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, was enacted, which provided for the creation of five Zonal Councils.
The purpose of these councils was to create a healthy inter-State and Centre-State environment, with a view to solving inter-State problems and fostering balanced socio-economic development of the respective zones. The North-Eastern States were not included in any of the Zonal Councils and their special problems are looked after by the North Eastern Council, set up under the North Eastern Council Act, 1972.
Each Zonal Council has set up a Standing Committee, consisting of Chief Secretaries of the member States of their respective Zonal Councils.
Till date, the various Zonal Councils have held 107 meetings. These meetings, held after long intervals, reduces their utility as an action-oriented, brain-storming platform. For instance, there has been no meeting of the eastern Zonal Council since 2005, the southern Zonal Council since 2007 and the western Zonal Council since 2006.
Inter State Council
Besides the mechanism of Zonal Councils, the Constitution of India under Article 263 (b) and (c) provides for setting up of an Inter State Council (ISC) to sort out inter-State conflicts. The first Administrative Reforms Commission in January 1966 and subsequently the Centre-State Relations Inquiry Committee in September 1969 recommended the establishment of an ISC.
However, the ISC was formally constituted under Article 263 of the Constitution of India only in May 1990 through a Presidential Order based on the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.
The composition of the ISC is quite broad-based, with the Prime Minister as the Chairman and Chief Ministers of all States and Administrators of Union Territories and Six Union Cabinet Ministers as members. The second ARC (with M. Veerappa Moily as Chairman) set up in August 2005 recommended that the ISC need not exist in perpetuity, but should be constituted on an as-and-when basis. There should be a provision for constituting more than one Council at a given time to facilitate meaningful, result-oriented discussions by States and facilitate time-bound solutions.
In recent times, the Commission on Centre-State relations (under the Chairmanship of Madan Mohan Punchhi) recommended strengthening and activating the ISC, and accorded it a key role in its seven-volume report submitted on March 30, 2010.
This Commission recommended that the ISC must meet at least thrice a year on an agenda evolved after proper consultation with States.
This Commission also laid out the modalities for making the ISC an effective mechanism for intergovernmental dispute resolution.
Despite repeated assertions by different Commissions, the ISC has held only 10 meetings in the last 22 years of its existence and made tardy progress in addressing inter-State disputes.
Successive governments have preferred extra constitutional bodies over Constitutionally-mandated bodies like Zonal Councils and ISC to spearhead the development process. The success of the various initiatives from the Centre to make the growth process more sustainable and inclusive will to great extent depend on the response of the States.
The Centre would have to play the role of friend, philosopher and guide to the States in facilitating the growth process. It should take the initiative of activating the Constitutionally-approved institutional mechanisms, so that States get a platform to voice their concerns.
This would help the country achieve higher and harmonious growth. Involvement of States should be an integral part of the development process.
(The author is Professor of Economics and Associate Dean, Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. The views are personal.)