Federation is never a friction- free form of governance. The reason for this is simple. The functions can seldom match the available resources, which leads to an imbalance between the two, resulting in a never-ending quest for resources from the other level. The mismatch is much more marked in the case of Indian federation. India possesses with centralized unitary government memory and it is with this unitary memory that it operates the present federal constitution. The compulsions of socio economic planning to which India has been committed since the fifties of the last century has its impact on the centre- state relationship and planning is a centralised process calling for suitable monitoring and all these counselling mechanism to suggest an appropriate frame –work in the seventies of the last century. India set up a Committee under the chairmanship of R. S Sarkari, a judge in the supreme court of India, to examine centre- state relationships in the country.
Centre-state relations was a thorny issue in India in the mid-sixties of the last twentieth century and the Administrative Reforms Commission submitted a separate Report in June 1969.
The constitutional edifice of India according to the ARC is neither unitary nor federal in the strict sense of the term. The divisive forces that were at work throughout the history of India and the conditions that existed at the time of framing of the Constitution compelled the framers of the Constitution to make provisions for ensuring Indian unity which was considered as much precious as Independence itself. The Constitution in its very first Article says that India shall be a “Union of States”, and the word “federation” in nowhere used. The constitution is so well-balanced that while providing maximum possible autonomy to the States, it places in the hands of the Centre adequate powers to ensure the unity and integrity of the country. This balance has been tilted to some extent in favour of the Centre during the course of the last two decades. The relationship between the Centre and the States was, however, generally smooth till about the time of General Elections of 1967, the main reason being that one political party, viz., the Indian National Congress, dominated the scene having its ministries both at the Centre and in the States. Thereafter, though the Indian National Congress continued to have its Ministries at the Centre and in some States, other political party formed ministries either of one party or of multi-parties in other States. Different ideologies, policies and programmers of the various political parties that assumed office generated controversies between the Centre and the States. The United Front ministries of West Bengal and Kerala States in particular spearheaded the controversy asserting their own rights vis-a-vis the Centre. But these controversies pertain mostly to matters administrative and financial and not to Constitutional issues. The eminent leaders of various political parties who appeared before the Commission emphasised their faith in Indian unity, though they argued for more autonomy and initiatives for the States. The Commission, therefore does not think it necessary to suggest any amendments to the Constitution. It, however, made recommendations to delegate more financial and administrative functions and powers to the States with the twin objectives of making the relations between the Centre and the States smoother and introducing efficiency and economy in the administrations of the Union and State Governments. It is not in the amendment of the Constitution that the solution of the problems of the Centre-State relationship is to be sought, but in the working of the provisions of the Constitution by all concerned in the balanced spirit in which its framers intended them to be worked.
Some political parties and the Administrative Reforms Commission’s study team on Centre-State relationships favour the constitution of an Inter-State Council to discuss and resolve problems of Centre-State relationships as and when they arise. Article 263 of the Constitution authorises the President to constitute such a Council. In a democratic set-up, a spirit of responsiveness on the part of those who govern, to the wishes of the opposition parties, makes for its smooth functioning. Informal conferences of Chief Ministers and other Ministers have not been able to deal with controversies that have arisen in the area of Centre-State relationships with speed and effectiveness. The Commission, therefore, recommended the constitution of an Inter-State Council. To begin with, it may be set up for a period of two years. The continuance thereafter may be decided in the light of experience gained. The Inter-State Council under Article 263 has also recommendatory functions.
The main grievances of the States lie in the financial field. The Commission made important recommendations to bring satisfaction to the States. The first relates to the States’ debts to the Centre. The piling up of the States’ debts to the Centre, arising out of Plan loans, has posed a difficult problem of repayment which, if not satisfactorily solved, will throw the whole programme of planned development into disarray. The Constitution recommended that in future, Plan loans to the States should be confined to productive schemes and that any assistance to be given for the States’ carrying out unproductive schemes of a capital nature, should be in the form of the capital grants. The schedules of repayment of the loans should be related to the income-yielding potential of the schemes and Sinking Funds should be established for providing the means for repayment of the loans in accordance with such schedules. The problems of repaying the outstanding Plan loans to the States as well as the question of setting up of Sinking Funds for the amortisation of the debts should be referred to a Committee of Experts. One of the questions for consideration of such a Committee is the apportionment of the non-productive element of the outstanding loans between the Centre and the States.
Plan grants are now made on the basis of the recommendations of the Planning Commission. There is weight in the argument that as the Planning Commission is a body established by the Central Government under an executive order, it would be desirable for another body created by law, to be entrusted with the responsibility of formulating the principles governing the allocation of Plan grants. Accordingly, the Commission recommended that the Finance Commission should be entrusted with this responsibility. The appointment of the Finance Commission should be so timed that when making its recommendations, it will have before it an outline of the Five-Year Plan as prepared by the Planning Commission. A Member of the Planning Commission should be on the Finance Commission.
The office of the Governor under the Constitution is of high importance, serving as a link between the Centre and the State concerned. The Governor of the State is appointed by the President and holds office at the pleasure of the President. The executive power of the State is vested in the Governor and is exercised by him in accordance with the Constitution either directly or through officers subordinate to him. The Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor and other Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, all of them holding office at the pleasure of the Governor. The Constitution has made the Governor a key figure. But he has to act on the advice of his Ministers which, in practice, means that the Ministers exercise power and authority in his name. The Council of Ministers consists of the chosen leaders of the people having their confidence, whereas the Governor is a person appointed by the President. Responsibility, therefore, vests with the Ministers, while the Governor remains the Constitutional head. But, under the oath he takes under Article 159, he undertakes to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law. While the Governor personally and directly does not exercise any authority except in certain cases, he has the duty to see that administration runs according to the Constitution and the law. This has, therefore, resulted in a very delicate balance of relationship between the Governor and the Ministers on the one hand, and the Governor and the President on the other. This relationship was happily smooth and cordial for nearly two decades until the General Elections of 1967. Differences and controversies have arisen in more recent times in regard to his functioning and exercise of his discretionary powers, mainly because of one political party having a ministry at the Centre and other political parties forming ministries in some of the States. Situations arose in which the decisions taken by the Governor led to a good deal of public controversy. The decisions Governors take by using their own discretion may be explicit or implied by the necessary “intendment” of the concerned provisions of the Constitution. But, the exercise of such discretionary and other powers, of the Governors must, in dealing with similar situations, arising in different States, be uniform, with impress of impartiality and should create confidence in the minds of all concerned. The decisions taken by some of the Governors have been publicly assailed as partisan or as having emanated from the Central Government. The Central Government being in the hands of a political party creates suspicion in the minds of other political parties who are in office in some States. It is necessary to keep the office of the Governor above controversies and ensure that his discretionary decisions command all round acceptability to the extent possible. The Commission therefore, recommended formulation of guidelines for the Governors to exercise their powers, discretionary and constitutional. After acceptance by the Union Government, they could be issued in the name of the President, and laid before the Parliament.
The Commission, in the Chapter on the “Role of the Governor” also referred to situations in which deadlocks had been created in the working of the legislative machinery and has made recommendations in dealing with them. When the Governor has reason to believe that the Ministry has ceased to command a majority in the Assembly, he should come to a final conclusion in this matter by summoning the Assembly and ascertaining its verdict. When a question arises so as to whether the Council of Ministers enjoys the confidence of the majority in the Assembly and the Chief Minister does not advise the Governor to summon the Assembly, the Governor may, if he thinks fit, suo motu, summon the Assembly for obtaining its verdict on the question. Where functionaries like the Speaker act arbitrarily and prevent the functioning of the Legislatures, effective remedies must be devised by the Legislatures themselves by formulating rules of business which would enable them to transact the business for which they were called into session.
“The relations between the Centre and the States in the field of law and order have generated acute controversy in recent month. The Commission examined this problem and its conclusions are that-
the use of the naval, military, or air force or any other armed forces of the Union in aid of civil power can be made either at the instance of the State Government or suo motu by the Centre; and
the centre has the right to exercise its discretion to locate such forces in the States and deploy them for maintaining public order and for purposes of the Centre, such as protection of central property and works and Central staff.
The Commission considered several matters connected with Centre-State Relationships in some of our earlier reports. The procedure for the formulation of Plans and for allocating Plan assistance has been fully gone into the report for the Machinery for Planning. The role of the Central Ministries with regard to subjects falling in the State List has been considered in the report on the Machinery of the Government of India and its Procedures of work. All-India Services and Public Service Commissions have been dealt with in the report on Personnel Administration.”
The centre-state relationship, the theme of ARC’s discussion, needs to the improved but the solution does not lie in the amendment of the constitution but in the proper working of its provisions but in the balanced spirit in which the framers of the document intended them to be worked.
The constitution provides for the settings up of an centre-state council and the Sarkaria Commission recommended its establishment. It appreciated the financial needs of the states and suggested many measures to satisfy the states. States indebtedness received special attention. The Finance Commission needs to be strengthened. Since the Governor has emerged as a controversial figure in India, the Sarkaria Commission examined this institution in depth and made many sensible recommendations to this effect.