Reaffirm cooperative federalism
Responding effectively to the pandemic requires the Centre to view the States as equals
- Many exigencies have tested the foundations of our federal democracy, but none as harshly as this pandemic.
- And when India’s success in defeating COVID-19 actively rests upon Centre-State collaboration, it is indeed its commitment to federalism that is under the most strain.
- Accordingly, Indian constitutional law expert Granville Austin remarks that despite a strong Centre, cooperative federalism doesn’t necessarily result in weaker States; rather, the progress of the Republic rests upon active cooperation between the two.
Fissures in cooperation
- Nevertheless, some recent developments have revealed fissures in Centre-State cooperation. For instance, the zone classifications into ‘red’ and ‘orange’ has evoked sharp criticisms from several States.
- The States have demanded more autonomy in making such classifications.
- This is despite the fact that State consultation is a legislative mandate cast upon the Centre under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 (under which binding COVID-19 guidelines are being issued by the Centre to the States).
- The Act envisages the creation of a ‘National Plan’ under Section 11, as well as issuance of binding guidelines by the Centre to States under Section 6(2), in furtherance of the ‘National Plan’.
- The ‘National Plan’ then is a broader vision document while the binding guidelines are its enforcement mechanism.
- Now, Section 11(2) of the Act mandates State consultations before formulating a ‘National Plan’, and to that extent, when the binding guidelines are ultimately issued under it, they are expected to represent the views of the States.
- However, the Centre has not formulated the ‘National Plan’, and has chosen instead to respond to COVID-19 through ad hoc binding guidelines issued to States, thereby circumventing the legislative mandate of State consultations.
Lack of funds
- The Centre has also declared that corporations donating to PM-CARES can avail CSR exemptions, but those donating towards any Chief Minister’s Relief Fund cannot.
- This directly disincentivises donations to any Chief Minister’s Relief Fund; diverts crores in potential State revenues to PM-CARES; and makes the States largely dependent upon the Centre.
- Further, the revenue streams of several States have dried up because of the liquor sale ban; negligible sale of petrol/diesel; no land dealings and registration of agreements. States’ GST collections have also been severely affected with their dues still not disbursed by the Centre.
- All this has made it difficult for States to defray expenses of salaries, pensions and welfare schemes.
- As it is the States which act as first responders to the pandemic, supplying them with adequate funds becomes a pre-requisite in effectively tackling the crisis.
- This requires the Centre to view the States as equals, and strengthen their capabilities, instead of increasing their dependence upon itself.