Centre-state friction taking its toll on governance : The Tribune India

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Centre-state friction taking its toll on governance

Across govts of all hues, the Centre’s tendency has been to gradually encroach upon the powers of the states.

Centre-state friction taking its toll on governance

TUSSLE: Differences between the L-G and the Delhi government have impacted policy implementation. PTI



Gurbachan Jagat

Former Governor, Manipur

THE Supreme Court’s judgment in the case arising out of the unseemly tussle between the Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi government over the supervision and control of the civil services in Delhi has hopefully brought closure to this controversy. Although there were important points of law that were being contested, to the layman it appeared to be a wholly unjustified controversy. A lawfully elected government is there for the purpose of governance and development and the instrument available to the government to implement its policies and do good governance is the civil services under various categories. After the allocation of portfolios, the ministers get down to work through the secretaries at the headquarters and the field staff in the districts. The hierarchical order is very clear: Chief Minister>Minister>Secretary>HoD and so on — the Governor or L-G is predominantly the constitutional head of state.

Delhi, being a part of the NCR, has always faced a certain ambiguity in power-sharing as there are security, logistics and planning issues, given that the Government of India (GoI) is also headquartered there. Since the election of the AAP government, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued orders from time to time, resulting in concentration of authority in the hands of the L-G and the weakening of the elected government. This has not only resulted in logjams over transfers and postings but also difficulties in policy formulation and implementation. It has led to allegations and counter-allegations, and washing of dirty linen in public. Hopefully, the Supreme Court has settled the issue — we have no higher authority than that.

Coming to the larger question of Centre-state relations, this is an area where things continue to deteriorate, as a consequence of which both development and governance suffer. India today is the most populous nation in the world and one of the fastest-growing economies. To manage the transformation into a middle-income nation, this growth story will have to be sustained and fuelled for the coming decades. Getting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and low incomes is a daunting task, as is the transformation of a predominantly rural society and agrarian economy into an urban and industrial one. The development and strengthening of institutions for planning, systems, accountability and the general rule of law are the foundations on which this economy and the country will be built and it is in the Centre-state relations that this takes prime importance. Across governments of all hues, the Centre’s tendency has been to gradually encroach upon the powers of the states to the detriment of the latter. Increasingly, the Governors, as also some Central agencies, are being used as instruments to interfere in the political affairs of the states. The Governors were meant to be representatives of the GoI in the states to perform their constitutional duties and facilitate a smooth relationship between the Centre and the states. Most of the state governments today find themselves in an adversarial relationship with the Governors and this again is in the public domain. The touch of the statesman is missing in the Raj Bhavan and that of the political activist is taking over. The state is, thus, deprived of the sage advice of these men of experience and ability.

It is in financial matters that this conflict becomes even more apparent. Though finance has been a state subject, the Centre holds the key to the treasury of the nation and the states look up to it for a fair and equitable distribution. This has become even more so since the implementation of the GST regime. The conflict comes to the fore whenever opposing political parties are in power at the Centre and in the states. There is a great deal of distrust in such relationships and the states concerned always feel that they are being deprived of their just share. This is a field where greater transparency in the allocation of funds is required.

On the other hand, there has to be proper accountability on the part of the state regarding expenditure of allotted funds. Experience has shown that the Centre does not have a proper mechanism to monitor expenditure in the states, with the result that funds get misused or diverted for other purposes. There has to be a just distribution of funds and accountability for expenditure. Another area in which Centre-state coordination and funding needs to vastly improve is that of disaster management, natural or man-made. A case in point is the rehabilitation of riot victims in Manipur — the Meiteis, Kukis, Paiteis, Zomis, etc. have to be resettled. Funds and agencies are needed to render help and the governments at the Centre and in the states have to be energised. People should not have to live in slums and shanties forever, as is the case in many states with riot victims. Currently, rehabilitation is the concern only of those who are homeless and driven out of their villages, their houses burnt, their religious places destroyed. As far as I know, no Central or state leader has ventured to see the killing fields, the scorched earth and the homeless people — why not? If they can travel to poll-bound states, they can go to Churachandpur also.

Politics for power, for control of people and resources is part and parcel of governments the world over. The difference between the developed world and the other one is how power is distributed among different arms of the government. The executive, the judiciary, the media and Parliament (and the institutions which are a part of these pillars) have to play their part. Power has to be so distributed that strong checks and balances are maintained and no single institution or individual is allowed to become all-powerful. Development and governance will follow if the leadership at the Centre and in the states displays high integrity, efficiency and morality — a leadership committed to the Constitution, to the ideals of the founding fathers and to the service of our people.


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