The Constitution has formally divided the legislative, administrative and financial powers between the Centre and the States. The legislative powers are distributed in three lists, viz. the Union list, the State list and the Concurrent list. The Union list gives the Centre the authority to act in matters of national importance which include defence, foreign affairs, currency and other areas of strategic importance related with the security of the country.
The State list entrusts matters to the State which include law and order, local government, public health education, agriculture, economic and social planning among others. In the Concurrent list are the matters on which both the Centre as well as the States can make laws. Laws passed by the Parliament prevail over those matters which are passed by the State Legislatures.
The Constitution provides that the executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by the Parliament and the existing laws under Article 256 of the Constitution. Under Article 355, the Union has the duty to protect the States against internal disturbance and to ensure that the governance of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The distribution of revenue source is especially crucial in determining the nature of the States’ relationship with the Centre.
The Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance monitor the transfer of finances to the State. Raising loans through financial institutions, banks, Employee’s Provident Fund, etc. are governed by the Central Government. A glance at the distribution of powers between the Centre and the States indicates that the Centre is more powerful than the States.
India adopted the federal structure from the Government of India Act, 1935-which prescribed a federal type of union of autonomous provinces-whose governments were to derive their powers directly from the crown. This decision was taken because, during the post-independence era, India was divided into various segments and empowering them could hamper the democratic working of the country. It was also felt that the socio-economic development of the country required centralised planning without any obstruction from the States.
The Constituent Assembly believed that a fortified central authority was required to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation. The Government of India Act, 1935 was made to consolidate the British rule in India and prolong their colonial rule. The Indian National Congress opposed the Act from the beginning because its leaders felt that it was in the interests of the British imperialism. However, while drawing from the Act at the time of preparing the Constitution of India, the Draft Committee lifted several provisions.
There are provisions whereby a State or a part thereof could be brought under the emergency powers of the Union. This can be done even without any constitutional breakdown and has been made possible as per Amendment in Article 352. However, bringing a State under the President’s rule always triggers several controversies and brings criticism from political experts especially if the dissolved Assembly belonged to some other party than the one ruling at the Centre. President of India is the sole judge whether the affairs of that State are being carried out as per the provisions of the Constitution or not. Such a process starts by the recommendation of the Governor of that State who rules the State in case the President’s rule is imposed.
The legislative powers are vested in the Union and the States, but the Union wields dominant power over the States. Article 249 empowers the Rajya Sabha or the Upper House to assume legislative powers and make laws for a two-third majority for a temporary period on any matter in the State List, which it feels necessary or expedient. Article 252 empowers the legislatures of two or more States to authorise the Parliament to make a law on any matter in the State List. Under Article 360, during financial emergency, all financial bills must be sent to the President for his assent, or he may direct the Governor to place the financial bills of the State before him for consideration. Under Article 256, the Constitution provides that the executive power of the States should be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by the Parliament as well as the existing laws.
A face-off between the Centre and the States can lead to the use of Article 356 in the State. It empowers the President to dissolve the State legislature on the recommendation of the cabinet, if there is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery at the State level, and proclaim President’s rule in the State. Such an imposition can lead to the deployment of central forces in the State to maintain law and order.
Since the maintenance of law and order is a State subject, the role of the Centre in violating the authority has been questioned. The 42nd Amendment to Article 257 empowered the Union to deploy a central force, “for dealing with any grave situation of law and order in any State.” It has, however, been clarified that “a grave situation of law and order” is different from the “internal disturbance” as envisaged in Article 356.
The imposition of President’s rule under this Article has been abused. This has been evident in the S.R. Bommai versus Union of India case in 1989 in which Governor P. Venkatasubbaiah’s decision to dismiss the Karnataka Chief Minister S.R. Bommai was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Indira Gandhi, during her terms 1966-77 and 1980-84, invoked this Article 48 times, while the Janata Party government during 1977-80 used it 17 times. During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, it was misused to dismiss the non-Congress legislatures. In Punjab, the President’ rule was imposed for almost five years from May 1987 to February 1992.
The Supreme Court has at times upheld the decision of dismissing the State government. In March 1994, the apex court upheld the dismissal of the BJP State Government in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in 1992 because it considered that the antisecular actions of these States were inconsistent with the secular character of the Constitution. However, a large number of cases of dismissal have been held unconstitutional. For example, the Article was used to impose President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh on the recommendation of the Governor Romesh Bhandari-although the Kalyan Singh’s BJP government had proved its majority on the floor of the Assembly. The governor’s action showed that being political appointees, the governors display partisan politics and are unable to take a proper decision under their constitutional responsibilities.
The Sarkaria Commission called for a consensus and cooperation between the Centre and the States for the smooth functioning of democracy. It favoured a strong Centre to safeguard the national unity and integrity, but viewed the centralisation of power as dangerous. It recommended that the Article 356 should be used sparingly and in the rarest of rare cases, when all other alternatives fail. The Centre-State relations must be founded on fairness and mutual respect. The responsibility devolves on politicians to rise above the parochial considerations and uphold the true values of democracy.