Several hot-button issues taken up by the government this week have triggered a debate over the federal character of the polity, with opposition and regional parties accusing the Centre of “transgressing into the powers of the state government on subjects that are in the concurrent list”.
The passage of the farm Bills has come at the cost of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the BJP’s oldest allies, walking out of the Union Cabinet — and also threatening an exit from the NDA.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which is considered friendly to the BJP, has termed the Centre’s proposed Electricity Bill, 2020, as “draconian”, and aimed at taking away powers of the state. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of working “towards complete centralisation of power”. Rao said he was in touch with the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Kerala, and Chhattisgarh to work out joint strategy against the move.
“This is unprecedented. Almost every Bill the government is coming up with, has an element of direct violation of federal law. This government believes in centralisation of power and after centralising, they will give it away to corporates,” DMK leader and former Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran told The Indian Express.
The BSP’s Danish Ali said: “When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister everyone expected that he, with his long experience as Chief Minister, would understand and empower states. But the cooperative federalism he had claimed to have championed initially, is going exactly the opposite way.” Ali said that his party, led by former UP Chief Minister Mayawati, had also raised its voice in Parliament on this issue.
The perception of overreach by the Centre, along with deepening worries in states over GST compensation, has the potential for a realignment of regional parties at the national stage. Midhun Reddy of the YSRCP said his party would join other regional parties and opposition in their battle for the states’ share of GST revenues. “We have not come out shouting so far, but we will join other states on this issue,” Reddy told The Indian Express. Regional parties like the BJD, YSRCP, AIADMK, and TRS have so far not joined the Opposition against the BJP-led central government on any major issue.
Speeches made by MPs in Parliament this week reflected the concerns of the states.
During the debate on the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, Saugata Roy and Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress asked the government why it wanted to take away the power of states to regulate trade, including imposing stock limits for various intermediaries. “You are taking away the power of the state governments. This is hitting cooperative federalism…,” Banerjee said.
The DMK’s Kathir Anand said the “power of the Centre in agriculture management has certainly increased through this Ordinance”. The CPI-M’s A M Ariff and TDP’s Ram Mohan Rao echoed him.
The NCP’s Supriya Sule questioned the government over its claims that it had consulted the states before venturing into amending laws that take away states’ rights.
The main Opposition Congress was more vocal on the point in the Bill that amended banking regulations, bringing cooperative banks under the RBI. “State governments are more than competent to discharge their functions and in a federal polity, this Ordinance, and the Bill which seeks to replace it, is a frontal assault on the federal structure of the Constitution. This will have long-term implications on the democratic polity of India,” warned Manish Tewari, MP from Anandpur Sahib.
Another Congress leader, Tiruvallur MP K Jayakumar, said: “In the last six years, we are seeing that this Government is bent upon bringing Bills and amendments simply to divest state governments of powers. It is bent upon converting state governments into a Tehsildar’s office, where this (central) government will remain like a Collector and the Tehsildar has to do everything with folded hands.”
Kollam MP N K Premachandran of the RSP, one of the most vocal in the Lower House on constitutional and legal issues, said the amendments were “encroaching into the powers of the state government in general and the cooperative sector in particular”.
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The DMK’s Senthil Kumar S said the government’s move was “an infringement of states’ rights”.
Pinaki Mishra of the BJD said the Constitution is clear about the State and Central Lists when it comes to powers. “There has always been this sort of duality of control. Unfortunately, this duality of control seems to obtain even under the new (BJP-led) regime.”
Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM alleged that the “Modi government has a habit of weakening federalism and encroaching upon the State List.” He asked: “Why do you want to weaken the federalism of this country which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution?”
During the debate on the two contentious farm Bills, speaker after speaker from the Congress, DMK, and TMC pointed out that agriculture and intra-state trade are State subjects. Kalyan Banerjee said the Bills were “thoroughly unconstitutional, because this House cannot legislate a Bill in respect of agricultural produce under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution”.
The BJD’s Anubhav Mohanty and TDP’s Ram Mohan Rao too questioned the legislative competence of Parliament to make these laws, as “agriculture and markets, and fairs are State subjects; trade and commerce of foodstuffs, raw cotton, raw jute etc., is in the Concurrent List; and inter-state trade and commerce is in the Union List”.
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