How Modi failed his promises on cooperative federalism in last decade: Report

Narendra Modi’s claims that cooperation with states are important for a nation’s progress does not add up to the schemes introduced by the Union government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has paid lip service to the idea of cooperative federalism but his government’s actions in the last 10 years have relentlessly pursued “confrontational federalism” to weaken the cultural, economic, and political freedoms of individuals and the rights of states which are guaranteed by the Constitution, according to a recent report.

Released by social justice platform Bahutva Karnataka on Wednesday, April 24, the report says that the Union government has been taking away the rights of non-BJP states in the name of ‘double engine sarkar’. “The implication that an opposition governed state government will be at a disadvantage is in direct violation of the principles of federalism enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” it says.

India’s federal structure is such that the Union and state governments derive their rights to make laws, earn revenue and carry out their administrative functions from the Constitution. 

According to the report, Narendra Modi’s claim that cooperation with states is important for a nation’s progress do not add up as its decisions on demonetisation, the Covid lockdown, the now-revoked farm bills, National Education Policy (NEP), NEET, revoking Article 370, were against the spirit of federalism that the Constitution outlines.

It mentions that demonetisation had severely hit state economies as the Union government took a unilateral decision without consulting the states. Justice Nagarathna was the lone judge to differ in the Supreme Court’s 4:1 verdict upholding the Union government’s controversial decision to demonetise currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. She had recently said that even though the scheme was introduced with the aim of eradicating black money, it inadvertently provided a mechanism to convert black money into white. “86% of the currency was 500 and 1,000 notes, which I think the [Union government] lost sight of. Imagine a labourer who had to get his notes exchanged for daily essentials,” she said.

Stating that the nationwide lockdown during Covid pandemic was not intimated to state governments, the report said the fallout of the decision was left for the states to deal with. “At least 989 non-Covid deaths were reported from March 2020 to July 2020 (23% due to financial distress & 21% due to accidents (deaths due to lockdown, not the virus),” it added. 

Clifton D'Rozario, National General Secretary of All India Lawyers Association for Justice (AILAJ), said that coercive centralism has become the norm. “Dr BR Ambedkar had stated that states are not administrative units of the Union government. During the constituent assembly debates, there was a fear of power being concentrated in the hands of the Union government. It has now become a reality,” he added.

The Union government had limited the borrowing limit of states by forcing states to agree to certain conditions imposed by them, even during the pandemic. In the case of Karnataka, the Union government went to the extent of refusing Rs 17,900 crore drought relief sought by the state government. Karnataka petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favour, to get the amount to mitigate the severe damage in 223 out of its 236 taluks. Karnataka has not received funds for projects such as the Upper Bhadra irrigation project, earmarked in the Union Budget.

Janaki Nair, a historian and member of Bahutva Karnataka, said states have increasingly turned into administrative units of the Union government in the last decade. “Attacks on federalism are not new. It has happened even in the time of Indira Gandhi. However, this level of intrusion has not been seen before. Despite Karnataka being an economic powerhouse, the state gets very little compared to its contributions. There is nothing wrong in wealthier states contributing to economically weaker states (cross-subsidy). However, states are being discriminated against on the basis of their achievements,” she added.

The report said despite agriculture being a state subject, the Union government passed three farm bills in 2020 without consulting the states, adding that at least 702 people died in the protests following the move before it was revoked. 

Amending the NIA Act to include human trafficking, manufacture/sale of prohibited arms, cyber-terrorism and offences under the Explosive Substances Act, erodes the states powers as such offences rarely have implications for national security. 

“Chhattisgarh government went to court asking for the Act to be struck down as anti-federal. The Union government also misused the amended Act and unilaterally transferred the Bhima-Koregaon case from Maharashtra State police to the NIA,” the report reads. 

The report also explains how the Union government has been using governors in states ruled by opposition. “Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi has had run-ins with the state government, delaying the passage of bills. Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari was accused of blocking 12 nominations to the Legislative Council for more than a year. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has been at odds with the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan by removing 15 senate members of Kerala University and seeking the immediate resignation of vice-chancellors of nine state universities.” 

With the nationwide delimitation exercise in the offing, the report states that southern States such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka would be punished for reducing fertility rates and controlling their population. “States that have limited their populations will lose seats in parliament, while those who have not will be rewarded with more seats,” the report said.

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