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PSIR 1B-7 Federalism – Previous Year Questions – Solved

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Does the actual working of Indian federalism conform to the centralizing tendencies in Indian polity? Give reasons for your answer. [2023/20m/250w/7a]

The actual working of Indian federalism has been a subject of debate, and it raises questions about the extent to which it conforms to centralizing tendencies in Indian polity. India’s federal system is a unique blend of federal and unitary features, and it has exhibited both centralizing and decentralizing tendencies over the years.

The Indian Constitution grants residuary powers to the central government. This centralization of powers is in contrast to some federal systems where residual powers are vested in the states. Moreover, states in India are highly dependent on fiscal transfers from the central government. The central government controls a significant share of financial resources, which can limit the fiscal autonomy of the states.

The provision under Article 356 allows the central government to impose the President’s Rule in a state under certain circumstances, effectively taking over the state government. While this provision is meant to be used sparingly and as a last resort, it has been at times criticized as a tool for centralizing power.

Some constitutional amendments have expanded the central government’s powers at the expense of state autonomy. For example, the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) led to a shift in taxing authority from the states to the central government.

While India’s federal structure is meant to be cooperative federalism, there have been instances where cooperation has been lacking, leading to centralizing tendencies. These deviations include disputes between the central and state governments over issues like control of resources, water-sharing agreements, implementation of central laws, delays in devolving financial resources to states and arrears in sharing revenues, differences in the implementation of centrally sponsored schemes etc.

Initiatives such as the Finance Commission recommendations, the NITI Aayog (which replaced the Planning Commission), and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) have aimed to improve fiscal and policy coordination. The Indian federal system is dynamic and has evolved over time. The new institutions seek to bring consensus to the federal system. [328 words]

2] Discuss the composition and functions of the Inter-State Council. To what extent has this body been successful in achieving its objectives? [2022/15m/200w/6c]

The Inter-State Council is a constitutional body in India established under Article 263 of the Indian Constitution. It serves as a platform for cooperation and coordination between the central government and state governments on matters of common interest.

The Inter-State Council consists of the Prime Minister who serves as the Chairperson; Chief Ministers of all the state and the UTs with the legislatures; Union Cabinet Ministers and Union Ministers of State.

The council has a diverse set of functions. It investigates and discusses any matter of common interest in the field of administration between the centre and the states. It provides recommendations and advice on such matters to the President and the respective governments. The council plays a role in resolving disputes and differences of opinion between the centre and states, or among the states themselves, through discussions and deliberations.

The success of the Inter-State Council in achieving its objectives has been a subject of debate. Accordingly, ISC came into existence on May 28, 1990, through a Presidential order based on the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. One of the mandates is that the Committee shall meet at least thrice every year. Since then, meetings of the ISC have been very inconsistent and have fallen short of the mandate. Only 11 meetings have been held since inception against the mandate of 96 as per the order. The year 1997 being the only exception wherein two meetings were held;

It is worth noting that the Inter-State Council has faced criticism for its limited powers and lack of binding decision-making authority. It serves primarily as an advisory body, and its recommendations are not binding on the centre or states. This can limit its impact and effectiveness in achieving concrete outcomes.

In conclusion, while the Inter-State has contributed to cooperative federalism, there is room for further strengthening the council’s role and enhancing its effectiveness in addressing intergovernmental issues and promoting harmonious governance between the centre and states. [324 words]

3] Do you think that there has been a gradual shift in the basis on which the demands for the creation of new States have been raised in different regions of India? Explain. [2021/15m/200w/7b]

In India, new states have been formed in different phases for different reasons.

In the 50s and 60s, the reorganization of the peninsula was done on linguistic grounds. In the 60s and 70s, western and North Eastern India was reorganised on the basis of ethnicity. The 21st century has witnessed the reorganization of the Hindi heartland besides Telangana. The logic has been ‘good governance’ and development.

There are several academic explanations behind these developments.

Ramchandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav see it as an assertion by the marginalized sections, while Atul Kohli points to the economic reasons behind the formation of new states.

Scholars like Louis Tillin and Christophe Jaffrelot point out that the main consideration behind state formations has been political. The timing and the possibility of formation are primarily dictated by the interest of the ruling party at the centre. e.g. Congress kept on postponing the creation of Telangana and made announcements just before elections. Similarly, BJP created Uttarakhand to consolidate its position. Laluprasad Yadav agreed to the bifurcation of Bihar because it consolidates the position of RJD.

Similarly, the linguistic reorganization was an aspiration of certain castes to consolidate their political power. It led to the emergence of dominant castes in different states who could form their governments.

The recent abolition of Article 370 and the formation of J&K and Ladakh as two separate Union Territories have a developmental and security logic behind them.

We can say that while in the initial phase, the logic behind new state formation was identity issues, it has slowly shifted to the development and ease of governance in recent decades. [268 words]

4] Discuss mechanism for settling inter-state disputes. [2020/10m/150w/5e]

Inter-state disputes can arise due to various factors, such as water sharing, boundary disputes, distribution of resources, or conflicting interests. To settle these disputes, several mechanisms are available, both judicial and non-judicial.

The first step in settling inter-state disputes is often through negotiation and bilateral talks between the concerned states. But, if bilateral talks fail to resolve the dispute, states may opt for mediation or conciliation. A neutral third party or institution, such as the Law Commission, can be approached to mediate and facilitate discussions between the disputing states.

Secondly, the Inter-State Council, established under Article 263 of the Indian Constitution, provides a platform for discussions and consultations between the centre and states. It plays a role in resolving disputes and differences of opinion between the centre and states or among the states themselves. The council facilitates dialogue and can offer recommendations or advice on matters of common interest.

In cases where negotiations and other mechanisms fail, states can approach the judiciary for resolution. In certain cases, specialized tribunals and bodies are established to settle specific types of inter-state disputes. For example, the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956, provides for the establishment of tribunals to adjudicate water disputes between states.

It is important to note that the choice of mechanism for settling inter-state disputes depends on the nature and complexity of the issue, the willingness of the states to engage in negotiations, and the availability of legal frameworks for specific types of disputes. [243 words]

5] Does the functioning of the federalism in India tend to make it appear as a unitary state in practice? [2020/20m/250w/7a]

The constitutional framework of India establishes a federal system of governance, where power is divided between the central government and the state governments. However, the functioning of federalism in India has often been criticized for exhibiting certain unitary features, which can create an impression of a more centralized or unitary state.

Firstly, the Constitution itself grants significant powers to the central government, including control over subjects listed in the Union List and concurrent jurisdiction over subjects listed in the Concurrent List. The central government has the authority to legislate and intervene in matters that fall within its jurisdiction, even if they affect the states.

Secondly, during emergencies, the central government can exercise extraordinary powers, including taking control of state governments and assuming a more centralized decision-making role. Moreover, the frequent use of Article 356 provision in the past has been criticized as a means for the central government to assert its authority over the states.

The state governments in India heavily rely on fiscal transfers from the central government for their functioning. The central government has significant control over financial resources, which can impact the autonomy of state governments and their ability to make independent policy decisions.

The central government exercises control over the appointment of governors, who represent the centre’s interests in the states and is often called an agent of the union government.

It should also be noted that efforts have been made to strengthen the federal structure, such as the establishment of inter-governmental bodies like the Inter-State Council and Finance Commission. Moreover, it is important to note that despite these unitary tendencies, India remains a federal state with important features of federalism, including an independent judiciary, bicameralism at the centre and in some states, and a division of powers between the centre and states. [297 words]

6] Despite constitutional mandate the Inter-State Council has not come of age. Discuss. [2019/10m/150w/5c]

The Inter-State Council was set up in 1990 following the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. The constitutional roots of the council are to be found in Article 263, which recommends that the President of India set up such a council to deal with federal issues.

It is important to note that the very first reason the Constitution gives for setting up the institution is that it will be useful when it comes to “inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between states”. The other two are to discuss subjects for which the components of the Indian Union have common interests and to figure out how to coordinate.

The harsh reality is that the Inter-State Council has had just 12 meetings since it was set up in 1990. There was a gap of a decade between the 10th meeting in 2006 and the 11th meeting in 2016, and the council met again in November 2017.

A rejuvenated Inter-State Council will have an important role to play in the coming years, especially since its members are the political leaders of their respective states and not technocrats. The council is as yet just a discussion group, but it should have a greater say in federal coordination in the future. The GST council has an innovative voting structure, with the Union government having a third of the vote while the states share the rest equally, irrespective of the size of their population or economy. That is one option for a more empowered Inter-State Council.

If the Inter-State Council is to emerge as the key institution to manage inter-state frictions, it first needs to have a regular meeting schedule. The council also has to have a permanent secretariat which will ensure that the periodic meetings are more fruitful.

There is an institutional gap in the Indian union right now—and it needs to be filled before inter-state frictions get out of control. [320 words]

7] Implementation of GST and NEET is a major challenge to Indian federalism. Comment. [2018/10m/150w/5d]

The implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) has indeed posed significant challenges to Indian federalism.

While GST is a comprehensive indirect tax reform aimed at creating a unified market by replacing multiple indirect taxes levied by the central and state governments, NEET is a standardized entrance examination for admission to undergraduate medical and dental courses in India.

The GST framework requires states to surrender their power to levy certain taxes, which has resulted in the loss of fiscal autonomy for the states. This has raised concerns among states about their ability to raise revenue and meet their financial requirements. The GST is governed by a GST Council where decisions are made jointly by the central and state governments. However, some argue that the central government has significant influence in decision-making, which raises concerns about the balance of power between the centre and the states.

A similar argument also holds true for NEET. The exam aims to bring uniformity and transparency to the medical education system, but its implementation has posed challenges to Indian federalism.

Education is a subject under the purview of state governments in India. With the implementation of NEET, the central government’s involvement in the admission process has increased, leading to concerns over encroachment on state authority and the diversity of regional education systems. The introduction of a common entrance examination like NEET raises concerns about the compatibility of the examination with diverse regional curricula and the fairness of evaluating students based on a uniform standard.

It is worth noting that the challenges posed by the implementation of GST and NEET to Indian federalism are complex and multifaceted. These challenges require a delicate balance between centralization and decentralization, ensuring that the objectives of economic and educational integration and standardization are achieved while respecting the autonomy and diversity of states. [309 words]

8] Discuss asymmetrical federalism in India. [2018/15m/200w/7c]

Granville Austin calls the model of Indian federalism, sui generis, unique to India. A lot can be attributed to the diversity in India.

Post-independence, there was doubt among international scholars whether India can survive as a nation. They were sceptical about whether a country can accommodate so much diversity and still be called a nation. Proving all assumptions wrong, India survived. Not just survived, but is the largest democracy in the world and the fastest-growing large economy.

However, the asymmetry in the Indian federation cannot be denied. There is a north-south divide when it comes to economic prosperity. The states in south and west India are prosperous – economically as well as socially. While countries in north and east India suffer from high population, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, unemployment etc. This had also led to the recent debate around the 15th Finance Commission using the 2011 population for the purpose of distribution of funds.

Further, different states also enjoy different constitutional statuses. The countries in the northeast and other hilly states are given Special Category status, which ensures greater financial assistance by the state. Until last year, Jammu & Kashmir had special status like no other state.

There are many more diversities in terms of population, geography, area, language, culture, religion etc. This has also led to differential representation in the parliament of different states.

However, diversity should not always be seen in a negative sense. In the case of India, it has enriched it. That is the reason India continues to grow and aspires to be a world leader. [258 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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