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Editorial

HT EDIT-The fraying of the federal compact Both the Centre and states must respect divisions of power

December 16, 2019 05:17 AM

COURTESY THE HINDUSTAN TIMES DEC 16
In the wake of the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, chief ministers (CMs) from several non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states have said they will not implement the law. They argue that the new provisions of the Act are unconstitutional and divisive. The Centre, meanwhile, believes that Parliament has exercised its sovereign right in passing the Act and states have no choice in the matter but to implement it. The final word will rest with the Supreme Court.

The new row comes in the backdrop of continued differences between the Centre, and an even wider set of states, over the delay in payment of compensation under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime. While the non-BJP states have articulated this concern, even the BJP-ruled states are understood to share concerns since it directly affects fiscal calculations across the board. Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman admitted that the GST regime had, indeed, become distorted, that the concerns of the states were genuine, and the compact would be honoured.

But both episodes point to a more disturbing trend. India has always prided itself on its robust federal structure. Different parties may be in power at the Centre and in states, but there was a framework that governed their relations on matters of national importance. With the BJP becoming politically hegemonic and pushing its ideological agenda, the Opposition parties have got politically insecure, and feel that the constitutional framework itself may be under threat. The fact that the economy is not in the best of health lends itself to an additional layer of tension, for resource allocation becomes more challenging. There is also a degree of enhanced competition over credit sharing about the delivery of welfare schemes. The Centre exercises close control over its flagship projects, even as states run by other parties seek to focus on their own programmes. All of this together creates rifts. But it can undermine the edifice on which India’s governing arrangements rest. Democracy will involve competition. But it is important for all parties, and the Centre and states, to work together on key issues. For this, Delhi should adopt a more consultative approach on key decisions, and state capitals must respect constitutionally designed divisions of power.

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