The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid
Ansari has said that it would be fair to assert that our
democratic setup has served us well in orienting our heterogeneous society
towards its developmental goals and including in this endeavour all segments of
our citizenry. Delivering “Satyendra Narayan Sinha Memorial
Lecture” at Patna (Bihar) today Shri Ansari has sdaid that our success is in
sustaining a secular, pluralist democracy focused on the vision of our founding
fathers. Our commitment to diversity and to upholding the varied identities of
our citizens is unparalleled.
The Vice President has said that we have also shown
that this commitment is not a fair-weather strategy to be discarded at the
first sign of political or economic stress, but a fundamental value. Our
federalism has enabled this achievement despite immense national and global
is the text of the Vice President’s addreess:
happy to be back in Patna and to participate, today, in this function being
held in the memory of Late Shri Satyendra Narayan Sinha. “Chhote Saheb”, as he
was popularly called, was an important political leader of Bihar,
a distinguished Parliamentarian, and someone who had the interests of his state
and people uppermost in his mind.
his long public life of over six decades, Sinha ji made significant
contributions in streamlining the education system of Bihar,
motivated the youth and students to take an active role in politics, and
ensured their representation in political affairs.
many in this audience would know, Sinha sahib was also a strong votary of the
rights of states in our constitutional scheme of things. As a Chief Minister,
and as an eminent and long-standing Parliamentarian, he was in a good position
to appreciate the delicate balance maintained by our Constitution between the
Centre and the States.
balance is dynamic and evolving. I therefore propose this afternoon to touch
upon a few challenges to our federal polity in a period of great change,
nationally and internationally.
constitution was carefully crafted. It is a Union
of States having features of both a Federation and a Union
with a systemic flexibility that has allowed it to becoming a three-tiered
polity with a single citizenship, and with the capacity to be either unitary or
federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances.
point was succinctly and authoritatively explained by the Chairman of the
Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. “The Drafting Committee”, he observed, “wanted it to be clear that though India was to be a federation, the federation was
not the result of an agreement by the states to join in a federation”, adding
that “the federation is a Union because it is indestructible. Though the country
and the people may be divided into different States for convenience of
administration, the country is one integral whole, its people a single people
living under a single imperium derived from a single source.”
the Constitution does not use the term federal or federation, the Supreme Court
has spoken of the Indian Union as quasi-federal and deemed it to be a part of
the basic structure. Eminent international authorities have characterised it as
“a centralised federation” and as sui generis.
decades of experience as a Republic is perhaps long enough to assess the
functioning of our federal structure that has been the principal
instrumentality for accommodating the enormous cultural, linguistic, religious
and ethnic diversity of India
within the framework of a democratic polity.
possible to analyse the functioning of our democracy in three of its dimensions:
first place, there is a need to
assess its efficacy as an instrumentality of managing diversity, coping with
political and social challenges, enhancing the scope of political participation
of citizens, deepening their engagement with the state and accommodating various
identities of our citizens;
Secondly, we should enquire if political federalism has
served our democracy well by controlling extra constitutional forces and enabling
articulation of the aspirations of our citizens through a political process;
Thirdly, we need to examined the operation of fiscal
federalism through the various tiers of our democracy and indicate required correctives.
think it would be fair to assert that our democratic setup has served us well
in orienting our heterogeneous society towards its developmental goals and
including in this endeavour all segments of our citizenry. Our success is in sustaining
a secular, pluralist democracy focused on the vision of our founding fathers.
Our commitment to diversity and to upholding the varied identities of our
citizens is unparalleled.
have also shown that this commitment is not a fair-weather strategy to be
discarded at the first sign of political or economic stress, but a fundamental
value. Our federalism has enabled this achievement despite immense national and
level of ‘political federalism’ it can be said with confidence that India has been
a pioneer in moving from a dual federalism to a multi-level functional
cooperative federalism through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments.
thus have a multi-layered federal polity starting from the Gram Sabha, the Gram
Panchayat, Block and District Panchayats, Urban Local Bodies, the States and
the Union. This transformation has brought a
qualitative and quantitative difference to the nature of our political
representation. From a small number of less than 5000 political representatives
from the Union Parliament and the State Legislatures, we today have the largest
political representative base in the world of over two and a half lakh local
governments, comprising over three million elected representatives.
experience of a series of coalition governments at the central level and in
many states during the last two decades has changed the working dynamic of our
polity. Today, having strong state governments pursuing their developmental
goals with dedication and success need not depend on the dynamics of political
force at the Centre. The emergence of strong regional and sectional political
parties who participate in governance at the local, state and central levels
has further strengthened the federal impulse.
constitutional scheme of distribution of powers continues to be the subject of
argument, mostly rational, among political parties and constituent units of our
federal set-up. Similarly, greater political and fiscal freedom to units lower
down the political pyramid continues to be politically debated and negotiated.
of these issues are critical. The significant regional disparities in economic
development focus attention on the important aspect of ‘fiscal federalism’. It
has been a difficult task of balancing the objectives of equity, efficiency and
autonomy in federal transfers and to keep the process on-track as envisaged in
our Constitution. Finance Commissions have played a constructive role in
harmonizing the revenue structures of the Centre and the States and in
resolving disputes with respect to distribution of revenues between them. Grievances
regarding fiscal devolution mechanisms do exist, and continue to be aired and
addressed through our polity. This dynamic of the political economy has strengthened
the process and foundation of fiscal federalism in our country.
question of eliminating fiscal barriers to inter-State movement of goods and in
the utilization of natural resources has raised political tension and adverse
political mobilisation. They pose a significant challenge for the management of
our federal polity, especially as we move from a ‘cooperative’ to a
‘competitive’ federalism with constituent units competing for investments, job
creation opportunities, and grants from national and multilateral bodies to
improve the standard of living of their peoples. A horizontal disparity in
economic development among states coexists with intense competition, which at
times also takes on political overtones.
economic growth, increased demand for commodity resources obtained from mining
and buoyant commodity markets, and widespread poverty and under-development in mineral
resource-rich states have provided the backdrop for a debate on ‘resource
federalism’ in the country. The polity has had to face questions about the
functioning of our federal set-up in the context of resource development, the
balance between political participation, protection of human, legal and
fundamental rights, economic and developmental priorities and local
environmental and social responsibilities.
yet to find definitive answers to the question of independent regulators for
offshore and onshore resource management, improving compensation and sharing of
resource revenues and improving the institutional capacity to utilise the
revenues generated for public interest.
also to be admitted that the potential of the mechanisms suggested in the
Constitution remains under-utilised. A case in point is the Inter-State Council
under Article 263. It was established by a Presidential Order in 1990 but
remains somewhat dormant. The March 2010 Report of the Commission on
Centre-State Relations piously proclaims that “cooperative federalism” is the
key in which “Statesmanship should lead Politics”.
this happening? Yet another area where cooperation rather than contention
should prevail pertains to inter-state water disputes and underlines the
imperative need for better water governance on the part of all concerned.
would like to raise one other issue for the consideration of this distinguished
audience. While there has been criticism regarding the manner and extent of
devolution of finances from the Centre to the States, the issue of further
devolution to local government has not been adequately debated. India has one of the lowest shares of local government
expenditure compared to total public sector expenditure at around 5 per cent, as
compared to the OECD average of around 30 per cent, over 50 per cent in China and 15 per cent in Brazil.
the share of local government expenditure to GDP is less than 2 per cent in India compared to around 14 per cent in OECD
countries, over 10 per cent in China
and over 6 per cent in Brazil.
political federalism has worked very well at the third tier of local
government, through regular elections, granting of constitutional status,
reservation for women and marginalized communities and the granting of
responsibility for planning for economic development and social justice, these
have been rendered without corresponding movement towards fiscal federalism. The
institution of the State Finance Commissions has not been harnessed enough to
achieve fiscal devolution to the local government and thus achieve a more
inclusive and effective decentralized governance in the country.
venture to suggest that the time has come for all the constituent units of our
federal setup to ponder on how to realize the full potential of our federal
democracy for meeting the aspirations of our people.
me to conclude on a conceptual note. Writing in 1956 the Canadian scholar W.S.
Livingston drew attention to the social forces that mould federal political
institutions. “The essential nature of federalism”, he wrote, “is to be sought
for, not in the shading of legal and constitutional terminology, but in the
forces – economic, social, political and cultural – that have made the outward
form of federalism necessary…Federal government is a device by which the
federal qualities of the society are articulated and protected”.
to say, this is all the more compelling in our changing world where the twin
imperatives of globalisation and identity have to be continuously reconciled to
achieve our stated socio-economic and political objectives.
thank Smt. Shyama Singhji for inviting me to be the chief guest in today’s
function and deliver the Satyendra Narayan Sinha Memorial Lecture.”