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Plight Of Interstate Council, An Ignored And Underutilized Constitutional Body

India, a country with a quasi-federal structure of governance[1], in which the subjects to legislate upon are divided between states and the union[2]. And it is also a diverse country in various fields like language, culture, distribution of resources, economic conditions and development, etc.

So, it is normal that disputes can arise among states or between states and center, for which an amicable mechanism of dispute resolution is needed. And, this was clearly seen by the far sight of the makers of our constitution and they provided us Interstate council for smooth redressal of disputes, under article 263 of the Indian constitution.

It consists of the Prime Minister as its chairman, Union ministers (of cabinet rank), Chief Ministers of every state and UTs (with legislative assemblies), Administrators of the UTs, and Governors of states (under the president's rule)[3].

Functions

Interstate Council is charged with several functions under article 263, which are the following:
  1. Inquire and advise upon the issues that arise between the states.[4]
  2. Investigate and discuss the subjects on which states and unions have a common interest.[5]
  3. Can make recommendations upon the subjects, and recommendations for the better coordination of policy and action.[6]

Why The Council Is Ignored And Underutilized?

The main reason behind its ignorance and underutilization is that its use was not perceived by the government till 1990. It was in 1990 when for the first time the need for council was realized after the recommendation of the Sarkaria Commission[7]. Before that Indian government had ignored it.

There is an argument that can be accepted that till 1970 most of the states in the country were ruled by a common party (congress) and there was unanimous consensus among them, so it was easy to resolve disputes but, what after 1970 why it took two more decades to realize the need of interstate council. It had only met 11 times till now. So, it needs several reforms immediately, to strengthen the interstate relation and cooperation which will ultimately result in the strengthening of the quasi-federal structure of the country.

Needed Reforms
As we know there is always a scope for reforms. And for the proper functioning of any institution, the proper analysis of its functioning is needed from time to time, and reforms must be implemented as per the need of the hour. And same also applies in the case of the Interstate Council it also needs proper analysis and reforms which needed to be done. Like,
  1. A definite set of conditions in which the council can be constituted

    I can't understand why the constitution of the interstate council is left subjected to the discretion of the president? As it is clearly mentioned at the very beginning of Article 263 that if the president finds that the public interest can be served by constituting the council then he can set up the council. Maybe President's discretion hasn't allowed him to constitute an interstate council till 1990.

    Sometimes it may happen that in some situations where President's discretion finds the need of council but actually there is no need, and vice versa. Which can be disastrous for the goal behind the insertion of this provision in the constitution. And for avoiding such situations a definite set of conditions is required in which the council can be constituted, rather than totally leaving it to the discretion of the President.
     
  2. The council should meet uniformly at a definite interval of time

    The first council was set up after the four decades of the proclamation of the Constitution, even after that, it suffered from the lack of opportunities to meet. Even the last council meeting was held after a gap of more than a decade. These all things show us the plight of this council. It requires a proper mechanism in which the council should meet uniformly or within a short time gap. And as per the recommendation of the Punchhi Commission report the council should meet thrice a year.

    But the reality is in contrast to the recommendation which we can see in the table.
    Interstate council meetings Time interval[8]
    1st interstate council meeting 40 years[9]
    2nd interstate council meeting six years
    3rd interstate council meeting 5/6 year
    4th interstate council meeting 1/3 year
    5th interstate council meeting more than 1 year
    6th interstate council meeting more than 1 year
    7th interstate council meeting more than 1 year
    8th interstate council meeting more than 1 year
    9th interstate council meeting more than 2 years
    10th interstate council meeting more than 1 year
    11th interstate council meeting 10 years
    Table: Shows the lack of uniformity in the time interval between the meetings of councils.

    From the table, we can clearly understand that there is not any uniformity in the time interval between the two meetings. Many times, it is held in the time interval between more than 1 year and except two times during the 3rd and 4th meeting of the interstate council which is held in the time interval of less than a year.
     
  3. The interstate council secretariat must be shifted from Home Ministry to the Rajya Sabha chairman

    The council is supported by the secretariat which comes under the Home Ministry and is also much influenced by politics. And if we look at the composition of the council every member has any how some political endorsement. So, it becomes tough to proceed with the matters very smoothly without having any neutral body in the council. So, in my personal opinion, the secretariat should be moved under the chairman of the Rajya Sabha from the Home Ministry. The Rajya Sabha Chairman will put the interest of the nation forward rather than discussing political agendas and will maintain balance and neutrality.
End-Notes:
  1. Wheare, K.C., 1946. Federal government/KC Wheare. London; New York: H. Milford; Oxford University Press, 1946
  2. Constitution of India Act 1950, sch 7
  3. Presidential order dated 28 may 1990
  4. Constitution of India Act 1950, Art 263 clause (a)
  5. Constitution of India Act 1950, Art 263 clause (b)
  6. Constitution of India Act 1950, Art 263 clause (c)
  7. FADIA, B., & MENARIA, R. (1990). Sarkaria Commission report and centre-state relations. Agra, Sahitya Bhawan.
  8. Time interval between the meeting of two councils (in years)
  9. The time gap is between the 1950 when constitution of India came into effect and when the first interstate commission was constituted.

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