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10-November-2023

1.  Any federal system is bound to have asymmetries, therefore special provisions are essential not only to come together but to hold together. Discuss in the context of Indian federalism.

ANSWER

  • Unlike the USA, the Indian federation is an ‘indestructible union of indestructible states’. Therefore, in order to maintain the federal structure of the country and counter secessionist tendencies, it is desirable and imminent to have special powers and asymmetric arrangements to accommodate diverse group interests and identities.

ASYMMETRIES THAT ALLOWED THE COMING TOGETHER OF STATES CONSTITUTIONAL ASYMMETRIES

  1. The North-Eastern States which enjoy distinct ethnicity from the rest of India were given special powers under Article 371 of the Constitution.
  2. Customary laws, religious and social customs, limitations on land ownership and transfer, and prohibitions on the entry of non-residents into the state are just a few of the specific requirements.
  3. The formation of sub-State asymmetries can be also seen in the formation of Union Territories.
  4. The States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Goa under Article 371 have also been given certain special powers, to address the specific asymmetries with regard to administration of tribal areas, intra-state regional disparities, law and order situation.

ECONOMIC ASYMMETRIES

  1. In order to prevent a Spain-like situation, where economic asymmetries have caused fissures in the federation, the Indian Federation provides certain provisions to hold the Indian States together.
  2. The categorization of States into Special and Non-Special Category States, special taxation provisions for States like Sikkim, etc. For e.g., Sikkim has the power to levy income tax.
  3. This can also be observed in the Finance Commission’s transfer and grants which are based on the socioeconomic conditions of the States.
  4. It is also observed in the Union’s Assistance Plans which are also according to the economic status of the States.

OTHER FORMS OF ASYMMETRIES

  1. Another recent example of resource distribution in an asymmetric manner is the allocation of subsidized food grains to different states.
  2. The central government has the discretion to allocate food grains for regions affected by drought and flood, over and above the formula determined by it.
  3. Another important policy instrument that can discriminate between the states is the policy regarding the location of central public sector enterprises and their head office and regional offices.

WHY ARE THESE ASYMMETRIES NECESSARY

  1. To address distinct issues of States like Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, etc. such as administration of backward areas, intra-state regional disparities, law, and order situation.
  2. To address the gaps in fiscal federalism that arise due to issues like centralization of finances to the Union, revenue-expenditure mismatch in States, Centrally Sponsored Schemes, issues with GST, etc.
  3. To prevent secessionist tendencies as well as to address the inter-States as well as intra-States disputes.
  4. To accommodate the aspirations of regional parties in political as well as administrative space.

According to Alexandrowicz, Indian federalism can be described as “federalism sui generis”. This means that the current form of Indian federalism is organic and developed according to the dynamics of time and political compulsions.

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