Sarkaria Commission Recommendations – Summary

In view of the growing pressure for the greater autonomy, in June 1983 the Union Government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Justice R.S. Sarkaria to review the question of centre state relations. The commission submitted its report to the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi  on 27 October 1987.

  • Sarkaria Commission went at considerable length into the justification for establishing a permanent Inter-State Council as an independent national forum for consultation with a mandate well defined in accordance with article 263.
  • The Commission recommended that for coordination of policies and implementation in a dual polity especially in view of large areas of common interest and shared action requires a sustained process of contact, consultation and interaction, for which a proper forum is necessary.
  • The Commission observed that executive powers of the Union and States overlap in many areas and as such division of matters in Union List and State List is not absolute. Several entries overlap.
  • Then in implementation of its laws and policy Union is largely dependent on State administrations. Union and States can entrust their executive functions to each other. States are dependent on Union for fiscal resources and in many administrative matters.
  • Interdependence is indispensable in a diverse and developing society. Institutionalized and sustained consultation is indispensable in view of this interdependence. The Commission recommended setting up of a Council under article 263 of the Constitution for this purpose.
  • Commission observed that there has been a pervasive  trend  towards greater centralization  of powers over the years and narrow personal interests have been given priority over larger national interest. It did not favour limiting  of the powers  of the union  or transfer of various subjects to state or concurrentlists. However, it recommended  a process of consultation by the centre on al concurrent subjects, which is not being done at present. The important recommendations of the commission included :
  • Formation of an inter-governmental council consisting of the prime minister and chief ministers of states to decide collectively on various aspects of governance that cause friction between centre and states.
  • Sparing use of article 356 of the constitution should be made and all possibilities of formation of an alternative government must be explored before imposing presidential rule in the state. the state assembly should not be dissolved unless the proclamation is approved by the parliament.
  • It rejected the demand for the abolition of office of governor as well as his selection from a panel of names given by the state governments. However, it suggested that active politicians should not be appointed governors. When the state and the centre are ruled by different political parties, the governor should not belong to the ruling party at the centre. Further, the retiring governors should be debarred from accepting any office of profit.
  • The judges of high courts should not be transferred without their consent.
  • The three-language formula should be implement in its true spirit in all the states in the interest  of unity and integrity of the country.
  • The work of the union and the state governments, which directly affects the local people must be carried out in the local language.
  • Central control over radio and television should be relaxed and the individual  Kendra’s  should be free to decide about the timing for the relay of national hook-up programmes.
  • It favored amendments for sharing certain taxes between the centre and the states, even though it generally opposed the curtailment of the center’s powers.
  • In the financial sphere it did not favor any drastic changes in the basic scheme of division of taxes but favored sharing of corporation tax and levy of consignment tax.
  • It did not favor disbanding of all-India services in the interest of the country’s integrity. Instead, it favored new all-India services.
  • It made a strong case for inter-state councils but insisted that these should be used only for the purpose mentioned  in article 263 of the constitution.
  • It favored retention of the national development council and suggested activation of the zonal councils.
  • It found the present division of functions between the finance commission and the planning commission as reasonable  and favored continuance of this arrangement.
  • It favoured determination of terms of reference of the finance commission in consultation with the state governments. It also suggested setting  up of similar expert bodies  at the state level.

We can see that Sarkaria Commission did not suggest any drastic changes in the existing scheme. However, it favoured several constitutional and functional changes to remove irritants in the centre-state relations. Neither the congress (I) government under Rajiv Gandhi, nor the national front government under V.P. Singh, accepted the recommendations of the Sarkaria commission.

The Government under P.V. Narasimha Rao decided to implement some recommendations but the United Front government under H D Deva Gowda, soon after assumption of power in June 1996, announced its intention to fully implement  the Sarkaria  commission.

  • Accordingly, it activated the inter-state council after a gap of six years, and decides to set up a panel to examine in depth the contentious issues relating to centre-state relations.

To promote healthy centre-state relations, the united front government favoured a system of decisions-making. This policy was also continued by the BJP led coalition government. In January 1999, the inter-state council decided  to accept  124 recommendations  of the sarkaria  commission. In 2001 the interstate council decided that the governor, after demitting office, would be banned from returning to active politics that chief ministers on the appointment of governors, the governor can, however, become vice-president or president.

The inter-state council covered 59 recommendations of the sarkaria commission, which touched upon the role of the governors, legislative relations, inter-governmental council, mines and minerals, all-India services, mass media and languages.

Further it was decided that :

  • Taxation power, which were so far in the union list, should be shifted to the concurrent  list in view of the need for  states to mobilize  more resources.
  • For all legislations in respect of subject on the concurrent list, there should be active consultation with the state government, except  in emergent cases.
  • States should be allowed to impose local or municipal taxes on industrial or commercial  properties owned by the centre.
  • Regarding institution of a commission of inquiry against a minister  in a state,  it was decided to build appropriate  safeguards in the commission of inquiry  act to prevent  its misuse by centre.

The issue of centre-state relations again came up for consideration before the inter-state council at its meeting held at Sri Nagar in august 2003. The council  insisted on incorporation  of certain  safeguards in the constitution  so that president’s rule could not be imposed in the state under article 356 it insisted  that article 356 should be used only as a last resort.