Though Inter-state Council was established as a constitutional body, many of its functions remained eclipsed by the extra-constitutional bodies. Discuss while analyzing the relevance of Inter-state Council suggesting way forward.

Published: July 8, 2017

It is irony of the Indian federalism that most states have remained dissatisfied with the functions of extra-constitutional bodies such as planning commission, National Development Council etc. over declining role of the constitutional bodies such as Inter-state Council, Zonal Councils, Finance Commission etc. Among various constitutional bodies, the ISC has remained the most ignored and underestimated bodies. First, it was created almost 40 years of Independence, that too on recommendations of a committee on Centre-State Relations (Sarkaria Commission). Though, it’s status was of a constitutional body (under Article 263), many of its functions kept eclipsed by extra-constitutional National Development Council (NDC) till the later was dissolved by NDA government in recent years.  The body has remained ignored evident from the fact that even after so many years, only 12 meetings have held so far. The latest meeting was held in 2016 after a gap of 11 years while the latest meet of its standing committee was held recently in April 2014 after a gap of 12 years.
There are several reasons for failure of ISC to emerge as an active forum for discussing and alleviating the problems in centre-state relations. First, during the era of planning and congress dominance, the NDC worked as a functional substitute of ISC. In 1990s and 2000s, all the governments in centre were coalitions so during this phase, the cabinets themselves  started to take functions of ISC as these were having several ministers from regional parties. The return of single party government (through it still is a coalition) has resulted in end of the planning commission and NDC. After demise of NDC and Planning Commission era, we find NITI Aayog’s Governing Council also having similar composition (included PM, CMs, and select cabinet ministers) and capable of addressing the centre-state issues.
Nevertheless, ISC has been proved to be instrumental in several recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission including alternations in states’ share in the taxes.
Way Forward
Being a constitutional body, ISC has more trust value and can help to bridge the gap between centre and states, though it cannot solve problems by itself, it has always worked as a safety valve. There is a need to give it more powers and functions (than being only recommendatory in nature), particularly power to investigate the issues of inter-state conflict.  It should be given scope to include civil society institutions representations. As far as NITI aayog is concerned, that can be attached to ISC and make both of them complimentary to each other towards cooperative federalism in the country.

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