Adverse changes, federalism imperilled
Why in News
• Lack of centralization has led to poor management of the ongoing COVID19 vaccination drive, States have also raised their voices against the issue.
• The current government is increasing centralization and being accused of growing incursions into sectors where State governments have a primary responsibility to govern such as health, education and agriculture.
• Slogans such as ‘one nation, one tax, one market and one ration’ are again part of such appeals to a narrative of a strong nation state rather than one of governance.
• In post-independent India, the Centre, on several occasions, has used its powers to dismiss democratically elected governments.
• During the Emergency, education was moved to the Concurrent list which was until then a state subject under the constitutional division of responsibilities.
• There has been increasing centralization in resource allocations and welfare interventions.
• The gap between the revenue that State governments are allowed to generate and the expenditure that they are expected to incur has been widening, particularly with the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
• The shortfall of GST and the Centre’s lackadaisical response to demands for compensation by State governments are known.
• The Centre has been accused of encroaching into domains under State government control through centrally sponsored schemes in sectors such as education and health where States are required to spend about 85% and 82% of public expenditure, respectively.
• The author argues that there has been consolidation and expansion of a few big business groups seen to be close to the central ruling party, at the expense of smaller players.
• On the one hand, the Centre has sought to insulate Indian big business from global competition by choosing not to enter into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but has eroded the power of small businesses through support for GST and the call for a single national market.
• Clearly, bigger players are more likely to benefit from a removal of State level barriers to trade at the expense of smaller regional players. This recalibration of State-capital relations works against smaller entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship.
• Regional parties tend to rely on region specific rent thick sectors for political funding such as mining and real estate.
• Second challenge is in the use of executive and legislative aggression.
• Central institutions are increasingly weakening the policy levers of State institutions. Institutions such as the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the National Investigation Agency are being used to intimidate opponents.
• Direct transfers to beneficiaries of welfare schemes bypassing States are also contributing to this factor.
• Centre is increasingly ignoring elected representatives of State governments, holding meetings with State secretaries and district collectors on issues that are primarily under State control.
• Recent example was a recent meeting by Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank with State Education Secretaries on implementation of the New Education Policy.
• Apart from imposing a national lockdown during the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic without consulting State governments, the Centre has now put State governments at a disadvantage in vaccine usage by fixing differential pricing for procuring vaccines for them.
• This forces State governments to pay more even as they are deprived of their revenue shares.
• The third and crucial challenge lies in the socio-cultural foundations of federalism.
• According to Partha Chatterjee, “beside the legal constitutional aspects of federalism, it is diversity in cultural foundation of regions that sustains Indian federalism”.
• However, this diversity is being challenged at present. Markers of regional identities and regional sociocultural practices are now interpreted as belonging to a pan Indian Hindu tradition.
• ‘Dravidian’ is attacked as a creation of the British with support from Christian missionaries, emptying the term of its anticaste politics.
• This erosion of federal relations is often countered through appeals to restore the constitutional powers of States.
• However, history tells us that such calls may not amount to much in the absence of regional political assertion. Constitutional powers including fiscal relations are inherently biased towards the Centre.
• Vesting of all residuary powers with the Centre and giving overruling powers to the Centre on matters in the Concurrent list are the primary sources of this bias.
• What is seldom recognized is that the degree of federalism in India has depended largely on two variables:
The nature of political coalitions at the Centre and role of States in such coalitions (the period 1996 to 2014 for example), and
The cultural diversity of regions.
• Hence, what is needed is a federal coalition that looks beyond the legal-constitutional aspects of federalism to preserve the idea of a plural India in terms of both culture and politics.
GS PAPER – III
Welcome to more useful monsoon forecasts
Why in News
• There’s noticeable strategy revamp in monsoon forecasting. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is modifying its two-stage prognosis of the monsoon season (June-September) to put out granular data for each of the four months for the first time.
• So, after its early forecast in April for a ‘normal’ monsoon, IMD has now come out with its big picture probabilistic forecast for the rainy season as a whole which, again, is ‘most likely to be normal’ and also for June.
Forecast of IMD 2021
• The projection is that rainfall during the southwest monsoon 2021 for the country as a whole is ‘likely to be’ 101% of the long period average (LPA).
• Note that for the period 1961-2010, average annual precipitation nationwide is 88 cm.
• Further, during June-September, while the monsoon is expected to be normal over the northwest and the southern peninsula, and above normal in central India, rainfall is most likely to be below normal in the water-rich northeast.
• Additionally, the prediction is that during June, rainfall would be below normal in much of western and peninsular India, but is likely to normalize later in the season.
• The forecast for July would be available at the end of this month. It is, indeed, welcome that IMD has been leveraging global computing resources to update its multi-model monsoon forecast system.
• However, timely forecasts need to be complemented with proactive policies on the ground to better manage water resources.
• Given rising water stress nationally, we do need to focus on water harvesting, and rationalize water usage in agriculture and industry.
• We also need to better allocate resources to shore up flood control, improve irrigation infrastructure to address drought conditions, and deploy lightning arrestors widely to reduce casualties.