August 11, 2019

All-Round Assault on States’ Rights

WHAT was notable about the spate of legislations presented in the first session of parliament was the hurried manner in which they were passed without any legislative scrutiny.  There was no reference to the standing committees or select committees to get the bills vetted and considered. Using its big majority in the Lok Sabha and the manipulated majority in the Rajya Sabha, none of the bills underwent proper scrutiny.

While this was a common thread regarding the bills adopted in the just-concluded session of parliament, there was another common feature about the bills which is equally disturbing.  All the bills on diverse subjects had a running thread – an encroachment on state’s rights and the undermining of the federal principle.  

For instance, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill did away with a need for the prior approval of the state police chief for effecting seizures and attachment of properties by the National Investigation Agency. In the case of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, the licensing and registration of road transport vehicles has been taken out of the purview of the state authorities.  The national authority set-up will outsource this work to agencies; further state-run road transport corporations will be adversely affected as routes will be auctioned and private companies will be allowed to bid and takeover these routes. 

The National Medical Commission Bill, which has been adopted, has drastically reduced the representation of states in the commission.  There will be only six state representatives, while they were in a majority in the erstwhile Medical Council of India.  The state representatives will rotate once in four years which should mean the state would get a chance to be represented only once in 12 years.

In the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, the central government has been empowered to prescribe rules regarding tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners not only at the central level but at the states level too.  This is an infringement of the powers of the state. 

The Consumer Protection Bill sets up a central consumer protection authority. This is the supreme body which will decide everything with regard to protection of consumer rights, enforcement and penalties. By this legislation, the states are assigned no powers, but burdened with the financial expenditure for the state consumer protection bodies. 

In all the subjects listed in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the rights of the states in these areas are being abridged or denied by the setting up of central regulatory agencies, or, authorities who will call the shots as far as the state entities are concerned. 

This centralising trend can be seen in the Draft National Education Policy too. The draft proposes the setting up of a centralised Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog to be headed by the prime minister.  This will be the apex body deciding on various levels of education.  Such concentration of authority in a centralised body, headed by the prime minister, will transgress upon the rights of the states in the educational sphere.

The pattern that emerges out of these legislations and policy initiatives is a steady centralisation of authority in decision-making and resources in various spheres transgressing the federal principle.  This is part of the drive for developing an authoritarian and centralised State structure, which is the agenda of the BJP-RSS combine.

It was strange to see many regional parties like the BJD, TRS and YSRCP lining up in support of this centralisation drive through the various bills passed in parliament.  By doing so, they have struck at the very root of their own state-based programmes and moorings on state’s rights.

The manner in which the Modi government has dismantled the state of Jammu & Kashmir is a grave warning about the danger posed to states’ rights and federalism.  The growing onslaught on states’ rights and federalism must be unitedly resisted. 

(August 8, 2019)