Stalin’s letter on the Interstate Council and what it means for federalism

Tamil Nadu CM’s letter to Prime Minister sheds light on the importance of the Interstate Council in deciding federal issues and why it should meet at least three times a year

MP Stalin’s letter gains significance in light of the controversy sparked by his three key demands to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month. Photo: Twitter

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to hold Interstate Council (ISC) meetings at least three times a year. In addition, he wants bills of national importance to be submitted to the SAI before they are introduced in Parliament.

“I strongly suggest that every bill of national importance which may affect one or more States be submitted to the Council before being presented to Parliament, and that the views of the Council should also be presented to Parliament at the time of introduction of such a bill,” he said in his letter.

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Stalin’s letter gains significance in light of the controversy sparked by his three key demands during the inauguration of infrastructure factories in Tamil Nadu by Modi last month. His detractors had said that raising these demands at this forum was insulting to the Prime Minister.

How the ISC helps

The ideal forum for this would have been the SAI, a key element of the federal structure. It provides a common platform for Chief Ministers to present their views on the policies and legislative actions of the Union Government. But, for this to work well, meetings must take place. It was in the absence of such meetings – Stalin made this clear – that he had to use another forum to share his thoughts with the Prime Minister.

“Since the purpose of the Council is to strengthen, advance and sustain the spirit of cooperative federalism, I urge that meetings be held regularly,” he wrote to the PM.

The ISC, which was created to improve coordination between the Center and the States, has met only once in the last six years. This means that the “proper” platform where States and the Center can discuss issues has not been given the prominence it deserves. “In the past six years, this meeting has only taken place once, that is, on 16-7-2016 in New Delhi,” Stalin Modi recalled.

The background

The ISC was established in 1990 by a presidential ordinance in accordance with the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission under the Ministry of Interior and was mandated to meet three times a year. But, in 26 years, it has only met 11 times, confirming the oft-repeated observation that the Center Congress was as little invested in cooperative federalism as the BJP is today.

The Prime Minister acts as President of the ISC. Its other members include Union Ministers of Ministerial rank, Council of Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of all States, Chief Ministers of Union Territories (UTs) having a Legislative Assembly , with trustees of UTs having no legislature and governors of states being administered under the rule of the president.

Article 263 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of an SAI and as such it is a platform to discuss policies, strengthen Centre-State relations and act as a bridge to reduce the deficit of trust between the Center and the States.

What made Stalin emphasize dating

Stalin’s letter sheds light on the ISC and its intermittent functioning. He asked that the agenda for the next CDI meeting include such issues as discussing proposed bills to reinforce the spirit of cooperative federalism. Without such a platform, there is no room for effective and interactive communication between the Union and States on issues of common interest, he observed.

“We have seen instances where many bills affecting states’ rights and interests are passed in parliament without the opposition having had an opportunity to debate its merits and express the states’ concern,” he pointed out, adding that as a result, the views, concerns and constructive suggestions of States are not properly heard by the Union in the decision-making process for the nation as a whole.

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“What could be settled amicably between the executive powers is often brought to the gates of the judiciary. Often this leads to nasty and vexatious disputes involving states and the Union that are easily avoidable. Therefore, if the council met regularly, I am sure that it would serve as a bridge between the Union and the States and would be mutually beneficial for all its members.

Stalin then enjoyed the re-enactment of the Council, which was performed last month. It now has 10 Union ministers as permanent guests. Its standing committee was reconstituted with Union Home Minister Amit Shah as chairman. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and senior ministers from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat are among the other members of the standing committee.

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