State govts not strengthening local bodies: Jairam

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh speaks in the Rajya Sabha. PTI photo

Taking a dig at state governments, a senior Congress member in Rajya Sabha on Friday said that while chief ministers seek greater powers for the states, they have deprived local bodies such as municipal corporations and panchayats of greater autonomy.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, while participating in a debate on a private member's bill, termed it as "double standards" by such state governments and stressed that local bodies are also part of cooperative federalism.

He also batted for a strong Centre, saying "if the Centre is weak, India is weak", and at the same time lamented that in the last few years, the country has seen "combative federalism and not cooperative federalism".

"I support that greater administrative and financial powers should be given to states but I have not seen one chief minister, who comes to Delhi and demands greater power from New Delhi, prepared to give the same powers to panchayat and municipal bodies in the state," said Ramesh in the Upper House.

No chief minister, who is seeking to derive more powers from the Centre, is willing to respect the 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution, through which local self-governance was introduced in rural and urban India, he said.

"This is not happening and it is double standards here," said Ramesh.

Federalism does not mean Centre and state only but it also includes municipality and panchayat."This is like a Rudraksha mala (garland). All four are bound together and this is true federalism," Ramesh said.

He was speaking on a private member's bill moved by DMK leader Vaiko asking to bring back all the subjects which were transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List in last 70 years.

Vaiko has also demanded that there be review and restructure of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution which defines and specifies allocation of powers and functions between the Centre and the states.

Opposing it, Ramesh said, "it would open a Pandora's box".

He also supported a strong Centre, saying that "this was the intents of our leaders". "We are a nation of great diversity but the Constitution of India was prepared at a time when the single biggest concern was how to have a strong Centre. If the Centre is weak, India is weak. The Centre has to be strong," he said.

However, Ramesh also added that a strong Centre does not mean one language or one religion or food but it means that the "central government should have a pivotal role in raising resources and distributing them across the states equitably."

He said that Finance Commission, which is soon going to submit its 15th report, is a very good model of Constitution and contains the positive elements of federalism.

"In fact, one of the problems of the GST is that the power of the Centre has reduced very substantially and that is creating problems for finance minister," Ramesh said

However, he also said that in the last few years, the country has seen "combative federalism and not cooperative federalism" and this is not the model implicit in the Constitution.

"When you say cooperative federalism, it should not only reflect in word but also get reflected in the actions of the central government," he said, adding that "unitary and arbitrary actions" of the Centre lead to suspicion among states and should be stopped.

Participating in the debate, BJP leader Shiv Pratap Shukla said the Modi Government believes in the true spirit of federalism and has set up the Policy Commission (NITI Aayog) by removing the Planning Commission so the chief ministers can discuss their plans.

It has also increased the state government's share to 42 per cent in central taxes from the earlier 32 per cent. Moreover, in the GST regime, all decisions are now being taken by the GST council, which has a representation of all states and acts on unanimity.

Trinamool Congress' Derek O' Brien expressed concern on the role of governors citing the recent developments in Maharashtra and West Bengal.

He also advocated bringing back the subject of education to the State List, which was put in Concurrent List in the 42nd amendment, saying that the state governments would not mind spending extra on education.

Vijila Sathyananth (AIADMK) said education touches the lives of each and every person and the subject should, therefore, be under the State List.

Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP) said states should get adequate financial powers and the Centre should stop partial behaviour towards the states.

Amar Patnaik (BJD) also emphasised the need for greater financial autonomy for the states.

K Keshav Rao (TRS), TK Rangarajan (CPI-M), Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) and Rakesh Sinha (Nom) also participated in the discussion. 

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