Judicial Behavior and Working of Indian Federalism

Judicial role in federalism in India is an important topic for polity in the UPSC exam. The following article discusses this topic along with a few case examples for IAS exam.

Judicial behaviour is another important factor that affects the working of Indian federalism The judicial behaviour is another important factor that affects the working of Indian federalism. Judiciary has generally been protective of the federal structure of the constitution, especially in more recent decades.

Case laws on federalism in India

In the opinion of Singh & Saxena, the courts have done this in at least three ways. Firstly, in Hargovind pant vs Raghukul Tilak & others (1979), the Supreme Court gave an essentially federal interpretation of the role of governor and declared that the Governor’s office is an independent constitutional office which is not subject to the control of the government of India. Secondly, in the landmark Keshavanand Bharti vs Union of India (1973), the Supreme Court declared federalism as part of the ‘basic structure’ of the constitution which was beyond the amending power of the parliament. This view was subsequently reiterated in Minerva Mills vs. Union of India (1980) case. Thirdly, its judgement in S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (1994) was a watershed in the federal dynamics of the country where the Court reversed its earlier decisions in a number of cases in which it had considered the issue of determination of breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state to be the prerogative of the executive which did not warrant judicial scrutiny. Instead, the court declared that satisfaction of the president in the matter was subjective but not absolute and hence proclamation of emergency under article 356 was subject to judicial review. The court could examine whether there was any material at all, whether it was relevant and whether it was tainted by mala fide, perverse or irrational exercise of power and it is the duty of the central government to explain the existence of material and evidence.

Two Significant Rulings

The Court also laid down two significant rules. Firstly, it ruled secularism to be one of the basic structures of the constitu¬tion and any state government which pursues un-secular policies contrary to the constitutional mandate renders itself amenable to action under Article 356. Thus, it upheld dismissal of three BJP state governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh in the aftermath of demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Secondly, the court prohibited any irreversible action by the President under article 356 until ratification of the proclamation by the Parliament. This effectively barred dissolution of the legislative assembly till the parliamentary approval and the court could restore dismissed ministry and dissolved legislature in case the proclamation was declared invalid. It could also grant an interim injunction to prevent holding of fresh elections till it decides the validity of the proclamation. This landmark verdict considerably reduced the greatest threat to the autonomy of the state government from abuse of Article 356. It served as a powerful check on the exercise of executive power of the Union for mala fide purposes. Since then, the Supreme Court has been called several times to adjudicate the cases of abuse of Article 356 and it has admirably discharged its consti¬tutional duty. Recently, in Rameshwar Prasad & Others vs Union of India (2006), the apex court declared the imposition of President’s rule in Bihar as unconstitutional. It found that the governor had acted in undue haste to recommend use of Article 356 with the sole intention of preventing JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar from forming the government. It passed several strictures against partisan role of Governor Buta Singh. However, the court declined to revive the dissolved assembly as elec¬tion process was in the advanced stage. Thus, we see that the judiciary has intervened to restore the federal balance against wanton misuse of Article 356 for narrow political considerations.

The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed the constitutional entrenchment of the local self-government in the form of Panchayati raj institutions and the municipalities as the third tier of our democratic polity through enactment of the landmark 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. This has contributed to widening of the base of our polity and has democratized it considerably by drawing into its fold the rural people by giving them a say in managing their local affairs. One novel feature of these amendments is the provision of mandatory reservation for the marginalized sections of our society, especially women, which has contributed in their empowerment. The elections to the local bodies have become an indicator of the support enjoyed by the state governments at the grassroot level and state-level politicians can ignore these local bodies only at their peril. Despite their numerous shortcomings, the local bodies are the nursery for political training of the masses and have federalized the overly centralized polity.

Economic Federalism

Since the onset of economic liberalization and decentralization of policy making to the states from early 1990s onwards , states have been able to exercise some autonomy in regulating their own development trajectory. States now negotiate economic aid and loans from international finan¬cial organizations directly and the centre ensures only the overall policy guidance. States now compete to attract foreign investments to accelerate their economic development. In this race, the states with better infrastructure and reform-oriented policies have taken lead while other states lacking in these have fallen behind. This has accentuated regional disparities and has led to the categorization of states into ‘forward states’, which include Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, and, on the other hand, the ‘backward states’, which includes the so-called BIMARU states-Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Thus, current situation reveals increasing differentiation among India’s states in terms of their fiscal capabilities and their developmental potential, This scenario does not augur well for the devel¬opment of the country and the need for special efforts by the central government for balanced regional development becomes more pronounced. The reforms have also led to an increase in the number of autonomous and semi-regulatory agencies set up under the parliamentary acts whose activities vitally affect the working of the federal as well as state governments.29 Some of them include Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority of India (IRDA), Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority of India (PFRDA), the Competition Commission of India (CCI), etc. This may be called the accentuated phenomenon of ‘sectoral federalism’. Thus, we see that the horizontal and vertical expansion of the federal process has brought legitimacy to the Indian state and cohesion to the Indian nation. In its own way, therefore, the Indian experience with the unprecedented and unconventional expansion of the federal principle serves to enrich the theory of federalism.

Use of Electronic Media

Electronic Media – the radio and T.V. are most powerful media of publicity and propaganda these days. The world over governments and political parties use these for political purposes both positively and negatively. In lndia as per the Constitution legislative powers to control and regulate broadcasting rest with the Union government. It has been alleged that the government and party in power at the Centre has used the media on the one hand to black out anything critical of its performance and on the other to malign the state governments being ruled by other parties. Particularly during the 1980. the opposition parties raised hue and cry against the blatant misuse of the All India Radio and Doordarshan for partisan purposes. It had been alleged that the media had been the mouth piece of the union government. With the arrival of private channels and establishment of Prasar Bharti that provides, some autonomy to Radio and Doordarshan the governmental control and Centre’s monopoly over media has been reduced. Also in a ‘situation of coalition governments in which Regional parties are playing an important role the central government can no longer ignore them. Still the powers to legislate control and regulate the media rest with the Union government and complaints about use and misuse of AIR and Doordarshan for partisan purposes remain.

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