5th February – Towards a Cooperative Federalism

As of January 28, the Chief Ministers of at least 11 States have expressed their unwillingness to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Two of these States, West Bengal and Kerala, have stayed all work on the National Population Register (NPR), which is the foundational register from which the NRC will be built. Furthermore, the Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution seeking amendments to the NPR form to ensure that it does not seek data that may be used for verification of citizenship.

Role of States in NRC –

The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, provide for the process by which taluk level officers will prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens after filtering Indian citizens from the NPR — a register enumerating all residents in the country, by family.

Constitutional provisions –

  • The drafters of the Constitution were more anxious to give the Union Government the power to bring errant States in line with the Constitution. For example, Article 355 enjoins the Union to “… ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.
  • Acting under its fiduciary duty towards the Constitution and the people of the State, the Union may also temporarily, and for restoring constitutional governance in a State, declare President’s rule in the State under Article 356.
  • A duty to obey all laws passed by Parliament is premised on an unbridled deference to the Union Government to correctly understand and implement the Constitution while passing laws. However, nowhere in the Constitution is there any suggestion that the Union has the final say as to what is “constitutional”.

Arguments in favour of the States –

  • The oath of constitutional functionaries of States is to be understood in light of Article 1 of the Constitution, which locates India’s identity as a “Union of States”. Therefore, States, and by extension their legislatures and governments, are indispensable to working the Constitution of India.
  • The Supreme Court of India recognised in the landmark S.R. Bommai judgment, States are not mere “appendages” of the Centre. After all, what sets Union Territories apart from States is the exclusive and distinct legislative and administrative competences of the States, to be acted on through their three organs of government. Thus, they cannot be reduced to mere administrative agencies entrusted with enforcing Parliament’s laws without any application of mind.
  • Among the exclusively delineated areas of legislative and executive competence of States is the power and responsibility of public order and police. The Union, in compelling States to implement the NPR by ignoring the widespread dissent against it will be interfering with these exclusive powers of States. States, therefore, are entitled to more deference than mere reminders of their duty to obey Central laws.

Arguments in favour of the Union –

It is not to say that States have a “right to defy” the Union. The Constitution bars States from “impeding” the Union’s work and rightly requires them to comply with central laws (Article 256).

Way forward –

  • In abiding by their oaths, States may require the Union to find a constitutional way to fulfil its purported objective, by withholding cooperation in a federal scheme. New institutional norms can play an important role on this front.
  • The Union government can include States in how decisions are made and enforced, or it can depend on archaic emergency provisions to enforce its will. Not every disagreement between States and the Union is the same, and the Union must develop newer conventions to foster cooperation.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONSDiscuss the constitutional design that highlights the relationship between the states and the Union Government in the light of NPR and NRC exercise.

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