Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking that at least three meetings of the Inter-State Council should be held every year to “strengthen the spirit of cooperative federalism”.
What is ‘Inter-State Council’?
- Inter-State Council is a constitutional body which possesses representatives from the Union Government as well as chief ministers of states (including UTs with Assemblies).
- It is chaired by the Prime Minister and it also has a few Union ministers as permanent invitees.
- It was set up in 1990 following the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.
- The constitutional roots of it are to be found in Article 263, which recommends that the President shall set up such a council to deal with federal issues.
- The Constitution has provided for setting up the institution for “inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between states”.
- Similarly, the other two reasons for its constitution are to discuss subjects for which the components of the Indian union have common interests, and to figure out how to coordinate policy.
International examples –
- The European Union has the economic and financial affairs council to coordinate tax policies.
- The Australian states came together in 2005 to set up the council for the Australian federation to jointly and effectively represent their interests to Canberra.
- Canada’s 13 provinces and territories met as a part of the council of the federation.
- The German federation operates with a strong second house which represents the interests of the states.
Need for a Council for states’ cooperation –
- Most of the institutional framework of Indian federalism is focused on relations between the Union government and the states.
- Articles 258 and 258A (inserted by Seventh Amendment in 1957) can be seen as an attempt to provide space for state governments to legislate in areas that are usually the territory of the Union, and vice versa.
- Rajya Sabha is no longer treated as a council of states to provide vent for inter-state disputes but it is seen as a parking lot for unelectable leaders of political parties.
- Regional divergence between many states (especially North-South divide) could lead to further inter-state tensions—and matters could complicate further once the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies is unfrozen in 2026.
What is the solution?
- A rejuvenated Inter-State Council will play an important role in the coming years, especially since its members are the political leaders of their respective states.
- Currently, it is just a discussion group, but it should have a greater say in federal coordination in the future.
- The GST council has an innovative voting structure, where the Union government enjoys one-third of the vote while the states share the rest of the two-thirds voting quota equally, irrespective of the size of their population or economy. It is a good option for a more empowered Inter-State Council.
- Unfortunately, the Inter-State Council has had just 12 meetings since it was set up in 1990. There was a gap of a decade between the 10th meeting in 2006 and the 11th meeting in 2016. If the it is to emerge as the key institution to manage inter-state frictions, it needs to have a regular meeting schedule.
- The council should also possess a permanent secretariat to ensure that the periodic meetings are more fruitful.