Explained: What is the Inter-State Council?

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday (June 16), asking that at least three meetings of the Inter-State Council should be held every year to “strengthen the spirit of cooperative federalism”.

Stalin also suggested that bills of national importance should be placed before the Council before being tabled in Parliament. He said this was because there is no “effective and interactive communication” between the states and the Centre on issues of common interest.

What is the Inter-State Council?

It is a mechanism that was constituted “to support Centre-State and Inter-State coordination and cooperation in India”. The Inter-State Council was established under Article 263 of the Constitution, which states that the President may constitute such a body if a need is felt for it. The Council is basically meant to serve as a forum for discussions among various governments.

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In 1988, the Sarkaria Commission suggested the Council should exist as a permanent body, and in 1990 it came into existence through a Presidential Order.

The main functions of the Council are inquiring into and advising on disputes between states, investigating and discussing subjects in which two states or states and the Union have a common interest, and making recommendations for the better coordination of policy and action.

The Prime Minister is the chairman of the Council, whose members include the Chief Ministers of all states and UTs with legislative assemblies, and Administrators of other UTs. Six Ministers of Cabinet rank in the Centre’s Council of Ministers, nominated by the Prime Minister, are also its members.

What issues has Chief Minister Stalin raised?

Mainly, the DMK chief has flagged the lack of regular meetings, saying the Council has met only once in the last six years — and that there has been no meeting since July 2016. Since its constitution in 1990, the body has met only 11 times, although its procedure states it should meet at least three times every year.

Stalin appreciated the reconstitution of the Council, carried out last month. The body will now have 10 Union Ministers as permanent invitees, and the standing committee of the Council has been reconstituted with Home Minister Amit Shah as Chairman. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, UP, and Gujarat are some of the other standing committee members.

Stalin has frequently disagreed with the central government’s policies on matters of taxation, on the medical examination NEET, and often talked about the rights of states. Highlighting the need for the Council to meet regularly, he said, “What could be settled amicably among the executive branches is often taken to the doorsteps of the judicial branch.”

Tamil Nadu has long advocated the need for a Council. In 1969, Stalin’s father, M Karunanidhi, spoke about setting up an expert committee to study Centre-state relations. Months later, his government appointed a committee headed by P V Rajamannar, a former Madras High Court Chief Justice, which submitted a report in 1971, recommending “the Inter-State Council should be constituted immediately”.

What happened in the last meeting of the Inter State Council?

In 2016, the meeting included consideration of the Punchhi Commission’s recommendations on Centre-State Relations that were published in 2010. At the time, M Karunanidhi had criticised then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for not personally attending the meeting.

The meeting saw detailed discussion on the recommendations. States asked for maintaining the federal structure amid growing “centralisation”. Imposition of Article 356 of the Constitution, which deals with the imposition of President’s Rule in states, was a matter of concern. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was then with the Opposition, demanded that the post of Governor should be abolished.

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