ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

To justify the grave improprieties it has committed, the Eleventh Finance Commission falls back on a minor entry in the Constitution which permits the commission to consider any other matter referred to it by the president in the interests of sound finance. But such issues as withholding a part of grants-in-aid to a state, the setting up of an Incentive Fund, and the formation of a monitoring agency to oversee the implementation of the so-called fiscal reforms were not a part of the original terms of reference for the commission; nor were these issues raised at all in the original report. The commission's second report has without question been written to order: the ministry ordained, the commission complied.

The Report of the Sarkaria Commission has been gathering dust for at least a decade. Leave out the Congress regime, the United Front government too, it is sad to say, did not make, during the brief two years of its tenure in New Delhi, even a token of a move to implement any of the commission’s decisions. The BJP-led coalition is now trying to proceed on a different tack. Let oblivion claim the Sarkaria Commission’s observations and recommendations, the Bharatiya Janata Party has other things on its agenda: stability above all. Charity begins at home. Atal Behari Vajpayee is obviously not at all confident that his government, given its internal non-equations, would last the whole stretch of five years; stability has to be read as security for his reign. On the 50th anniversary of the drafting of the Constitution, the prime minister was at his statesmanesque best. After a sojourn of half-a-century, the Constitution richly deserves another look. Priority is priority. The first item to be considered is the desirability of ensuring that the Lok Sabha and the government it initially votes to power live for their entire tenure. Off with the clumsy provision that once a government loses the confidence of the Lok Sabha and no alternative arrangement is possible, the Lok Sabha is automatically dissolved. The dissolution of the Lok Sabha implies, what a calamity, the dissolution of the government in situ as well. That, according to the prime minister, connotes administrative instability, most harmful for the smooth social and economic development of the nation. The ideal way out therefore is to change the Constitution in a manner which would provide for the continuation of the Lok Sabha and, by implication, also that of the government, even if the latter has ceased to enjoy the confidence of a majority of the members of the Lok Sabha. Whatever the turmoil overtaking the Lok Sabha, matters must be so arranged that it does not affect the longevity of the government, which should continue for the full span of five years.

The Sarkaria Commission had made several suggestions towards restructuring centre-state relations. It had expressed grave misgivings on the role of the state governors under the current dispensation and had suggested major changes in their functioning. It had envisaged a vast widening of the ambit of the Inter-State Council so that the states are accorded the stature and importance appropriate to them in a federal system. The commission had also made a number of perceptive comments pertaining to the mindless application of Article 356 as also with respect to the scope of Articles 256 and 257. These are, however, in the view of the prime minister, issues that can wait; the imperative need is to hasten the amendment of the Constitution so that, come what may, the Lok Sabha lasts for the full stretch of five years and, consequently, the president ceases to enjoy the prerogative of dissolving it when the government, at the moment in power, loses its confidence. Since a vacuum in administration is inconceivable, the government, despite losing the vote, must continue in office as if nothing has happened.

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