• ISC envisioned under Article 263 of the constitution, but only operational since 1990 [on recommendations of Sarkaria commission and First Administrative Reforms Commission – First ARC]
  • Inter-State Council (ISC)—was set up in 1990 following the initial recommendation of the First Administrative Reforms Commission (1969), which was endorsed by the Sarkaria Commission on centre-state relations (1988).
  • ISC’s mandate is to investigate and discuss matters in which states and the Union have a common interest and to make recommendations on such matters particularly with respect to coordination of policy and implementation.
    • It has met only 11 times in 26 years of its establishment.
  • Recently ISC was revived with topics discussed:
    • Direct benefit transfers using Aadhaar
    • Education
  • Internal security. It also discussed the Punchhi Commission report (which interestingly introduced the term cooperative federalism) on centre-state relations.

 

This body was set up as an instrument for cooperation, coordination and evolution of common policies.

  • Problems:
    • Underutilized: only met 11 times in the last 26 years.
    • National Development Council (NDC) which was established to discuss planning issues with states sidelined the ISC.
    • The ISC has not been given all powers envisaged by constitution and cannot investigate all inter-state issues as envisaged by the constitution
  • Solution:
    • The ISC needs to be given all the powers contemplated in the Constitution. Clause A of Article 263, which gave the council the power to investigate issues of inter-state conflict, was dropped in the presidential ordinance establishing the ISC. It should provide greater opportunities to civil society institutions and the corporate sector to make their representations.
    • Merge the two: The ISC and NITI Aayog should be merged into one constitutional forum to improve the institutional participation of state governments in inter-governmental affairs.
    • It will enhance the institutional status of the NITI Aayog by being attached to a constitutional body i.e. the ISC.
    • Further, to make the ISC a truly federal rather than a central body, its secretariat should be shifted from the Union Home Ministry to the Rajya Sabha secretariat so that it would be under the direction of a neutral federal functionary
    • The ISC should be further strengthened to become the critical forum for not merely administrative but also political and legislative give and take between the centre and states. It should function in such a manner that it reflects the equal status of states and the centre. It should meet once a year. Even though the ISC’s mandate is very broad, its aspiration has generally been limited to discussing affirmative action, welfare subjects and administrative efficiency and coordination.
    • While India needs as many forums as it can get to improve implementation efficiency (given a massive implementation deficit), the ISC should not be one of them. Along with another constitutionally sanctioned entity—the Finance Commission (FC)—the ISC should be the body that puts the “federation” back in the definition of the Indian nation. Together, the FC and the ISC should operationalize again Part XI and XII of the Constitution that ensure appropriate financial devolution and political decentralization. India’s true potential will be achieved only when both the centre and the states are strong.