February 14, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the role of Governors in India in light of recent rifts with Chief Ministers. We also look at why villagers in Odisha are conducting tests for poll candidates, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Governors in India: Are they needed?
You hate to see your parents get into frequent arguments, especially in front of other people. One blames the other for something that wasn’t done right. Or perhaps they just don’t see eye-to-eye on something. While not necessarily a perfect analogy, in India, Governors and Chief Ministers can sometimes be like quarrelling parents.
Some recent events have laid bare the tense relationships that Chief Ministers have with the Governors of their respective states. They each have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Does a Governor play a vital role in a state’s functioning and administration? Or is a Governor just a political tool for the Union government?
If you’ve wondered why states have Governors and what their roles are, we’ve got you covered.
A Governor has powers and functions at the state level similar to the President at the national level. In fact, it’s the President who nominates a Governor. They are the nominal head while the Chief Minister has the real power. Also, Chief Ministers are chosen from an elected political party.
Articles 157 and 158 of the Indian constitution lay out the eligibility criteria for the post of Governor – the person must be at least 35 years old, they shouldn’t be a member of either house of parliament or a state legislature, and they shouldn’t hold any position of profit. It’s also not custom for a Governor to be appointed to a state where they reside. There’s nothing in the constitution that stipulates this.
In general, a Governor’s primary function is to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution and the law. It means they have executive powers (overseeing the formation of a government, appointing the council of ministers), legislative powers concerning the state legislature, and discretionary powers like imposing President’s rule, and choosing a Chief Ministerial candidate to put together a majority coalition in the absence of one.
So what happens when a Governor and the Chief Minister don’t agree on something. There’s nothing in the constitution that explicitly outlines how this would be resolved. Hence, rifts between Governors and Chief Ministers often play out in public.
Most recently, in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress leader Sukhendu Sekhar Ray urged the President to remove Jagdeep Dhankhar as Governor for interfering in the day-to-day administration. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is also unhappy with his public criticism of state affairs. In Tamil Nadu, the Chief Minister-Governor relationship is strained since the latter returned the state’s anti-NEET Bill to the Assembly Speaker.
In an ideal world, the relationship will be guided by respect for each other’s boundaries. However, there has been some thought put into this. The 1968 Administrative Reforms Commission, the 1988 Sarkaria Commission, the 2001 National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, and others have recommended reforms. Among them is selecting a Governor by a panel of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, and the Chief Minister. So far, successive governments haven’t taken this up or any other recommendations.
Necessary administrative check
When debating whether Governors are necessary, it’s important to remember certain terms – influence, figurehead, and perspective. It’s wrong to mischaracterise their role as Big Brother. A Governor is needed to provide some sense of moral clarity sans which the democratic credentials of elected governments could be damaged or undermined.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi, professor of history and politics at Ashoka University, gave a historical perspective on the purpose of Governors citing Mahatma Gandhi’s response to S.N. Agrawal. Mahatma Gandhi said Governors should not be mere figureheads but have “enough power to influence ministerial policy for the better.” His view was that given their ‘detached’ role in a state, they would have a unique perspective.
A good Governor will keep a check on the legal and constitutional validity of laws passed by the state legislature. That’s part of their oath. Having a Governor means there’s a bridge between the Centre and the state. Apart from policy, the Governor’s role in helping form the government is crucial. In cases where a party doesn’t have the majority, the Governor needs to step in. While one can argue the political side of appointing Governors, the constitution is clear on their necessity. President Ram Nath Kovind cited the framers of the constitution and referred to the Governor as ‘friend, philosopher, and guide.’
A political tool
As per the 2001 National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, “Governors today are being pejoratively called the agents of the Centre.” Recent history and the current BJP government at the Centre give credence to this statement. When Modi came to power in 2014, he wasted no time changing Governors. They delivered, as senior advocate of the Supreme Court Rajeev Dhavan wrote. They ensured the Centre got its way when state governments were formed in Goa and Manipur.
When it comes to the appointment of a Chief Minister by a Governor in situations of no clear majority and on the conduct of floor tests, the constitution falls short. This goes back to the initial meetings and debates that the framers had. It’s almost as if the outcome by the Constituent Assembly reflected their haste and lacklustre approach on this particular matter. They might have also taken their cues from the British and wanted a strong Centre with weaker state units.
The reasoning behind introducing the institution of the Governor, like protecting federalism and warding off territorial threats, is understandable. However, the position has been used to secure the interests of the party at the Centre. Despite the Supreme Court defining the role of a Governor, it has still not mentioned anything on appointing Chief Ministers in ambiguous situations. So there’s not much legal guidance to rely on. What’s the alternative? Redefine the roles and powers of Governors through a constitutional amendment. Or, as former Joint Secretary to the Government of West Bengal Debaki Nandan Mandal posits, is there a necessity of a “spare wheel” at the state level?
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Governors play a vital role in the functioning of States.
b) Governors are just political tools of the Union government.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
BJP Govt’s Media Accreditation Rules: When Press is at State’s Mercy
For the Left:
Hallmarks of Nehru Model of Governance: Corruption, Inefficiency, Nepotism
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Under-equipped police (Assam) – According to the data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, 371 police stations in the Northeast don’t have telephones. In fact, 43 of them don’t even have mobile phones or any connectivity. While these figures are dated 1 January 2020, the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee report was tabled last Thursday.
Why it matters: Across India, a total of 638 police stations don’t have any telephones and 143 of them don’t have a wireless set. Another 257 police stations don’t have any vehicles. Several “sensitive states” like Arunachal Pradesh and other border states’ police forces lack these basic amenities which makes their jobs a lot more needlessly difficult.
Changing apples (Himachal Pradesh) – The apple growers of the hill state have been dealing with some serious odds in the past couple of years. For over a decade, snow has been steadily receding from the middle and low apple belts. This affects the final produce as traditional apples need more than 1000 “chilling hours”. Along with this, the unchecked import of Iranian apples that are far cheaper than homegrown ones is adversely affecting sales.
Why it matters: The apple economy of Himachal Pradesh is worth about ₹5,500 crores. Around 10-15% of these growers sell their produce directly to exporters or corporates. And over the years, due to receding snowfalls, the quality of the apples have been falling. The growers have also been hit by price cuts over 50% as demands are low because of the imports.
Tests for voter confidence (Odisha) – Tired of all the tall election promises, the villagers of the Sundargarh district are making their sarpanches sit for a written test. Some candidates even took oral tests that covered seven questions that the voters think are the most relevant. This includes their goals for the coming 5 years, their earlier social works that qualify them for public service and what their dream panchayat is.
Why it matters: The villagers were forced to resort to active test-taking due to the years of lacking amenities. Even though elections are held every 5 years, the roads remain affected by weather conditions and the tube wells are either not working or pumping dirty water. Along with this, the local college also does not have adequate teaching staff.
Exchange marriages (Gujarat) – The High Court has once again come to the rescue of a couple being harassed by archaic systems. The court criticised the system of “exchange marriages” and attributed it to the deplorable sex ratio of the state. According to the court, the depleting sex ratio is directly causing cases regarding these types of marriages to increase.
Why it matters: An exchange marriage is one that involves a reciprocal and often arranged exchange of spouses among two groups. For example, a sister and a brother of one family marry a brother and a sister, respectively, from another family. The gender ratio in Gujarat can be leading to this as it is much below the national average. In the state, for every 1,000 males, there are 919 females. The national average is 943 to 1,000.
Addressing issues (Andhra Pradesh) – The Centre has set up the first meeting to address the bilateral issues between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. A panel has been constituted for the same and the meeting has been scheduled for 17 February. The agenda for the meeting includes the special category status, division of the Andhra Pradesh State Finance Corporation, taxation matters, power utilities, etc.
Why it matters: These bifurcation issues arising from the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act have been around since 2014. Even last year, in November, AP CM Jagan Mohan Reddy brought up the promises made in the Act, especially the Polavaram irrigation project. Considering Hyderabad has 97 out of the 107 institutions mentioned in the Act, Telangana has more of the assets. The distributions agreed to in the Act are yet to see the light of day.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
5 days – According to Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal, as of the first 40 days of 2022, India has made a unicorn every 5 days. Since the beginning of the year, 8 new unicorns have already been established in the country.