Current Public Administration Magazine (April - 2016) - Sarkaria Commission

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Administrative Commission

Sarkaria Commission

Justice R. S. Sarkaria presented the report of the commission on Centre-state relations, headed by him, to the Prime Minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, in New Delhi on October 27, 1987. The sizeable document, the product of four years of labour, contains recommendations of changes in the existing arrangements between the Centre and the states necessary, in its view, to remedy the problems arising from the present relationship.

The commission was appointed on June 9, 1983, by the late Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, in the wake of the Telugu Desam movement which reduced the Congress in the state to a shambles.

Later, however, the Anandpur Sahib resolution of the Akali Dal demanding more powers for Punjab came to acquire importance in the commission’s investigations. The Centre agreed to refer the document to this commission in terms of the Punjab accord between Mr Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, though, during the 1984 election campaign, the Prime Minister had dubbed it a secessionist document.

The terms of reference of the commission had come under severe criticism of Opposition parties because of the limits that were sought to be imposed on the commission’s framework of investigation. The terms laid down that in making its recommendation, the commission “will keep in view the social and economic developments that have taken place over the years and have due regard to the scheme and framework of the Constitution which the founding fathers have so sedulously designed to protect the independence and ensure the unity and integrity of the country which is of paramount importance for promoting the welfare of the people.” The commission, whose appointment initially appeared to be an act of expediency under pressure of regional demands from the states, gradually gained importance as one doing work of permanent value. Its activities depth with the appointment of two more members, Mr B. Sivaraman and Dr S. R. Sen. In view of the wide dimensions of its investigations, the commission’s term had to be extended five times.


In its unanimous report, the Sarkaria Commission said that there was no need to amend the Constitution to give more powers to the states because it already had provisions to allow them freedom in their spheres. The commission, however, pointed out that the Centre had been usurping the states’ prerogatives, poaching on their sphere, and violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution by expanding the concurrent list at the expense of the state list of subjects.

The commission cited central notifications, for example, on industry, to prove how the Centre had slowly taken over more than 85 per cent of the industry, while the states were fairly autonomous in the initial years of the Constitution’s operation.

The commission came down heavily on the way the Central government had operated Article 356, assuming power in the states on the ground that the constitutional machinery had failed. This arbitrary and haphazard way of action created suspicion of political considerations: the commission, therefore, suggested the codification of rules that should guide the state Governors. The commission asked for the codified rules to be incorporated in the Constitution so that any violation could be challenged in a court of law. (At present the Centre is not answerable for having imposed its rule on a state nor is the state Governor for any action that he may claim to have taken in “the exercise and performance of the powers” he has.) One specific recommendation of the commission was to constitute an inter-state council, as provided under Article 263 in the Constitution. The commission expressed its disappointment that the government had not done so even after 38 years of ‘the Constitution coming into operation. A permanent secretariat and series of sanding committees were proposed to help the inter-state council to maintain constant touch with the Centre and the states.

(The inter-state council, under the Constitution, is charged with the duty of (a) inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between states, (b) investigating and discussing subjects in which some or all of the states, or the union and one or more of the states have a common interest: or (c) Making recommendations upon any such subject and, in particular, recommendations for the better co-ordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.)

The commission at many places in its report commended the resilience of the Indian Constitution as compared to the US Constitution. But it regretted that too many constitutional amendments had been affected and they had at times defeated the original purpose.

The four- volume report did not contain any summary. The commission apparently believed that any summary would unwittingly lay emphasis on some points; it wanted the whole report to be read to appreciate the conclusions in their proper perspective.

— Asian Recorder, 1987
(Source – The Telegraph)

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