I had written this post in 2009 when Telengana first became a major political issue. I am re-posting it since major decisions about the creation of Telengana are underway. Minor edits and updates have been made and are provided in italics.
In my earlier post on the issue of Telengana’s statehood, I tried to provide a look at the high-handed exercise of the central government’s power to start processes for the creation of new states. In this part, I try to look at two issues (1) Constitutional provisions regarding state formation, and (2) centre-state relations in relation to state formation.
The provisions for creating new states, and changing the boundaries of new states are provided in Articles 2-4 of the Constitution. Simply put, a simple law passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is enough to create a new state. However, only the central government (“President”) can introduce a Bill for this purpose. And before introducing the Bill, the states which will be affected have to be consulted.
The process of consultation followed has the following features: (1) The matter is referred to the legislatures of the affected states. (2) No specific time period within which states have to send their decision back to the centre has been mentioned in the Constitution. The central government can specify the time period while referring the matter. (3) The Constitution does not mention that the state legislatures have to agree to the proposed creation/alteration of states. The Parliament can therefore, pass a law creating a new state even if affected states do not agree to the proposal.
Lastly, the names of the states in the Union are mentioned in the First Schedule of the Constitution. Similarly, the Fourth Schedule lists the number of seats each state is allotted in the Rajya Sabha. Any law creating a new state would necessarily affect these two Schedules. Schedules to the Constitution are usually considered parts of the Constitution, and any change to the Schedules has to be done through a constitutional amendment. However, Article 4(2) of the constitution clearly says that no law creating or altering a new state will be considered a constitutional amendment.
The implications of these provisions are clear: for all practical considerations, the Constitution only requires that the central government should have a simple majority in both houses of Parliament. The obvious question to ask is whether this system is representative enough to create a new state, and this brings me to the second issue highlighted at the beginning of the page.
These provisions in the Constitution were created at a time when India’s security and sovereignty was at stake, when a number of independent states were forced to merge with the larger Indian state. There were obvious concerns about giving greater representative power to states who had recently agreed to be governed under the Indian union. Over the years however, threats of secessionist politics have reduced greatly. People almost throughout the country acknowledge themselves to be part of a greater Indian union.
However, maintaining the status quo in the Constitutional scheme has greatly reduced political space for raising legitimate regional or geopolitical aspirations within the country. The Parliament maybe the supreme representative platform for raising issues affecting citizens, it may however not be representative enough. Though there is no bar for state legislatures on discussing these issues, there seems to be little substantive gain from debating issues they have no practical control over.
Therefore, not only does the present constitutional scheme make it exceedingly simple for the central government to pass laws creating new states, the procedure involved also undermines the importance of local governments, constituents and state legislatures in the consensus-building process. It is little wonder then, that groups resort to violence to attract national consciousness.