7th schedule affecting the delivery of public goods
Polity & Governance
18th Jan, 2022
In general terms, the public good is something that must be delivered by the government. Since there are layers in our three-tiered structure of governance. Article 246 of the Constitution mentions three lists in the Seventh Schedule — union, state, and concurrent lists thereby affecting the delivery of public goods.
- The provisions relating to power-sharing can be linked to historical antecedents, colonial legislation as well as the socio-political context at the time of the rafting of the Indian Constitution.
- The measures were undertaken by the British Crown after it took over from the East India Company post-1857, formally institutionalizing many aspects of the federal principle.
- Constitutional backing: The Constitution provides a scheme for demarcation of powers through three ‘lists’ in the Seventh Schedule under Article 246.
- The gist: The Seventh Schedule is thus indicative of the spirit of cooperation between the Union and the States. Also, it represents a limitation to the powers of both centers and States. Such a limitation is essential to ensure that the different institutional layers in a federation can function autonomously in their respective spheres of influence.
The Three List
Being a Federal Country, in India, the legislative powers are divided between the Centre and the State which is listed under the seventh schedule, Article 246 of the Constitution of India. Based on federalism, Article 246 of the Indian Constitution demarcated the powers of the Union and the State by classifying their powers into the following three lists:
- Union List: The Union list comprises those subjects on which only the Union Parliament may enact laws. Under this, subjects of national importance such as foreign affairs, railways, banking, Defence are included.
- State List: It comprises those subjects on which the legislature to the state only can make laws such as Public order, police, public health and sanitation, betting and gambling and others.
- Concurrent List: This list includes those subjects on which both Union and State have concurrent powers, which includes education, population control and family planning, forests, criminal law, social and economic planning, electricity, marriage, and divorce and others.
Rationale behind the list system contained in the Seventh Schedule:
- The Joint Committee Report of 1934 (‘JCR’) that preceded the enactment of the 1935 Act explains the rationale for the distribution of legislative powers as “an essential feature of Provincial Autonomy and as being itself the means of defining its ambit”.
- For this purpose, an unprecedented, exhaustive statutory allocation was considered necessary.
- Further, it was also felt that such a scheme would reduce disputes over the scope of Centre-State jurisdiction. However, the distribution of legislative powers reflects the dominance of the Parliament over the State Legislatures.
How is it affecting the delivery of public goods?
- Items have moved from the state list to the concurrent list and from the concurrent list to the union list. Rather than progressing towards decentralization of power.
- Every public good is optimally delivered at a certain level of government. Delivery becomes suboptimal both above that level and below that level. Most public goods people will think of are efficiently delivered at the local government level, not Union or state level. Most public goods are efficiently delivered at the local government level, not Union or state level.
- Citizens increasingly demand efficient delivery of such public goods. But without delegation of funds, functions, and functionaries, presently left to the discretion of state governments, local governments are unable to respond.
Efforts are taken to reform the 7th schedule
- The Rajamannar Committee — formally known as Centre-State Relations Inquiry Committee suggested the constitution of a High Power Commission to examine the entries of Lists I and III in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and suggest a redistribution of the entries.
- B Das (former chief minister of Odisha) stated the need for having general principles involved in the selection of Items under Union, Concurrent, and State lists. Such principles will help us to understand the lists much better. However, it was not accepted.
- However, the 1983 Sarkaria Commission and the 2002 National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution avoided this issue.
- Such limited movements have reflected greater centralization, such as in 1976.
- N K Singh, Chairman of 15th Finance Commission has also often made this point, in addition to scrutiny of Article 282.
For the sake of better governance, this is not an issue that should be ducked and the basic structure doctrine doesn’t stand in the way but this should be taken care of with utmost importance.