Revisit the Seventh Schedule to improve Centre-state relations 

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News: Recently, the Union government revoked the orders and guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005 after covid knocked on India’s doors. The DMA has been the backbone of policy interventions to fight covid.  

What are the constitutional provisions with respect to invoking the laws? 

Any legislation can be passed under an enabling constitutional provision. Article 246 talks about the Union, state and concurrent lists which are mentioned in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. 

Considering, health is a state subject mentioned in the state list and disasters do not find mention in any lists in the Schedule VII. Therefore, the union government invoked the Disaster management Act (DMA) 2005 by relating to Entry 23 (Social Security and Social Insurance) in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. It was invoked to deal with covid-19.  

How was the DMA 2005 used by the states? 

Some states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh legalized the home delivery of alcohol under the ambit of the DMA. Ironically, it was invoked for liquor delivery to promote social security and social insurance. It was also aimed to address a shortfall in tax revenues (Taxes on alcohol account for a significant share of the total revenue in many states)  

However, at present the DMA has been revoked. Therefore, in the absence of enabling legislation (due to revocation of the DMA), the states will have to curtail the home delivery of alcohol.  

What are the issues that plague the Seventh Schedule?  

The Seventh Schedule was inherited from the Government of India Act, 1935. Therefore, it is a relic of the colonial past. The lists do not reflect the complex realities of India in its 75th year of independence. For example, despite having health as the state subject, the Union government was in a better position to legislate on some issues related to health (vaccination, for instance) 

The states often shift their responsibilities upon centre. For example: (1) state highways are often classified as national highways, and (2) the states ask for the help of paramilitary forces in times of crisis despite having law and order as the state subjects. 

States have also advocated the transfer of some subjects from the Union and concurrent lists to the state list. For instance, entry No. 58 of the Union list is on the manufacturing, supply and distribution of salt.  

States have also criticized the transfer of some subjects from the state list to the concurrent list. ‘ 

Way Forward 

The Sarkaria Commission and the Punchi Commission. Both advised comprehensive consultation between the Union and state governments before moving anything from the state list to the concurrent list.  

N.K. Singh, chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, has time and again argued for reforms in the Seventh Schedule. 

Some have even advocated further decentralization of that Schedule by introducing a local government list in the light of rapid urbanization across countries. 

There has to be periodic reviews of these lists—say, after every 20 years.  

Source: The post is based on an article “Revisit the Seventh Schedule to improve Centre-State relations” published in the Live Mint on 01st May 2022. 

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