State vs state vs state

Updated: Jul 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
On contentious economic and social issues, is it desirable to allow each state more discretion to frame its own law on the matter A majority of state governments seem to have supported the case for flexibility in labour laws for the textile industry, at the conference convened by the Union government on Wednesday. The eight central trade unions, expectedly, disagreed vigorously with all the industry representatives pleasamong others, for raising the number of permissible weekly working hours, for employing contract labour for seasonal orders, on a realistic exit policy and for putting women on night shifts. If the Union government is supposed to formulate a consensus from all this, theres a big problem. If it is supposed to decide by some sort of addition of state views, there are always going to be huge dissatisfied units.

The governments of Gujarat and Rajasthan appear to have made a case, if not vigorously, for transferring labour issues from the concurrent list (where Union and states can both legislate, but Union law overrides state law) to the state list (where states have the sole legislative authority). Both are BJP-run governments and they werent speaking from a party consensus: their 1998-2004 government made no such move and, in fact, used its authority in these matters much like all its predecessors. For that matter, the stand of the pro-BJP trade union on these issues status quois no different from the Left ones.

This is, however, an issue we repeatedly return to, of allowing states more leeway in the things that affect them. Jammu & Kashmir and the northeastern states are the most visible instances in this regard, but it is a pity to think of devolution only after the pressure cooker of expectations has exploded or threatens to do so. Theres a positive side to this, if each state is allowed to experiment with its own version of what constitutes reforms, instead of having the basic mould set in Delhi. The law would be more responsive to local conditions and more easy to change, in whichever direction. If diversity is our plus point, why not use it