The oldest model of federalism is found in the US Constitution. In India, the Government of India Act, 1919 sowed the seeds of federalism. Even at the time when the Government of India Acts were being framed and the founding fathers deliberated in the Constituent Assembly, they heavily drew upon the Canadian experience regarding the working of the distribution of powers. Notably, Canada has put in place fiscal equalization plans which seeks to ensure that the provinces are not starved of funds and are able to discharge their onerous responsibilities as sovereign self-governing units. Delving deep into the past, present and future of federalism in India, Justice K.M. Joseph addressed the 4th Justice VR Krishna Iyer Memorial Law Lecture on Friday, 9th November at Kochi. The Supreme Court judge spoke at length about fiscal and collaborative federalism, drawing a detailed comparison with other countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany and how these nations have evolved their own processes pertaining to the same,
Referring to the concepts pertaining to fiscal federalism and collaborative federalism, Justice KM Joseph said, “GST is proclaimed as heralding a revolution in taxation. It was given legal shape by the 101st Amendment Act to the Constitution. It is a unique experiment involving radical changes in the distribution of legislative powers. Article 246-A was inserted and it reads as follows: As far as Fiscal Federalism is concerned, the GST regime has brought about revolutionary changes and it can even be seen as new chapter in collaborative federalism.”
Justice K.M. Joseph on Petroleum and the GST regime
“As you know petroleum is not been taxed under the GST Regime. Petroleum constitutes the most important source of revenue for the States. Therefore, States have been reluctant to bring petrol under GST regime in which there is maximum range beyond which petroleum products cannot be taxed. The Centre would seek shelter under the GST Council and it is pointed out that the Centre and the States would have to take collective decisions. Critics would point out that petroleum prices continue to flare up and there is nothing to indicate that anything material will materialize to grant relief to the common man. Thus, the common man gets caught in the tussle between the Centre and the State,” Justice KM Joseph pointed out in his speech.
In the beginning of the 20th century in the United States, both the Federal Government and the State Governments were able to levy income tax. However, after the Second World War on the basis that more funds are needed to wage war, only the federal government was levying income tax. The States had accepted the system as they got liberal grants made by the centre. The silver lining is that the system has been working well.
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The apex court judge concluded his speech on a positive note that federalism in India, as it exists today, will strengthen democracy and the founding father’s vision will be achieved though this requires all Indians, public servants and particularly those in politics and occupying positions of power to ensure that they work hand in hand in a spirit of selflessness and utmost dedication.
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According to Justice K.M. Joseph, British India was not a federal government at the beginning of the 20th century as it comprised of various provinces that were administered by the British Government and England. He points out that it was not a federal country. Under the leadership of Sardar Vallabhai Patel and VP Menon, it became possible to bring the native states together. The Part-A states mentioned under the Constitution of India are those States which were part of British India, whereas the Part-B states are the States which were formerly princely States.
” While diversity is breath taking, the unity is equally spectacular. India is a large country. All this has undoubtedly contributed to the leaders opting for a system where power is shared between the Central Government with local Governments in the form of State Governments. The sum and substance of the matter is the unique nature of the Government under the Indian Constitution has been fashioned by the special needs of a large nation which awakened into freedom after it had slept in varying degrees of subservience into the warmth of freedom and independence,” Justice K.M.Joseph said.
The apex court judge was addressing the inaugural lecture at the fourth Justice VR Krishna Iyer Memorial Law Lecture on Friday, 9th November at Kochi. The Chief Justice of Kerala High Court Justice Hrishikesh Roy presided over the function.