Spread of Coronavirus and Test of federalism: A Collaborative Approach

Author: Ashwin Singh, Student, Symbiosis Law School, Pune, India



COVID-19 has affected close to 5.1 million people so far. The curve has begun to flatten in some countries, while some are yet to reach their peak. Numbers continue to plummet. The pandemic is a threat to humankind. The pandemic is also a threat to democratic constitutions. Many argue, and rightly so, that we need strong Centre-State relations to efficiently tackle the situation. In this paper, the author attempts to evaluate the condition of Centre-State relations in India during the pandemic. The author begins her study by first discussing the meaning of Federalism within the Indian Context. We see, through a series of interpretations, that Indian federalism is unlike the traditional federalism practised in the west. The makers of the Constitution of India felt the need to design a system that incorporates national integrity as well as a division of powers. Pursuant to that goal, the Constitution of India enabled a cooperative framework for both the Union and the State Government to operate. In the next section, the author undertakes a comprehensive study of ‘Collaborative Federalism’ as understood within the constitutional framework. Additionally, the need for a ‘negotiation-oriented’ approach is evaluated. Both the State and the Union Government have common goals. Consequently, they need to ensure that they work in unison. Thereafter, the author discusses the various entries in the State and the Concurrent List that necessitate a cooperative approach during a pandemic such as this. For instance, ‘public health’ is a state subject, while ‘contagious diseases’ is an entry in List III. As anybody can infer, the solution to the pandemic lies in an approach that involves both these Entries. Subsequently, the author attempts to dissect the actions of the Central government- especially the ones that dilute the spirit of collaborative federalism. We see how, in revoking the requirement of ‘consent’ of the states receiving the Shramik train, the Centre might have made an administrative and logistical error, in addition to the decision being against the spirit of federalism. The author, then, analyses, the inclusion of the contributions to the PM CARES FUND within the Corporate Social Responsibility of the corporations, and the exclusion of contributions made to State Relief Funds from the same. Naturally, this acts as an impetus for companies to direct their CSR expenditure towards the PM CARES Fund rather than the State funds. Several States requested the Union Government to consider contributions made towards the States admissible as the CSR expenditure, but it proved futile. It is unclear why the Central Government would attempt to deter contributions towards State funds. This appears to be another fissure in India’s tradition of collaborative federalism. Thereafter, the author depicts, through the Kerala Model. how the engagement of the community through local self-governments will prove immensely efficient in ‘flattening the curve’ in other states. Lastly, the author undertakes a discussion on fiscal federalism during the pandemic. The author concludes by highlighting that federalism, in its traditional sense, has been unsuccessful in fighting the pandemic. Instead, what is needed is a cooperative approach as envisaged within the Constitution of India.

Keywords: collaborate federalism, cooperation, coronavirus, distribution.


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