The Zonal Councils have come into existence following the reorganization of States in India

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The Zonal Councils have come into existence following the reorganization of States in India. The idea of Zonal Councils is not a product of post-Independence thinking.

It figured even earlier as a device to give economic complexion to certain political plans such as those formulated for the purpose of having an attenuated centre with interposed sub-federations.

Nor is the idea something peculiar to India. In the United States, for example beginning with the inter-state parole and probation compact of 1934, collective State action has been a regular feature to promote inter-state co-operation of such fields as the abatement of water pollution, conservation of oil and gas, development of inter-state parks and the conservation and development of Atlantic marine fisheries.

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Australia is yet another country which has undertaken such an effort to evolve a common approach to problems of inter-state character.

The Indian scheme for the Zonal Councils owes its origin to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s suggestion in the Lok Sabha in December 1955, that the reorganized States might be grouped into four or five zones, each with an Advisory Council with a view to developing the habit of cooperative working.

He said:

Finally, the more I have thought about it, the more I have been attracted to something which I used to reject seriously that is, the division of India into four, five or six major groups regardless of language, but always, I will repeat, giving the greatest importance to the language in those areas 2 .

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The Home Minister G.B. Pant’s statement in the same context came as an explanation to the Prime Minister’s proposal.

“While the States have to be carved in accordance with their natural affinities, the supreme objective of strengthening the unity, the cohesion of the nation and the country, has to be given the first and foremost consideration.

So far as the economic and development requirements of the country concerned, these linguistic affinities do not mark the bounds of the various territories. Rivers do not determine their course in accordance with the language of the people who make them their homes.

The mines that lie deep down in the bosom of the earth do not follow any regional pattern, much less any linguistic pattern. So, for the purpose of economic development at least, if not for anything else, it would be desirable to have councils of this type”.

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Thus, the idea of zonal councils took a concrete shape from the just and wholesome revulsion against the ugly passions displayed by the reactions of linguistic communities during the discussions on the proposals of the States Reorganization Commission.

The idea as expressed by the Prime Minister and explained by the Home Minister on the floor of Parliament in December 1955 soon matured and found expression in the Resolution of the Government of India published on 16th January 1956 containing the decisions on most of the proposals of the Commission. Among other things it stated:

“The Government of India proposes to establish Zonal Councils which may deal with matters of common concern to the states in different zones, including economic planning and questions arising out of reorganization.”

The country has thus been divided into five zones taking into account several factors such as the natural divisions of the country, requirements of economic development, cultural and linguistic affinity, river systems, means of communication and requirements of security and law and order. The five zones are:

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(i) The Northern Zone:

This is comprised of the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh and the union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh. This Zone was inaugurated on 23 April 1957 with headquarters at New Delhi.

(ii) The Southern Zone:

The States included in this Zone are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The Union Territory of Puducherry was added to it later. It was inaugurated on 11 July 1957 with Madras as headquarters.

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(iii) The Central Zone:

This has only two States namely, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It was inaugurated on 1 May 1957 with Allahabad as headquarters.

(iv) The Eastern Zone:

This contains the States of Bihar. West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh with Calcutta as headquarters. It was inaugurated on 30 April 1957.

(v) The Western Zone:

Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa at present constitute this Zone.

The main objectives of these Zonal Councils are:

(a) To achieve an emotional integration of the country.

(b)To help in arresting the growth of acute State consciousness, regionalism, linguism and particularistic trends:

(c)To help in removing the after-effects of separation in some cases so that the processes of reorganization, integration and economic advancement may coalesce and synchronize.

(d)To enable the Centre and the States which are dealing increasingly with matters economic ; and social, to cooperate and exchange ideas and experience in order that uniform policies for the common good of the community are evolved and the ideal of a socialistic society is achieved:

(e)To cooperate with each other in the successful and speedy execution of major development projects and

(f)To secure some kind of political equilibrium between different regions of the country.

In short:

“What we have in view now is an inter-state forum without impinging on the legislative and executive authority either of the Centre or of the States, the idea to provide in each zone a common; meeting-ground where the States could be associated with each other to promote and facilitate cooperative effort towards the economic and social development of each zone and towards the unity and welfare of the nation as whole” 1 .

Each Zonal Council is composed of a Union Minister nominated by the President 1 , the Chief Minister of each of the States of the Zone and two Ministers in addition from each of the States nominated by the Head of the State concerned.

The Union Minister is to preside over the meetings of the Council. Each Council will have a secretariat of its own with a Secretary, a Joint Secretary and such other officers as the Chairman may appoint.

The Chief Secretaries of the States of the Council will act as Secretary to the Council by rotation. Besides the Chief Secretaries, the Development Commissioners from all the member States and a representative of the Planning Commission also attend the proceedings of the Council as advisers. The advisers have the right to take part in the discussions of the Council.

A Zonal Council will meet at such time as the Chairman may fix normally after three months, by rotation in the States included in that Zone. Decisions may be taken at such meetings by majority of votes of the members present.

However, in practice, the decisions are taken only by common consent. The proceedings of every meeting of a Zonal Council are forwarded to the Central Government and the State Governments concerned.

A joint meeting of two or more Zonal Councils may decide issues of common interest to States of more than one Zone. The Central Government reserves the power to make rules for regulating the procedure at such joint council meetings. The Councils have also the power to appoint committees of their own members and advisers.

The Zonal Councils are deliberative and advisory bodies. According to the Government of India, their creation will not, therefore, in any way detract from the context of the legislative or executive authority of the States.

This official clarification should dispel notions that these Councils will amount to the creation of a sub-federal structure under the Constitution.

In other words, what is aimed at is the best possible utilization of the human and material resources of the Zone while retaining for each constituent State liberty of action within its own legislative and executive spheres.

Though advisory in character, the Council with the Chief Minister and two other Ministers from each State on it is bound to make its deliberations well-informed and the device authoritative.

While the Council no doubt serves as a forum for each State to put forward a particular point of view, it enables the State to see the other points of view represented at the Council and to consider its own problems in the larger perspective of zonal needs and resources.

Each Council may discuss any matter in which some or all the States represented in the Council, or the Union and one or more of the States represented in that Council, have a common interest. In particular, a Zonal Council may discuss and make recommendations with regard to:

(a) Any matter of common interest in the field of economic and social planning;

(b) Any matter concerning border disputes, linguistic minorities, or interstate transport; and

(c) Any matter connected with, or arising out of, the reorganization of the State.

However, the ability and utility of the Councils to resolve such problems as border disputes and linguistic minorities seem to be doubtful. So far, the Councils have little to their credit in these fields of conflict. If problems like border disputes are settled, they are due to the good offices of the Centre rather than the resolutions of the Zonal Councils.

In contrast, the Councils can and are playing an important role in the field of economic and social planning and social planning and collaboration.

In matters such as rationalization of inter-state road transport regulations, coordination of irrigation plans, pooling of facilities for technical and other types of higher education, assessing manpower requirements, uniformity of sales tax, restrictions of inter-state trade, enforcement of prohibition and similar matters on which there is hardly any room for serious dispute and much scope for cooperation, the Zonal Councils are in an advantageous position to settle matters more quickly and easily than all India bodies and conferences.

Further, the Councils can act as check posts to ensure that in the Five Year Plan proposals regional considerations are not left out of account.

The idea of the Zonal Council, despite its lofty aims, has had no unanimous support in the country. Even in the official sphere there was opposition to the Zonal scheme from its very inception.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh turned out to be the most powerful opponent of the scheme. In a statement made on 21 April 1957 he said: “we should have either a unitary government or the present system under which the States are sovereign in the sphere of their listed powers”.

Any departure from the present system, he said, could either be towards a unitary form of government or towards more delegation of powers to the States. But Zones did not seem to fall in either of these categories. While conceding the need for resolving inter-state problems without the States working at cross purposes.

He claimed that the creation of adhoc committees of the Chief Ministers or the Ministers of the States concerned for specific problems would be preferable to permanent Zones. In the sphere of development too, a permanent Zonal Council with a permanent secretariat would be no better than a fifth wheel.

While the Chief Minister and the members of the Council would be responsible to their respective legislatures committed to specified policies subject to intra-party control, the Council as a whole would be a relatively free body, responsible to none but its collective consciousness.

The period during which the Zonal Councils has operated is long enough to consider their usefulness as effective for inter-state cooperation and coordination. The record, so far, shows two clear trends. Firstly, the ability of the Zonal Councils to settle political questions seems to be remote.

Secondly, in the economic and social sphere they are capable of producing some good results. In the administrative sphere too they have been able to forge some common policies and actions. Among the achievements of the Zonal Councils are the following:

1. Effective measures for inter-state cooperation in the field of training of technical personnel in the zones and making available such personnel for those States which have them in short supply;

2. Coordinated development of electrical power resources;

3. Solving some of the problems confronting inter-state transport;

4. Promoting better maintenance and coordination of control, and construction of bridges on inter-state roads;

5. Review of agricultural production and development programmes in the Zones, and

6. Constituting common police reserve forces in the Zones.

The reorganization of States led to the break-up of composite States and created a new state system based predominantly on the principle of unilingual States. But the Zonal Councils have sprung up to bring them together again on a regional basis as equal and independent partners in a common venture.

The meetings of these Councils remind the people of India that the demarcation of State boundaries for administrative purposes cannot and does not mean the abandonment of the tradition of the people of a region working together on a regular basis for the solution of their common problems.

If the reorganization of States had set in motion forces of linguistic separatism, the Zonal Council have proved to be an attempt to reverse the trend by promoting habits of cooperation among neighbouring States for the solution of common problems.

Unilingual States have the merit that they can transact their business easily through the medium of a single language. But carried to extremes, linguism is bound to engender feelings of separatism and linguistic fanaticism to the detriment of the unity of the nation.

By providing a regular forum for discussing matters of common interest, these Councils have become clearing houses of ideas and not a mere device for registering agreements.

So long as they enable members to understand one another’s difficulties and needs, and help in building up an atmosphere of fellowship, they will perform a useful and vital function in the evolution of a novel feature in the governmental system in India.

In this respect, the conventions which these Councils have developed in the initial stages will have abiding influence on their evolution and growth. Unfortunately, the initial enthusiasm with which the Zonal Councils started functioning not sustained in the later years.

The meetings of the Councils have not been regular and their effectiveness as councils of regional cooperation and collaboration in economic and developmental areas has been minimal.

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