Outlived Utility of UT

Centre-state clash with Lt Governor, instead of acting as a facilitator, playing the role of an abettor has further strengthened the argument for revisiting the entire gamut of UT concept

By Anil Anand

The Federal set up of India although has worked successfully over the decades but it has its share of dichotomies which have occurred not by design or intent but the outcome of an ever evolving system and sometimes misguided political compulsions. The evolving issues correspondingly require solutions wherever the difficulties arise but problems arise and dichotomies get murkier as the flawed system is allowed to perpetuate without little or no attempt at reforms.

The Indian federal system provides for states and union territories which were traditionally carved out to provide an effective means of governance through people’s elected governments at all levels. The states as everyone knows have fully empowered elected governments and the legislative assemblies with a well defined distribution of powers vis-a-vis the Centre. It is another matter that this arrangement had been coming under attack that led to the issue being brought before the Supreme Court which provided some landmark judgements to ensure sanctity of the federal arrangement.

If there is a dichotomy existing in the system, it is with regard to the union territories. The Indian Union has seven UTs namely Delhi, Puducherry, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Andaman &Nicobar. There are disparities, administrative as well as political, even among these territories. Delhi and Puducherry have their own elected assemblies with limited powers. The Centre’s appointed Lt Governor under the current constitutional scheme of things lords over the people’s elected government

The other much smaller union territories are run by Administrators/ Lt Governors and are entirely under the administrative control of the Centre though these areas have local bodies and even elect their Members of Parliament. It is but natural that a question arises whether the states are better administered and developed under a clear model of governance. And if yes, does the UT concept needs a relook?

After all why do UTs, administered directly by the central government since 1950s, enjoy comparatively less democratic status than in the states? Why such disparities persist in the modern Indian state at all? What rationale does the state have in adopting two different yardsticks and denying some the right to have a representative government at all levels?  Going by the experience of the past decades there is a strong argument in favour of reviewing the concept of UTs if these questions are to be answered. 

Delhi being the capital city of the country could be an exception. But still, the events that unfolded in the city-state after the last assembly elections leave none in doubt that the UTs model needs a fresh look. In the face of demands for creation of more UTs in different parts of the country, it would be naive at this juncture to even suggest that the phenomenon should altogether be abolished. But given the fact that most of the UTs suffer in terms of development a reorganisation or re-empowerment is much needed.

 How does one explain the constitutional scheme of things when a government with more than absolute majority is made to look as a lame duck? After a year of President’s rule, Delhites elected a popular Aam Aadmi Party government hoping that this would usher them in era of reforms and developments but that was not to be. And rightly too, as the current constitutional provisions are in favour of the Centre and not the democratically elected government.

The resultant Centre-state clash with the Lt Governor, instead of acting as a facilitator, playing the role of an abettor has further strengthened the argument for revisiting the entire gamut of UT concept. This is so because if Delhi and Puducherry with elected governments are at the receiving end, so what must be happening in the bureaucratically administered other UTs

 The union territories were the creation of the first State Reorganisation Commission’s vision that these territories being small in size were not financially viable and would have to hugely depend on centre for financial assistance in their early stages of development. In certain cases, as was with Manipur, security considerations were also the reason behind according the UT status.

The SRC would be having valid reasons at that time to usher into the concept of UTs. But nothing could be static and the system needed improvements as the country progressed. Not that the SRC had not fathomed a future scenario where changes and alternations would be needed. It had strongly favoured the integration of the UTs with nearby states at an opportune time to meet peoples’ aspirations for a fully elected democratic form of government.

The SRC’s recommendations paved the way for the central government to create India’s first six UTs (against just three recommended by SRC) in 1956: Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshwadeep, Manipur, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh. Over the next two decades, several more small territories were recognised as UTs — all for different reasons, including the integration of French and Portuguese colonies in the early 1960s. At the same time some of the UTs including Manipur, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh were accorded full statehood.

While some of the SRC’s arguments for denying these UTs full statehood may have resonated in the 1950s, it became clear over time that none were too compelling as majority of the UTs went on to become full-fledged states. This was despite some of them being financially dependent on the Centre (Manipur, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh – all of which are special category states), or too small in size or located in sensitive geographies (e.g. Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh). In 1975, Sikkim, with a population of just 2.5 lakhs, joined the Indian union as a state, further discrediting the argument that small territories do not make viable states.

The developments in Delhi should act as a trigger to bring more clarity on the concept of UTs. The review or recasting of the concept should be done keeping in view the genuine needs of the people with a view to strengthen the democratic institutions rather than based on electoral considerations.