WESTERN ZONAL COUNCIL MEETING
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Picture Courtesy: PIB
Context: The Union Home Minister chaired the 26th meeting of the Western Zonal Council in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The Western Zonal Council includes the states of Gujarat, Goa, and Maharashtra, as well as the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.
- The meeting was organized by the Inter-State Council Secretariat, which operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- The Union Home Minister urged the Zonal Council member states to focus on three key national issues: POSHAN Abhiyaan (nutrition campaign), reducing school dropout rates, and ensuring the benefits of the Ayushman Bharat healthcare scheme reach every economically disadvantaged individual
- Zonal Councils in India are an important mechanism for fostering cooperation and coordination among states and union territories. They are established under the States Reorganization Act of 1956 as well as Article 263 of the Indian Constitution.
- The primary purpose of these councils is to promote inter-state cooperation, address common regional concerns, and work towards the overall development and welfare of specific zones.
- The Zonal Councils are advisory bodies and their recommendations are not binding on the Central Government or the State Governments. However, the Zonal Councils can play an important role in promoting cooperation and coordination among the States in the concerned zone.
5 Zonal Councils
- Northern Zone: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, National Capital Territory of Delhi, and Union Territory of Chandigarh.
- Central Zone: Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.
- Eastern Zone: Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Sikkim, and West Bengal.
- Western Zone: Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Union Territories of Daman & Diu, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
- Southern Zone: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Union Territory of Puducherry.
North Eastern Council (NEC)
● It is a statutory advisory body, established under the North Eastern Council Act of 1971.
● The council includes the eight states of the Northeast: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim. Initially, Sikkim was not part of the council, but it was added in 2002, bringing its total membership to eight states.
● The NEC primarily aims to facilitate the economic and social development of the northeastern region of India.
● The members of the council are represented by their respective Chief Ministers and Governors.
● The headquarters of the North Eastern Council is located in Shillong, and it operates under the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) within the Government of India.
● The NEC's primary role is to act as a forum for coordinating and planning development activities in the northeastern states, with a focus on areas like infrastructure, connectivity, economic growth, and social welfare. It plays a crucial role in addressing the specific developmental needs and challenges of the region.
Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia
Composition of the Zonal Councils
- Chairman: The Union Home Minister serves as the Chairman of each Zonal Council.
- Vice-Chairmen: The Chief Ministers of the states within the respective zone act as the Vice-Chairmen of the Zonal Councils.
- Secretaries: The Chief Secretaries of the states in the concerned zone hold the position of Secretaries for the Zonal Councils.
- Other Members: The Zonal Councils also include the following members:
- Ministers from the Central Government who are responsible for matters related to the particular zone.
- Members of Parliament (MPs) representing the states within the zone.
- Members of the Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) from the states within the zone.
- Cooperation: Zonal Councils indeed play a crucial role in fostering cooperation among states and union territories within a particular geographic zone. These councils provide a structured environment for representatives from different states to come together and share their experiences, best practices, and challenges. By promoting collaboration, Zonal Councils enable the pooling of resources, expertise, and knowledge, which can lead to more effective solutions to shared problems.
- Discussion and Resolutions: The formal platform offered by Zonal Councils allows member states and union territories to engage in substantive discussions on various issues affecting the region. Through these discussions, participants can present their viewpoints, exchange ideas, and propose resolutions. This dialogue-driven approach encourages consensus-building and the development of joint strategies, ultimately leading to more coherent and well-informed decisions.
- Dispute Resolution: One of the significant functions of Zonal Councils is dispute resolution. Inter-state disputes can arise due to various reasons, such as resource sharing, boundaries, and jurisdictional matters. Zonal Councils provide a space for affected parties to engage in open dialogue and negotiation. This collaborative process can prevent conflicts from escalating and help in finding peaceful solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.
- Policy Formulation: Zonal Councils offer a valuable channel for contributing to policy formulation. The insights and recommendations provided by member states and union territories can inform the central government's decision-making process. This input is particularly important because it reflects regional nuances, needs, and aspirations, ensuring that policies are more relevant and effective across the entire zone.
- Developmental Planning: Zonal Councils have a role in shaping the developmental landscape of the region. By actively participating in the formulation and execution of development plans, member states and union territories can ensure that resources are allocated in a manner that benefits the entire zone. This collaborative approach prevents duplication of efforts and promotes a more equitable distribution of development opportunities.
- Border Disputes and Inter-State Transport: Zonal Councils deliberate and suggest recommendations on matters concerning border disputes between states, issues related to linguistic minorities, and inter-state transportation. These discussions help in finding common ground and solutions.
- Other Matters of Common Interest: Zonal Councils are platforms for discussing and providing recommendations on various other matters that are of mutual concern to the states within a zone. This can encompass a wide range of issues including cultural exchanges, environmental concerns, and other regional needs.
- Promoting Cooperative Federalism: Cooperative federalism refers to the collaboration and cooperation between different levels of government (central and state governments in this case) to collectively address various issues and challenges. Zonal Councils provide a platform where states and union territories can come together, share their experiences, and work together on common issues. This promotes a sense of unity among the diverse regions of India while allowing them to retain their identities and priorities.
- Regional Integration: India is a vast and diverse country with different regions having distinct cultural, economic, and geographical characteristics. Zonal Councils help ensure that developmental plans and policies take into account the specific needs and requirements of each zone. This approach avoids a uniform approach that might not be suitable for every region, leading to more balanced and inclusive development across the country.
- Dispute Resolution: Interstate disputes can arise due to various reasons, including differences in resource allocation, boundaries, or other issues. Zonal Councils offer a platform where such disputes can be discussed and resolved peacefully through dialogue and negotiation. This prevents conflicts from escalating and maintains peaceful relationships between states, contributing to overall stability.
- Coordination of Policies: Zonal Councils are not just forums for discussion but also have the authority to make recommendations on various policy matters. These recommendations are influential at both the state and central levels of government. This coordination ensures that policies are well-informed, consider regional nuances, and are more likely to effectively address the challenges faced by different regions.
- Limited Binding Power: The lack of legal enforceability for the recommendations made by Zonal Councils is indeed a significant limitation. While these councils provide a platform for discussions and consensus-building, their impact can be reduced if the recommendations they put forth are not binding on the member states or central government. This can lead to situations where well-intentioned suggestions may not translate into concrete actions.
- Political Differences: The presence of diverse political ideologies and priorities among member states can make it challenging to reach a consensus on various issues within Zonal Councils. Political differences might lead to gridlock or superficial agreements that do not effectively address regional challenges. Overcoming these differences and fostering productive discussions requires strong leadership and a commitment to the greater good.
- Resource Disparities: Economic and developmental disparities among states within a zone can complicate resource allocation and planning. Balancing the needs of less-developed states with those that are more prosperous can be a delicate task. Ensuring equitable growth across the entire zone is essential for the success of cooperative federalism, but it might require careful negotiation and resource management.
- Administrative Bottlenecks: The administrative structures and practices of different states and union territories can vary significantly. This diversity can lead to administrative complexities, procedural bottlenecks, and delays in implementing the decisions or recommendations made by the Zonal Councils. Effective coordination and streamlined administrative processes are crucial for translating council decisions into concrete actions.
- Enhancing Binding Nature: Giving more weight to Zonal Council recommendations and integrating them into policy-making processes would incentivize member states and central authorities to take these recommendations seriously. This could create a more direct connection between the council's insights and actual actions, leading to tangible improvements in regional governance.
- Strengthening Dialogue: Open dialogue and collaboration are pivotal for addressing regional challenges effectively. Regular meetings, seminars, and workshops would provide platforms for member states to engage in meaningful discussions, share insights, and work towards a common understanding. Building relationships through dialogue is essential for fostering cooperation and consensus-building.
- Capacity Building: Empowering member states with knowledge about the council's role, functions, and significance can lead to more constructive contributions. Training and capacity-building initiatives can equip representatives with the skills needed to actively participate in discussions, ultimately enhancing the quality of outcomes.
- Leveraging Technology: Technology can transcend geographical barriers, enabling frequent interactions among member states. Virtual meetings, online platforms, and real-time communication tools facilitate efficient information exchange, reducing the limitations posed by physical distances and promoting consistent engagement.
- Regular Reviews: Periodic assessments of the Zonal Councils' impact and effectiveness are crucial for their continuous improvement. These reviews enable authorities to identify areas for enhancement, address shortcomings, and adapt strategies to changing regional dynamics, ensuring the councils remain relevant over time.
- Strengthening Research: Data-driven insights from research can significantly inform the discussions and decisions made within Zonal Councils. Encouraging research on regional challenges equips council members with evidence-based information, enhancing the quality and effectiveness of their deliberations.
- Zonal Councils hold significant potential in India's cooperative federalism framework. Addressing challenges and implementing strategies to enhance their impact can further strengthen their role in fostering collaboration, addressing regional disparities, and contributing to the overall development of the country.
POSHAN Abhiyaan: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/poshan-abhiyaan
Q. What is the role of the Zonal Council under the Indian Constitution, and what is its significance in the context of India's federal system? What are the key challenges faced by Zonal Councils, and what measures can be taken to address these challenges and enhance their effectiveness in the future?