Centre -State Relations and Media: Balwinder Jammu
Centre -State Relations and Media: Balwinder Jammu
To begin with I cannot but initiate this discourse with the statement of the fact that media is to operate in the Indian Political reality , and it can not be in a stand alone position on any of the political , economic , social or cultural developments in the country. However at the same time it does not mean that media is to remain and act as a monolith rather it has to play its role and perform its tasks in a manner so as to impact a change that takes the whole society into a positive harmonious, happy relationship of mutual cooperation , respect and dignity while maintaining the balance of political, administrative , economic and cultural power amongst the constitutional units. To this end I must underline the well known fact of our constitution,’ India that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States ‘ as discussed in constituent assembly on November 15, 1948. The word ‘shall’ in the phrase l depicts that it cannot be otherwise. In order to understand the term union of states we can travel to the languages , dialectics and scripts besides the cultural, physical, geographical , topographical occupational and economic contours of diversity. Vast language diversity is shown in 2001 census with 122 major languages and 1599 minor ones while 22 are the scheduled languages as per the 8th schedule of the constitution. The l federated structure of the Indian Union is depicted through languages. The states constituting India are based on language. The scripted languages are the foundations especially of the print media while non scripted languages and dialectics are the fountain head of the electronic media. The role of language diversity of India is immense in fast growth of electronic media though usually not realized. The informative , educative and investigative journalism is boosted by the freedom of the language diversity. The same depends largely on the centre –state relations in the Indian contest . As such this diversity is a tool for expansion, educative growth, employment and revenue for the media. It converts media in to an instrument of social , economic and political change. We in Northern India have seen that after Punjabi became the official language the vernacular Punjabi media flourished.
Why does the question of Centre State Relations arise at all?
Centre –State relations are concerned with the exercise of powers placed in the domain of the States and the Union by virtue of List 1, 2 and 3 , the Union List, State list and the Concurrent List respectively in the seventh schedule. However smooth functioning is seen only if each sticks to the confines defined by the constitution as the states have united to form a country and not the vice versa and the Government functions at two levels, the State Governments and the Union Government. A federal structure has been envisaged in view of the geographical vastness , the diversity of languages, region, religion, castes, culture, social and economic structure, fauna and flora ( Animals and vegetation) and the topography etc. The unique features are division of powers between Union and States, independent Judiciary, and legislature etc. with the supremacy of the Constitution. Centre-state relations can be better understood under three heads namely Legislative relations, Administrative relations, and financial relations. However all are under huge strain, and the three wings have placed the fourth pillar , the media also under still higher degree of strain.
However before dwelling upon the past history and future prospects of media in the realm of Centre –State Relations , I feel it to be appropriate to grapple with some recent incidences of the impact and action by media when the centre –state relations have been trampled in the present. The first example in this arena during past three years is that of the scrapping of article 370 and 35 A in Jammu and Kashmir and trifurcation of the already practically bifurcated state by the Central Government after trampling over the rights of the state and the constitutional provisions. The media and media workers have suffered to a great degree the physical, mental and economic losses, only due to the dictatorial attitudes and practices of the Union of India in the field of Centre –State Relations vis –a –vis Jammu and Kashmir. On our visit we could find Not only the democratic rights but also the basic human rights of the public of the free country had been so much curbed that even the seriously ill patients and women in labour were not able to seek medical help.
More than 13 million people suffered on account of the disturbed relations. Promulgation of three draconian farm laws is another glaring example where in the field of agriculture practices, marketing of agriculture produce, contract farming and storage are in the domain of state list as incorporated in the entries Nos 14, 15, 18,26,27,&28 of the state list of the 7th schedule to the Constitution of India, but the Union of India usurped the powers of the states unconstitutionally by arbitrary interpretation of entry 33 of the concurrent list. In the said case 380 days long drawn agitation by the farmers of India, provided unfathomable opportunities to media for their physical, mental and professional growth while facing the state as well as some times the wrath of the farmers and the Public. But media could bring out its best. Many new you tube channels propped up , new faces in journalism came up , even TROLLEY TIMES was started by the agitating farmers reminding me the start of the Gadar di Goonj by the Gadarites like Lala Hardial , Sohan Singh Bhakna and Kartar Singh Sarabha. The incidence of Jannuary 26 , 2021 of hoisting the kesari flag atop Red Fort , in connivance with the forces inimical to the struggle of farmers was on one side projected by the main stream media as a flag of Khalistan and also the incidence as desecration of the Tricolor , while the social media and print media especially in North played its role in exposing the fake propaganda within hours thus saved the agitation. Similarly other incidences there was in-fact a parallel war between the media supporter of the central Government and that one that opposed the promulgation of the farm laws in breach of the established and well codified centre –state arena in this matter. Over centralization in this agitation and unscientific practices during COVID 19 by misuse of central authority for subjugating the states had been countered and very well exposed by media.
P. Sai Nath’s exposure of the huge corruption in the crop insurance in Madha Pradesh under PMKBY (Prime Minister’s Krishi Bima Yojna ) where in the care of the crop which was in the domain of states has been taken over by the centre. New Education Policy again impacts the journalism adversely, as for as the studies of journalism are concerned as the privatization is making these courses very costly by way of sky rocketing fee structure coupled with unregulated quality and is closing down or starving the Government institutions. The policy of decision of medium of instructions , decision of syllabi as per central Government and employment of unqualified teachers , closing down of colleges having less than 5000 student strength , compulsory arrangements for teaching classical language meaning there by Sanskrit in vast part of India , Degrees by the autonomous colleges , unscientific temper creation in name of native culture and history is going to hit a severe blow to the diversity and expansion of media and reduces the chances of employment to a huge extent. The taking over of more and more roads from the states to that of the NHAI by way of Bharat Mala, is leading to over centralization of the surface transport and media is sufferer in this matter that the state of Punjab has issued cards for waving of toll to the journalists at state roads where as at the NHAI managed roads we have to shell out heavy amount which burns a hole in our pockets .
In Mahatama Gandhi Sarbat Sihat Bima Yojna of Ayushman Bharat in the Amrit Kall, media has also been covered by the state of Punjab but the danger of the depriving the journalists of facility in view of the frantic efforts of centre to snatch and take over the total health care from the states in name of universal health care is looming large over our heads. The issue of over centralization by the Union of India especially illegally and unlawfully in violation of the well codified constitutional provisions , is creating troubles amongst the states which create more and more odd and dangerous stations for the media as has been seen that in the state conference of media at Chandigarh even some of our office bearers could not participate as they were detailed for coverage of the talks between CMs of Punjab and Haryana on SYL an issue created by various Union Governments by breach of Centre –State Relations. Even in Kerala as well as Punjab, West Bengal, Jharkhand , Pondicherry, Delhi Governors /Lt. Governors now the political Governors are stepping out of their shoes and crossing the forbidden line thus interfering in the Government functioning. This again is creating a dangerous and explosive situation from which media cannot remain aloof and silent spectator. In the past we have seen such attempts when right after the implementation of the Constitution centre started overstepping and even misusing its authority seen in the perpetuation of amendment of entry 33 of concurrent list on food items made for only a short period of 5 years , by introduction of entry 2A in list 1 ( Union List) the power of central Government to deploy central forces in a state in aid of civil administration and charge the expenses there to, by dismissal of EMS Namboodripad Government on 31st July 1959. Taking over the taxation on goods sold between two states into the Union List from the State List, Taking over the forests, Population control, Trade and commerce in food stuffs , lower courts weights and measures , education , health and many other state items into the concurrent list The states particularly state of Punjab was demanding more powers and the Shiromani Akali Dal even brought out a political resolution named and Styled as Anandpur Sahib Da Mata in 1972 , by which they demanded powers in line with Government of India Act 1946 Two institutions established by executive order to take over the state functions by the centre under the garb of collaborative and cooperative federalism were the Planning Commission, to regulate purely the state subjects’ social services including education, health, agriculture, social welfare, industrial welfare and housing by the centre. The second was the National Development Council (NDC) in name of cooperative federalism. Thereafter during emergency by way of 42nd amendment of the constitution articles . However the trend was partially reversed by 44th amendment but the process of centralization did not come to a halt.
The efforts to resolve the issue in over all interest were made, the Administrative Reforms Commission was constituted in 1966 that recommended Creation of Inter-State Council under Article 263 of the Constitution, appointment of governors with vast experience in public life and administration, and nonpartisan approach, reduction of reliance of states on centre by greater devolution of financial resources to them. There after Sarkaria Commission 1983 instead of empowering the states as per constitutional provisions and letter and spirit of constitution rather recommended otherwise except that it recommended that before legislation on a subject of concurrent list centre should preferably consult the states. Thereafter Government appointed another commission under Sh. M. Punchhi. Punchhi commission submitted its report in 2010 and main recommendations were concerning environment concerns and on appointment of Governor that the candidate should have not been in active politics even at local level for a minimum period of two years before appointment. As such it was an effort to make the office of Governor as non political. Further that the reasons for none signing of state legislation by the President must be conveyed to the state within six months.
Politically conscious Indians at the dawn of the 19th century got attracted to modem civil rights, especially the freedom of the Press and the Importance of Press converted the struggle for the freedom of the Press to an integral part of the struggle for freedom and it helped the building of the nationalist public opinion. Journalists played significant political role and as such many news papers emerged like that of the Hindu and Swadesamitran with G. Subramaniya Iyer as editor, Kesari and Mahratta with B.G. Tilak, Surendranath Banerjea’s Bengalee, Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh published Amrita Bazar Patrika. Government policies were subject to eagle’s eyes of the journalists and faced sharp criticism. As per Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code ‘whoever attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in British India’ was to be punished with transportation for life or for any term or with imprisonment up to three years. In face of such laws Indian journalists evolved distinctive styles of writing so as to perform the task and at the same time remain outside the reach of the law. They used to publish translated article from British papers or reproduced article published in British papers to avoid Section 124 A . Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was victim of Sedition clause that exists even today. Vernacular Press Act in 1878 , Criminal Law amendment Act of 1908, Press Act of 1910, the Prevention of Seditious Meeting Act of 1911, Press(Emergency Powers) Act 1931 were some of the draconian laws passed against freedom of press and Pre-Censorship was still evident in 1943.
Even in free India of late far–right forces are in triumph and their hegemonic schemes are succeeding. Shalley Walia writes in The Telegraph a couple of days earlier as under :
“How can I not shudder at the death of Indra Meghwal, a Dalit student, at the hands of an overzealous school teacher who beat him to death because the boy had drunk water from a vessel meant for upper caste students? How can I ignore the infringement of human rights when journalists are arrested for no credible reason, democratic dissent demonized, and fundamental rights violated? How can any civilized society allow the colossal imprudence of the felicitation of convicts who had gangraped a Muslim woman”? It is this situation that we are faced with, with the dwindling powers of states and draconian strength gained by centre by grabbing and concentrating powers in it that we are threatened of dire consequences once we dare to expose their misdeeds. Marginalised are under alarming attacks and situation is worsening day by day. There is a virulent upsurge of anarchism. Human rights are under unbearable assault and the resurgence of long repressed animosities rooted in race religion and identity are a formidable challenge. In this backdrop, media is the only institution that is left with task of analyzing developments and emerging trends dispassionately that may impact the federal structure of India. Going by the developments during the past several years one may well say that the trends have not yet reached a plateau. This is somewhat an alarming state of affair. This situation demands that media should play its bounden role that helps reverse these trends. I conclude with expressing my sincere hope that media will play that role dutifully.