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Centre should step in to check riots, says panel

Touching upon several significant areas, a panel reviewing relations and the balance of power between the Centre and state governments has made over 200 recommendations including radical ones like amending Articles 355 and 356 to enable the Centre to bring specific trouble-torn areas under its rule, for a limited period

The Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR), headed by Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi, submitted its report to the central government recently, suggesting changes on an array of subjects, from the sharing of funds between Union and state governments to the role of the Centre during caste and communal conflict, and the planning and implementation of big projects like the interlinking of rivers.

Besides suggesting that the Centre step in to check riots, the CCSR recommends the creation of an overriding structure to maintain internal security along the lines of the US Homeland Security department, giving more teeth to the National Integration Council (NIC), and amending the Communal Violence Bill to allow deployment of central forces without the state’s consent, for a short period.

It proposes that state consent should not be a hurdle in the deployment of central forces during communal tension. However, such deployment should only be for a week, and post-facto consent must be taken from the state.

The commission also recommends “localising emergency provisions” under Articles 355 and 356, contending that localised areas -- either a district or parts of a district -- be brought under governor’s rule, instead of the whole state. Such an emergency provision should, however, not be for longer than three months, it stresses.

The commission proposes that the NIC meets at least once a year. In the event of a communal incident, it says, a delegation of five members of the council should visit the affected area within two days and submit a fact-finding report. The commission, however, rejected a suggestion from some stakeholders that the NIC be accorded constitutional status.

In finalising the 1,456-page report, in seven volumes, the Punchhi Commission took help from the Justice Sarkaria Commission report, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) and the Administrative Reforms Commission report.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government set up the five-member CCSR in April 2007 as part of the ruling coalition’s common minimum programme of governance. It came nearly two decades after the Justice Rajinder Singh Sarkaria Commission submitted its report on the issue.

Besides Justice Punchhi, other members of the panel include Dhirendra Singh and V K Duggal, both former secretaries to the government, N R Madhava Menon, former director of the National Judicial Academy, and Vijay Shanker, former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Analysts don’t hold out much hope for change. “Whatsoever be the recommendations, in the present state of affairs it would be difficult for the government to implement them,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

“It is not only due to the fragile majority of the government, but (also due to) the lack of general political will and unity for bringing about reforms of this nature which streamline and weed out clashes in the federal structure,” he added.

Source: The Indian Express, May 10, 2010
              http://www.livemint.com, May 2010
              PTI, April 19, 2010