Zonal Councils In India – Composition, Function And Units
The system of Zonal Councils in India is a bold and unique experimentation in fostering the regional co-operation and in arresting the disintegrating tendencies in the Indian polity.
The reorganization of states on linguistic basis in 1956 let loose a wave of turmoil and the disintegrating forces raised their ugly head in 1956.
To foster a spirit of emotional integration of the country, the then Prime Minister Mr. Nehru came forward with the idea of regrouping the Indian states in regional groups within the broad framework of the Indian Union. Thus the Zonal Council is the brain child of Mr. Nehru. Nehru visualized “a group of three, four or five states” having a Zonal Council for “dealing with economic problems as well as multitude of border problems and other problems that arise.”
Five Zones of Zonal Councils in India
Responding enthusiastically to Nehru’s ideas the Union Parliament passed a bill in 1956. Thus were the Zonal Councils created by the Parliament? The Act regrouped the Indian states into the following five zones each having a Zonal Council of its own :
- The North Zone consists of the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
- The Central Zone includes the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
- The Eastern Zone comprises the States of Bihar. West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal.
- The Western Zone consisted of the States of Gujrat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
- The Southern Zone consisted of the States of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
A zonal council is primarily an advisory body. It discusses matters of common interest of the constituent states. It makes recommendations to the states composing the council and also to the union government on matters such as
- (a) social planning,
- (b) economic planning,
- (c) inter-state transport,
- (d) border disputes, and
- (e) matters concerning minorities.
As already mentioned, the zonal councils were born out of realization that the disintegrating forces in India are much too strong and that fostering emotional integration among the people is an imperative need. It was rightly emphasized that “no region could proper unless security and unity of India were completely ensured and generated for today, tomorrow and ever.”
Objective and Functions of Zonal Councils in India
One may discern about half dozen functions and objectives for which the Zonal Council was formed. They are :
- to encourage and foster emotional integration of the country,
- to discourage growth of regionalism, linguistic chauvinism and other such tendencies,
- to foster integration of states into solid and binding unities consequent on the reorganization of states in 1956. This-was very vital for the reorganization of states entailed large scale regrouping and redistribution of territories among states.
- to encourage and foster a spirit of co-operation between the union and the states so that the governments of the union and the states may pursue policies conductive to the overall development of the nation as a whole. This was particularly necessary to develop socialistic society in India.
- to encourage and foster a spirit of co-operation and mutual help among the states needed for the implementation of development projects with interstate ramifications, and
- to encourage and foster the growth of a rough measure of political and economic equilibrium among the states in a region of the country.
Composition of the Zonal Councils
A zonal council consists of a Union Minister nominated by the President, the Chief Ministers of all the states constituting the zone, two other ministers from each state, two representatives of the union territories, if there is a union territory in the zone. The Union Minister nominated by the President, presides over the meetings of the zonal council. The Chief Secretaries of the States in the zone and a nominee of the Planning Commission Acts as advisors to the Council. The advisors take part in the deliberations of the council but they have no right to vote. The Chief Ministers act as Deputy Chairman of the Council by rotation. The decisions of the council need not be unanimous. The majority opinion is accepted. The chairman has no right to vote but in case of tie, his castes his deciding vote.
Initial reactions to the creation of zonal councils had been mixed ones. Critics argued that the councils as conceived by Nehru were much too idealistic and unrealistic. They argued that if the council develops into vigorous bodies it will certainly corrode into the autonomy of the constituent states. If on the other hand, a council remains moribund, it would soon become a non-entity.
However, experience has shown that the zonal councils have neither become too vigorous nor too moribund. They have developed into moderately workable entities from which many states and consequently the nation as a whole have derived substantial benefits. The councils have certainly fostered co-operative approach to economic problems and have contributed substantially to solution of border problems. Bhakra Project thus benefited both Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. The Rajasthan Canal Project, the Chambal Valley Projects etc. are lasting testimonials of zonal co-operation. Many interstate river water disputes such as the one over the Krishna waters are solved through zonal councils. Thus the experiments of zonal councils have been more or less a success.