Special Category Status under Indian Constitution: Emerging Thorns from a Murky Past

By Pranav Vaidya, Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

After sustaining under centuries of British rule, when India took its first breath as a free democratic and secular republic, by ratifying a written Constitution in 1950, it was in a state of turmoil, as the British Rule on India virtually halted the political and economic development of the Country. The corresponding social, political, and geographical inequities gave rise to differences between individuals. It was realized that, “in order to preserve the integrity and unity of such a vast territory comprising of different and varied cultures, languages and religions, we need to adopt measures to grant additional protection to these regions and communities living therein, under the Constitution of India”. Controversy arose immediately after the independence of the Country, when princely states like Jammu & Kashmir weren’t ready to become a part of the Union of States of India, as these States were majorly populated by Muslims. Conclusively, the efforts of the government were successful when the negotiations tuned in with the King of J&K, thereby granting the “Special Category Status” to Jammu & Kashmir under Part XXI of the Constitution of India Act, 1950.

What is Special Category Status under the Constitution of India?

India is a Country possessing vast cultural, regional and economic differences prevalent amongst the members of the society, wherein one can find people ranging from the ones with a high standard of living, to those who can’t even manage to have a single meal in a day. And it was in this very context, the Drafters of the Constitution took this diversity factor into paramount consideration, thereby espousing the idea of creating a “Special Category Status” under our Constitution. To put it in simple words, the Drafters of the Constitution envisioned a State, where those who can walk by themselves can keep walking, while those who can’t, will be assisted and supported by the government, so they can learn to walk at the same pace, thereby eliminating the large and varied differences existing amongst individuals in terms of their status (including financial, social or cultural) or otherwise, assisting those without assistance. Such States shall then be subjected to a unique set of rules and regulations, as prescribed within the Constitution and will also be accountable to attain additional assistance from the Central Government, whether financial or otherwise, as required by the concerned State, for instance, Articles 370 and 35A, which grant a unique status to Jammu & Kashmir. However, Article 370 is one of its kind, and different provisions had to be adopted to grant a “Special Category Status” to various other States, in accordance with the necessities befitting the need of the community living therein (like the lack of resources in their region in case of North-Eastern States of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, etc.), or in accordance with their regional needs (like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). A recent incident which took place in Andhra Pradesh caused a momentous dent as, with the formation of a new State, by the name of Telangana, the government seemed to be snatching away a prime source of income, in the form of raw materials and resources from the territory of Andhra Pradesh.

Historical Necessity, Now a Demand: The Changed Picture

Initially, the process of declaring a province under the “Special Category Status” was seen as an instrument to aid and assist such disadvantaged States in overcoming their deficiencies & differences (cultural & social) compared to other States, like the instances of J&K and the North-Eastern States. But, the incident of formation of Telangana was an outcome of the seeds sown back in time, i.e., in the year 1955, when the State Reorganisation Commission prompted to retain Hyderabad as a “Separate State”. Those same seeds sprouted to expand their roots during the violent agitation caused in 1969 & 1972 for separate demands. The issue became colossal, when it was included in the political agenda of BJP in 2001. The situation stood resolved for the people living in the Telangana region, when the government decided to demarcate Telangana as a separate State to pay heed to their demands, however, by the same accord, they also tore off that part of its territory, which comprised of precious raw materials (stored in the territory of Andhra Pradesh), thus triggering an enormous loss for their overall economy. Those swelling flames were soon put out by the government, when they endorsed a report by the 14th Financial Commission, which foreclosed the doorway leading to the grant of “Special Category Status” for States, thereby introducing the idea of a Special Package, which sought to provide monetary benefits and assistance to the concerned State, identical to the assistance provided to the “Special Category Status States”.

Matter of Right or Constitutional Recognition for Assistance?

What appears to be a matter of statutory privilege given to such disadvantaged or peculiar States, can’t be claimed as a matter of right. Even if the government has promised the same through an Act back in 2014, the grant of ”Special Category Status” cannot be extended to any State in order to avail the benefits gained by virtue of that status and it would be against the justiciable principles laid down under our Constitution. As rightly stated by Karl Marx, “Democracy is the road that leads to Socialism”, and by creating such special status, we are creating a class amongst equals which is against the very principles included in the Preamble to our Constitution.

The denial of “Special Category Status” to Andhra Pradesh by the Central Government might lead to serious repercussions for the BJP in the upcoming 2019 elections. Had the same been granted to Andhra Pradesh, the Status would have entitled them to enjoy liberal plans and grants adopted by the Central Government, a higher share of funding in “Centrally Sponsored Schemes”, along with various tax breaks and subsidies to attract industries. However, Andhra Pradesh, whose claim was based out of a sentimental and political movement, lost its stand to claim the “Special Category Status”, when the Central Government brought forth a shocking revelation, that the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014 never really incorporated anything of the nature of “Special Category Status” as the 14th Financial Commission Report confined “Special Category Status” to the North-Eastern States & the hills of Jammu & Kashmir. It is not sentiment, but the Constitutional award accorded by the Financial Commission that decides upon the quantum of funds given to the State. It is an extra-constitutional mechanism. Hence, this status can never be claimed as a matter of right.

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