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Round Table Conference
Cooperative Federalism and Local Governance in India

A round table conference on Cooperative Federalism and Local Governance in India was organised on June 28, 2023, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation India.

The conference commenced with a welcome address from Dr. Anshuman Behera (Associate Professor, NIAS), followed by an opening note by the Director of NIAS, Dr. Shailesh Nayak. The first session, chaired by Dr. Supriya Roy Choudhury, began with a presentation by Dr. D. Jeevan Kumar (Honorary Prof., Karnataka State Rural Development and Panchayat Raj University), who shared insights from his paper titled “Federalism and Local Governance: Some Theoretical and Conceptual Underpinnings”. He raised an important question on the priority of uniformity and equality, and discussed the best suitable character for India. The session also explored the principles such as subsidiarity, democratic decentralisation, delineation of power, and citizen-centric governance. Dr. Kumar stressed that the individual moral autonomy, as a cornerstone for governance, might prove to be one of the solutions which can further be incorporated into theory-making.

The second talk was delivered by Prof. S. S. Meenakshisundaram, the former Principal Secretary, Government of India, on Fiscal Federalism and Local Governance, drawing from his experiences as a former bureaucrat. His lecture focused on building an institution with the framework of federalism in the centre. He stressed that it will ensure maximum efficiency of the revenue collection with minimal risk of corruption in the system.

The second session was chaired by Professor D Suba Chandran (Head, Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme, NIAS). The session began with an introductory note by Mr Sandeep Dubey, Program Manager, HSS India, highlighting the areas where HSS operates and conducts its activities. The discussions started with a presentation by Dr Surya Sankar Sen (Assistant Professor, St. Joseph University, Bengaluru) on the issue of ‘stateless’ communities between proxy citizenship and limited governance, using a case study of “Extra-territorial Enclaves along India-Bangladesh boundary”. Drawing upon the ideas of sovereignty, territoriality and local resilience, he presented an argument on how enclaves play a role in (re)shaping (referred to as ‘supplanting’) power dynamics and local agencies.

The second speaker, Dr. Niranjan Sahoo (Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi), focused on the relationship between Odisha and the Union government.  Deviating from the general view of the hegemonic centre, he presented his arguments on the State of Odisha which act as an outlier and offer an example where the State has a healthy relationship with the centre. The third speaker of the session, Dr Avinash Samal (Professor, National Law University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh), spoke on the role of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in local governance around a broad framework of federal polity and civil society organizations. Drawing from Myrdal’s theory of development as modernisation, he emphasized the importance of both institutional roles and attitudinal inclinations of elites in driving developmental change in society.

The third session of the conference, chaired by Dr Anshuman Behera, featured a panel comprising of Dr Samrat Sinha (Prof., O P Jindal Global University), Yogesh Mishra (Research Associate, NIAS), Pratyush Pran Sarma (Doctoral Scholar, TDU), and David Jangminlien (Doctoral Scholar, NIAS). The discussion started with a presentation by Dr Samrat Sinha, who delved into the theme of "Health Governance at the Manipur-Myanmar Border". His talk touched upon issues, including the impact of ethnic conflicts on healthcare systems, the importance of efficient data governance, and the functioning of humanitarian organizations in the region.

The next theme of the discussion was ''Autonomous District Councils (ADC) and Local Governance in Mizoram: Identity, Ethnicity, and Autonomy'' by Yogesh Mishra. He identified the role of ADCs in managing local governance in the State and discussed the implications of the cooperative and conflictual federal relationship between Mizoram and the Indian state. Pratyush Pran Sarma provided insights on Federalism and Multi-ethnic Autonomous Units: Interrogating Local Governance in Bodoland. He highlighted that the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) in Assam shares a comparable but different federal arrangement with Mizoram. The issue in question appeared to centre around the relation between ethnicity and local governance, and its impact on the administration of Bodoland.

The final theme of the discussion was ''Cooperative Federalism: Challenges of Decentralised Governance in Manipur'' by David Jangminlien. He discussed the nature of cooperative federalism, the challenges of decentralization and their implication on citizens, communities and conflicts in Manipur. He provided an in-depth analysis of the conceptualization of cooperative federalism in the context of the diverse geographical and social structures of Manipur, whilst also highlighting various constitutional provisions.

The round table conference concluded with a brainstorming session, addressing the following aspects. Federalism as a concept has always secured significant accommodations, especially in the discourse on Indian polity. The Union of India has a special confluence of unitary and federal qualities which makes it unique. One of the unique features of the government is its three-tier system. As society progresses, the relationship between the state, its citizens, and society undergoes significant changes. To better comprehend these patterns of transformation, the third tier/local government, which is more closely associated with society, proves to be significant. The significance of asymmetric federalism with differentiated third-tier government and its implications on society and citizens, particularly in the provinces of Manipur, Mizoram, and Assam. The conference presented valuable insights into the theoretical and practical functioning of federalism, as well as the potential impact of creating autonomous units on the delicate socio-political balance between majority and minority groups.