The new maps of the two newly formed Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh in the place of J&K State have been released in accordance with the decision of the Government of India announced on 5 August 2019. This reorganization, dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, is one of the many changes that have happened in States’ reorganization since independence, but one that raises maximum political reaction within and outside India.
It is the first case of a State bifurcated as two UTs. All previous instances are break-up of a single State into two or more separate States. There are also a few cases of re-adjustment of borders and amalgamation of small principalities with the adjoining linguistic State.
The old J&K State presents a unique case of a State demoted as UTs. The normal practice is to promote a UT as a State. J&K has 22 districts and Ladakh 3 districts. Areas in Pak-occupied Kashmir are included in the Ladakh UT.
Bifurcation and trifurcation of States are done after linguistic reorganization mostly on the demand of people in peaceful or violent manner. J&K is the lone exception representing Government of India’s decision on reorganization. It has to be so, for conditions and circumstances are also unique.
A Union Territory is an administrative unit controlled and regulated by the Union Government. The Governor appointed by the Union Government is its constitutional head and the President of India its executive head. An Administrator is appointed by the President in every UT.
UTs were created under the Constitution. There were 10 UTs listed in the first schedule of the Constitution – Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar, Lakshadweep, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Goa and Daman and Diu, Pondicherry, and Chandigarh. The President was also vested with the power to make regulations for “peace, progress, and good government” of the five last mentioned UTs. Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, and Goa are now full-fledged States and Pondicherry and Delhi have become UTs with Legislative Assembly and also have their representation in the Rajya Sabha.
Assam was divided to create Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Mizoram and all of them are granted statehood. Andhra Pradesh is the latest instance of bifurcation to create the new Telangana.
The Indian federation now has 28 States and 9 UTs. There are two types of UTs – with Legislative Assembly and without. Andaman & Nicobar, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, newly formed Ladakh, and Lakshadeep have no legislative Assembly; Pondicherry, National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the reorganized J&K have Legislative Assembly.
Union Territories have unitary relation with the central government, that is, all legislative and executive powers rest with the Union. They do not have autonomous powers like the States and distribution of powers between the Union and States given in 7th Schedule of the Constitution is not applicable to them. Except Delhi and Pondicherry, these have no representation in the Rajya Sabha.
Under the Constitution, UTs are administered by the President of India through an Administrator appointed by him. If a Governor of a State adjoining the UT is appointed as Administrator, he has to act independently of the Council of ministers of that State. Parliament may by law constitute a High Court for a UT or declare any court to be a High Court for the UT.
Hence, the status and powers of UTs are lower than that of the States which is the reason behind the demand of UTs for statehood – a demand conceded in several cases. In the case of Delhi, the primacy of the city as the nation’s capital necessitates its continuance as a UT.
Technically, J&K has undergone downgrading in the federal system in India, but, practically considered, an upward movement for the residents. The change has opened the benefits of progressive laws and development and welfare schemes granted to people in other States and UTs to J&K by the removal of special status of J&K by abrogation of Article 370 – a temporary, transitional, and special provision that limited the powers of Parliament to make laws for J&K. Provisions of the Instrument of Accession of J&K with the Dominion of India which took the place of the Union and Concurrent Lists in the distribution of powers between the Union and the State have been removed.
The concept and practice of direct administration of the Central government in particular areas in a federal system are not unknown. They are also called asymmetric federations because the extent of autonomy of States may vary.
Malaysia, for instance, is organized as 13 States and 3 Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya. The States form the federation itself and share sovereignty whereas a federal territory does not have sovereign status. Such a territory has some degree of self-rule unlike a district in a State. The degree of self-rule may vary between different territories.
In Canada, there are 3 federal territories – North-West Territories, Nunavut, and Yukos; in Australia also 3 FDs – Australian Capital Territory, Jervis Bay Territory, and Northern Territory. In Nigeria, the Federal Capital territory is centrally governed.
In the US, many States were Territories or parts of Territories before they became States. Statehood was a promotion. US territory is any region under the jurisdiction of the federal government of USA. The US Department of Interior is charged with management of federal affairs within the US Territory. The US Congress has exclusive power to determine a Territory’s political divisions. Brazil had 3 federal territories until 1988 when they were all recognized as States.
In the case of J&K, more than the downgrading of its constitutional federal status from State to Union Territory, its loss of special constitutional provisions is significant. It is now fully integrated with the rest of the country, constitutionally and legally.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons for J&K reorganization as UTs points to the “prevailing internal security situation fuelled by cross-border terrorism” in the former J&K State. Prolonged abnormal situation has necessitated abnormal handling of the situation and the nation hopes that with the return of normalcy, their status would be restored.
Considering the security situation in J&K, it seems that some strong action is justified on the part of Government of India in the interest of peace and security. Sheer protests without constructive action will drag on and multiply the problems to the advantage of unfriendly forces beyond our borders. Kashmir is too delicate a ground to play party politics. The time, energy and costs involved in political battles could better be utilised to promote national unity. Government must also take serious and sincere steps to win the support of all sections of Kashmiris in and out of Kashmir.
For this, it is necessary to keep the ultimate goal as restoration of full statehood for J&K and Ladakh. It is a long way to go made longer by lack of cooperation among political parties jumping to look at every issue as potential vote catcher and using it to defame opponents. Unfortunately, there is a trend in the country to keep issues alive and make them worse wherever possible and delay and nullify solutions.
The writer is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi