Pandemic and Federalism

GS-2 Polity- Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure


       A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”.(WHO)

COVID19:affected more than 5 million and resulted in a loss in excess of 80000 lives.(current DATA in India)


Current Issue:

  • There has been a raging debate regarding the distribution of subjects in the 7th schedule of the constitution.
  • Bibek Debroy wanted rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes.(why the centre should spend on subjects like health and why the states should not spend on national defence.)
  • Counter argument by M Govinda Rao- 
    • defence is a “national public good” and has to be a Union subject.
    • division of subjects should be on the basis of respective comparative advantage.
    • (national public goods are in the federal domain and state-level public service are in the state domain.)

India’s response to the pandemic:

  • provides a lesson in understanding what the distribution of powers should be like.
  • initial unilateral lockdown by the centre.
  • eventually moved on to working with the states towards a collective response.
  • improving mechanisms of federal governance.

Reorganisation of Federal Distribution:

  • primarily focused on achieving economies of scale in vaccine procurement.
  • knowledge production for setting standards and guidelines for the states.
  • mitigating inter-state externalities.
  • States continue to play the dominant role in execution of the actual response.(fundamental principles of comparative advantage)
  • Centrally Sponsored Schemes must continue.(should be restructured)
  • need for an appropriate forum to discuss issues like:
    • reviewing federal organisation of powers
    • restructuring of central transfers.
  • Some subjects need to put in the concurrent list.(Health:- states have limited power;Centre invariably has to spend.)


  • 15th Finance Commission:- recommended shifting health from the State to the Concurrent List.
  • Ashok Chawla Committe:-similar recommendation for Water.


  • emerging challenges are linked to the State List subjects or the ones that rely on actions by states need to pursue the change.
    • water
    • agriculture
    • biodiversity
    • pollution
    • climate change.

Way Forward

  • the Centre must expand its role beyond the mitigation of inter-state externalities.
  • address the challenges of security and sustainability.


      The GST reforms is the most recent instance of such reworking of the Centre-state roles for a greater and collective goal. 

      A similar consensus-building for sectors like health, rural development and agriculture can be achieved through GST Council like institution- Inter-State Council.

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