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North-East Zonal Councils

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.


Source: PIB 

Context: Recently, PM Modi attended the Golden Jubilee celebrations (50 years) of the North-Eastern Council (NEC) in Shillong


Points highlighted by the PM

  • Regular meetings: Prime Minister himself has visited the North-East more than 50 times in the last 8 years, while ministers have also visited the North-East more than 400 times
  • 8 pillars of North-East development: e.g. Peace, Power, Tourism, 5G connectivity, Culture, natural farming, Sports etc.
  • Infrastructure development: The government has taken up the project of connecting every capital of a North-Eastern State by road, train and air connectivity
    • Dhola-Sadiya bridge (the longest bridge in India over the Lohit River in Assam)
  • PM’s Development Initiative for North-East (PM-DevINE)
  • Strategic policies:
    • ‘Act Fast for Northeast and Act First for Northeast’ Policy
    • India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project, Kaladan project and Agartala-Akhaura Rail project.


Inter-state council Vs Zonal Councils

About Inter-state council: It is a mechanism that was constituted “to support Centre-State and Inter-State coordination and cooperation in India”. It will be constituted by the President under article 263 of the constitution.


About Zonal Council (see Infographic below)



Need of Zonal councils.

  • They provide an excellent forum where conflicts between the Centre and States and States can be resolved through free and frank discussions and consultations.
  • They are regional fora of cooperative endeavour for States linked with each other economically, politically and culturally.
  • As they are meant for looking after the interests of respective zones, they are capable of focusing attention on specific issues taking into account regional factors, while keeping the national perspective in view.
  • Bringing out national integration and arresting the growth of acute State consciousness, regionalism, linguism and particularistic tendencies.


Effectiveness of Zonal councils.

  • In the last 8 years, more than 1,000 issues were discussed in the meetings of the Zonal Councils and 93 per cent of them were resolved, which is a huge achievement.
  • With the help of Zonal councils, instances of Left Wing Extremism and North East insurgency have been minimized.


Issues associated with Zonal councils.

  • The complexity of issues – The Council(s) may not deliver fruitful results in the ongoing crisis due to the traversing nature of the issues involved between the states.
  • Statutory Basis – Moreover, the statutory basis of the Council may also mar the efficiency of the institution while dealing with the sovereign exercise of power by the states.
  • Advisory in nature – It is just a recommendatory body to investigate and discuss subjects, in which some or all of the states or the Central government have a common interest.
  • Lack of expertise – No presence of technical and management/administrative experts.


Need for Inter-state councils (ISC):

  • Resolving new issues – The ISC in recent times is inevitable in the context of a growing divide between the states and the Union government  as a result of the experiments of demonetisation and the GST, farm laws and the subsequent repeal, NEET examination, Agnipath scheme and the deepening tussle between the Governors
  • Constitutional body – As it is a Constitutional body it has more importance in establishing national integration and ensuring healthy federalism than zonal councils.
  • Effective communication between different levels of government – In a decentralized polity where the interaction between several levels of government is significant, the interstate council is an essential preliminary step.
  • Focusing on National issues – It provides an ideal environment for discussing the needs of the people of the country, dealing with their issues, and making decisions that benefit everyone rather than just focusing on particular zones.


Effectiveness of ISC.

  • The formation of “The National Commission to review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC)” under the Chairmanship of Justice M N Venkatachalaiah in 2001 is one of the outcomes of the ISC meetings.
  • Interstate council helped to ensure Horizontal federalism in India.


Issues associated with ISC.

  • Inconsistent meetings – As per mandate ISC have to meet at least thrice a year. But since 1990 only 12 meetings have been held against the mandate of 96 as per the order.
  • Lack of diversification of issues – Out of 12, nine meetings were held by and large to discuss the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission and consensus-building on the same.
  • Lack of Functional autonomy – ISC is excluded from discussing topics that fall under the purview of the National Development Council, the Finance Commission, etc. and also areas that relate to the constitutional or statutory responsibility of the Union to discharge any duty.
  • Lack of political will – There has been a lack of will by the political parties to strengthen the ISC through consensual governance.
  • Not participatory – There is no presence/engagement of the civil society in the council which makes it less participatory and cooperative.
  • Not permanent body – The Inter-state council is not a permanent constitutional body for coordination between the states and Central government.


Way forward

  • A regular meeting schedule and a permanent secretariat to ISC will ensure that the periodic meetings are more fruitful.
  • Making ISC a permanent body as suggested by the Sarkaria commission.
  • Bills of national importance should be placed before the ISC and Zonal councils before being tabled in Parliament.
  • Zonal councils have to be strengthened with technical and administrative expertise to handle complex issues.
  • Advises given by the zonal councils have to be taken seriously by the centre in implementing policies or programs.



The interstate council and Zonal councils are the most dynamic platform to discuss policies and strengthen Centre-State relations. These work as an instrument for cooperation, coordination and the evolution of common policies and act as a bridge to the trust deficit between the centre and the state.


Insta Links:

Mains Links

Q. A rejuvenated Inter-State and Zonal Councils can play a vital role in better implementation of governance practices, involve the states more closely in the planning and delivery of services and lead to a more prudent fiscal discipline. Discuss. (15M)


Prelims Links

Which of the following bodies does not/do not find mention in the Constitution? (UPSC 2013)

  1. National Development Council
  2. Planning Commission
  3. Zonal Councils

Select the correct answer using the codes given below

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3 only


Answer: D


All of them are non-Constitutional bodies.