Despite the centrality of the States to the Constitution and the structure of governance that it envisages, Union Territories (which are administered by the Union Government) exist within the constitutional scheme. Every State has a Legislative Assembly (and some have Legislative Councils in addition) with a Governor who acts on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
In contrast, only some Union territories have a Legislative Assembly. The Union territories are administered by the President acting, to such extent as he thinks fit, through an Administrator. The President also has the power to make regulations for certain Union territories. There are many other differences between these constituent units. In essence, States are governed by their own governments and are directly accountable to the citizenry whereas Union territories are governed by the Union Government.
There is no gainsaying that the relationship that the States have with the Union is different from the relationship that the Union Territories have with the Union. Generally, States have a degree of autonomy in comparison to Union Territories. This remains true even if a Union Territory like Puducherry has a legislative assembly. However, there is no homogenous class of Union territories. They each have differing levels of autonomy.
Report of States Reorganisation Commission
The Report of the States Reorganisation Commission formed the basis for the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act 1956 by which the constituent units of India were organised into States and Union territories. The report is therefore an authoritative source in the endeavour to understand the reasons for the creation of two categories of constituent units and the reasons for the creation of Union Territories in particular.
The report recommended the creation of two categories of constituent units – states and territories. States would be the “primary constituent units” and “cover virtually the entire country” while the territories would be centrally administered. The report indicated that for the States to enjoy a uniform status, it was necessary that each of them is capable of surviving as a “viable administrative unit” which has the financial, administrative and technical resources to sustain itself.
It stated that each state should be able to establish and maintain institutions to educate and equip its people to carry out the various functions that it would be required to undertake. It recommended the creation of centrally administered territories (or, as we now know them, Union Territories) if, for “strategic, security or other compelling reasons,” it was not practical to integrate a small territory with an adjoining State.
The report recommended that most of the Part C States merge with adjoining States inter alia because:
a. Of the six Part C States with legislatures, only Coorg was in a position to administer itself without assistance from the Centre and that the other five were highly dependent on financial assistance from the Centre;
b. The administrative services in the Part C States were inadequate and had anomalies; and
c. Part C States continued to have close economic links with the adjacent areas.
In addition, for three Part C States – Himachal Pradesh, Kutch, and Tripura – it recommended that the Union Government should retain supervisory power for some time to maintain the pace of development.
The Commission recommended that three constituent units or areas be retained as territories administered by the Union Government:
“1. Delhi.—Delhi should be constituted into such a centrally administered territory; the question of creating a municipal Corporation with substantial powers should be considered. (Paragraphs 580 to, 594).
2. Manipur.—Manipur should be a centrally-administered territory for the time being. The ultimate merger of this State in Assam should be kept in view. (Paragraphs 723 to 732).
3. Andaman and Nicobar Islands.—the status quo in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands should continue. (Paragraph 753).”
From the information noticed in these paragraphs, the following aspects need to be underscored:
a. The Commission recommended that the constituent units which were “viable administrative units” with financial, administrative and technical resources be classified as States. The States were to be the primary constituent units and were autonomous;
b. The Commission recommended that some Part C States which were not viable administrative units merge with adjoining States. Such mergers resulted in the retention or development of the features of federalism and representative democracy for the unit which was absorbed because the State into which that unit was absorbed had these features. Crucially, this had the effect of imparting autonomy to the territory which was absorbed;
c. Where the Commission recommended that certain constituent units be centrally administered, it largely envisaged the development of autonomy through eventual mergers with other States or the conferral of State-like characteristics. It recommended the creation of a municipal corporation with substantial powers for Delhi.
It envisaged the merger of Manipur with the State of Assam. As for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it noted that some time may elapse before they de jure became a part of India and that it was not desirable to fetter the discretion of the Union Government at the stage at which it submitted its report; and
d. The Commission recommended that some territories remain under temporary central supervision and envisaged that they too would become fully autonomous (either by merging with an adjoining state or otherwise).
Union territories were, therefore, created when certain areas were not “viable administrative units” and did not have requisite resources to sustain themselves. In addition, strategic, security, or other compelling reasons could play a role in the decision to create a Union territory.
Regardless of the category into which they were initially slotted, the recommendations of the Commission evince its opinion that most Union territories or other centrally supervised territories were on a journey towards becoming viable administrative units and attaining autonomy. It appears that the report submitted by the Commission was accepted – the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act 1956 and the States Reorganisation Act 1956 implemented most of its recommendations.
The view of the Commission that most Union territories were on the journey towards becoming viable administrative units and attaining autonomy is borne out by their journey in the decades after its report.
The journey of Union territories: 1956 to 2023
It is useful to examine the journey of the constitutional status of various Union territories. We preface this historical journey with the preface that there is no homogenous class of Union territories since the Constitution envisages a unique relationship of each of them with the Union.
The Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act 1956 created six Union territories: Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands.
- Delhi attained a distinct, sui generis status with the insertion of Article 239AA in 1991 by the Sixty-ninth constitutional amendment and is not similar to other Union territories.
- Himachal Pradesh was granted statehood with the enactment of the State of Himachal Pradesh Act 1970.
- Manipur and Tripura became States upon the enactment of the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act 1971. This statute also established the Union territories of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, which were granted statehood in 1986.
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands continue to be Union territories as do the Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands, the name of which was changed to Lakshadweep.
- Goa, Daman and Diu were added to the First Schedule as a Union Territory in 1962 as was Puducherry (previously known as Pondicherry).
- In 1966, Chandigarh was also made a Union territory.
- A couple of decades later, the State of Goa was formed with the enactment of the Goa, Daman and Diu Reorganisation Act 1987. Daman and Diu continued to be a single Union Territory. It was eventually merged with Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
Of all the Union territories in the history of the country, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Goa, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh attained full statehood and Delhi attained significant autonomy with its sui generis status. As each of these territories (except Delhi in view of its status as the National Capital) became viable administrative units, they found a place in the constitutional structure as States.
However, other areas continued to remain as Union Territories because they were not considered to be viable administrative units or because of other strategic or security-based reasons. These Union territories are smaller than those which eventually attained statehood.
Re: article 370 of the constitution, 2023