The Zonal Councils are the statutory (and not the constitutional) bodies. They are established by an Act of Parliament, that is, the States Reorganisation Act of 1956. The act divided the country into five zones (Northern Central, Eastern, Western, and Southern) and provided a zonal council for each zone.
While forming these zones, several factors have been taken into account which include: the natural divisions of the country, the river systems and means of communication, the cultural and linguistic affinity, and the requirements of economic development, security, and law and order.
Each zonal council consists of the following members:
(a) Home minister of the Central government.
(b) Chief ministers of all the States in the zone.
(c) Two other ministers from each state in the zone.
(d) Administrator of each union territory in the zone.
Besides, the following persons can be associated with the zonal council as advisors (i.e., without the right to vote in the meetings) :
(i) A person nominated by the NITI Aayog.
(ii) Chief secretary of the government of each state in the zone.
(iii) Development commissioner of each state in the zone.
The home minister of the Central government is the common chairman of the five zonal councils. Each chief minister acts as a vice-chairman of the council by rotation, holding office for one year at a time. The zonal councils aim to promote cooperation and coordination between states, union territories, and the Centre. They discuss and make recommendations regarding matters like economic and social planning, linguistic minorities, border disputes, inter-state transport, and so on. They are only deliberative and advisory bodies.
The objectives (or the functions) of the zonal councils, in detail, are as follows:
•To achieve an emotional integration of the country.
•It helps in arresting the growth of acute state consciousness, regionalism, linguism, and particularistic trends.
•To help in removing the after-effects of separation in some cases so that the process of reorganization, integration, and economic advancement may synchronize.
•It enables the Centre and states to cooperate in social and economic matters and exchange ideas and experience to evolve uniform policies.
•To cooperate in the successful and speedy execution of major development projects.
•To secure some kind of political equilibrium between different regions of the country.
In addition to the above Zonal Councils, a North-Eastern Council was created by a separate Act of Parliament – the North-Eastern Council Act of 1971. Its members include Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Sikkim. Its functions are similar to those of the zonal councils but with few additions. It has to formulate a unified and coordinated regional plan covering matters of common importance. It has to review from time to time the measures taken by the member states for the maintenance of security and public order in the region.