Federal System vs. Unitary System – Essay

There is constant demand for greater autonomy for the states with increased powers in respect of planning, finance, taxation and judiciary. The matter has been hotly debated and kinds of different and opposite views have been expressed. On the one hand, there are people who are opposed to the very concept of federation and who advocate a unitary from of government. They are all out for a strong centre. On the other hand, there are those who would prefer a weak center and autonomous states, independent in every matter except defense and foreign policy. Let us examine the facts of the case and then arrive at a dispassionate conclusion.


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India is a vast country, a sub-continent, nearly equal in area to the whole of Europe, excluding Russia and the common wealth of independent states. It has a bewildering multiplicity of religions, languages and cultures. People living in one part of country differ radically from those in other parts. Thus, a Bengali is entirely different from a Punjabi or a Kashmiri in his way ways of living, traditions and customs. India’s unity is a unity in diversity, and this unity can be preserved only under a system which allows the people of every region to live in their own way, according to their own culture and traditions, and yet makes them conscious of their common mother-land and enlists their service and cooperation for the task of the new India of our dreams.

It was for this reason that the framers of our constitution preferred federalism to Unitarianism, for it is in a federal set up alone that every reason, every state, can enjoy sufficient autonomy to live in its own way, and at the same time, the unity and integrity of the country can be preserved. The federal structure reflects India’s “unity in diversity”. It ensures a strong centre, as well as provides for the full growth and development of the culture of each region.


The framers of the constitution were quite conscious of possibility of center-state conflicts, and so the powers and jurisdiction of each have been carefully defined and demarcated in the constitution. There is a detailed list of subjects for the center, and another one for the states. Besides this, there is a concurrent list, including subjects which fall within the jurisdiction of both the center and the states. The centre has been given wide powers to ensure uniformity and co-ordination of administrative standards, to provide positive leadership in the social and economic spheres, and to protect the country from external aggression and internal subversion.

It has been provided for that the state Governments have to comply with the laws enacted by parliament and that the central government is entitled to give such directions to the state governments as it may consider necessary for the purpose. The state governments have been directed not to do anything which may prejudice or impede the exercise by the center of its power in the state. The constitution fully takes into account the needs both of the centre and the states.

The constitution also provides for times of emergency. In times of war or when there is a threat to law and order, a nation must use every possible means to the danger. If the federal character of the constitution is temporarily discarded and the country is ruled as under a unitary system, and if the fundamental rights of citizenship are suspended for the duration of the emergency, no serious objection can be taken to such extra-ordinary measures. For one thing, there is the parliament to see that the emergency powers are not misused and secondly, because,” extraordinary situations can only be met with extraordinary means”. Similarly, when in a state, the government finds that the government cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, central intervention becomes inevitable and president’s rule is imposed over the state.

The constitution also provides that, when a situation has arisen whereby the financial stability or credibility of the country is threatened, the president may declare a state of financial emergency and may give directions to any state or states in order to ensure that there is no misuse of funds, and financial stability is achieved. The center has also the power to intervene in the internal affairs of a state if; such intervention is justified by the law and order situation, prevailing in that state. The centre can post its armed forced or its Para-Military forces to safeguard its installations in any state, if the situation they makes such a step necessary. Further, in case of inter-state disputes the center can intervene and if considered desirable, can even alter state boundaries. It can send its armed forces to prevent secessation or threat of secessation on the part of any state.


The powers enjoyed by the centre are, no doubt, very wide, and such wide powers have come in for a good deal of criticism. In this connection, first, it should be remembered that the states have been given sufficient autonomy and enjoy sufficient powers, and are not subservient to the centre in everything. Education, health, local self-government, public order, administration of justice, water supply and trade and transport, are matters of great importance and they have been entrusted to the states. The state legislatures have exclusive jurisdiction over 66 items and concurrent jurisdiction over another 47 items. The division of power between the centre and the states is quite fare.

Some critics have, indeed, criticized the scheme of the scheme of the division of power on the ground that by leaving vital issue, like land reform, food production, and higher education, with the state governments, the farmers of the constitution have added to the difficulties of the administration. In respect of finance, the finance commission may not have satisfied all the states, but there has been a large measure of autonomy in this respect also. Hence complaint of lack of autonomy and freedom is baseless.

Greater freedom would have led to the disintegration of the country. The states should have autonomy but not at the cost of unity and integrity of the country. It should be remembered that India faces danger to its freedom, not only from abroad but also from within. Regionalism, Linguism, communalism, and several other fissiparous trends threaten the unity and integrity of the country. A strong centre with wide powers is needed to combat and put down such disruptive forces.

A weak centre would not only encourage such forces. It will also encourage foreign aggression. China and Pakistan are the two hostile neighbors of India, and only a strong centre and a united country can face the menace posed by them. To weaken the centre would be to weaken the country and endanger its hard won freedom. A strong centre is the urgent need of the hour. Indeed, we need both a strong central government and strong autonomous state government, and both these have been provided for by the flexible frame-work of the Indian constitution.


Moreover, it should be remembered that the modern trend everywhere is towards a strong centralized government. The U.S.A. has a federal set up, and there, too, the centre has grown increasingly more and more powerful. A strong centre has become necessary because the modern concept of the welfare state places unusual administrative burdens and responsibilities upon the government. Besides this, fact means of communication tend to obliterate regional diversities and bring even far flung parts of a nation closer together. This move towards increased homogeny should be fostered and encouraged, and this can be done only by a strong centre.

Therefore, we must conclude that the flexible federal structure, which provides for a strong centre, along with a fair measure of state autonomy, is best suited to the needs of modern India.

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