Essay on Federalism in India

The Indian political system like federal experiments in many other parts of the world has passed through its various phases of federal polity from its quasi-federal character to a stage of co-operation and the competition in its centre-state relation and then to a stage of extreme centralization. Hence different opinion, have been expressed, by the political scientists with regard to the nature of the Indian federal system from time to time. Unfortunately impressed by the strong unitary features of the Indian constitution. K.C. Where soon after its enforcement remarked. India is a Unitary State with subsidiary unitary principle. In his description of the Indian Republic as a quasi-federal state the emphasis was on the pronounced unitary bias of the constitution.

FEDERAL INDIA: A Design for Good Governance

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In 1964 Morris-Jones described the centre-state relation in India as a form of co-operative federalism. He however characterized it as bargaining federalism. The term bargaining federalism, Morris-Jones argued described the character of Indian federalism throughout it referred to a pattern of centre-state relations in which neither centre nor states can impose decisions on the others in which hard comp elative bargaining takes place in such institution as the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission and the Zonal Councils. In these institutions bargaining occurs between the centre and the states and among, the several states for the allocation of resources and patronage and for the solution of such divisive problems as the rights of linguistic minorities in the linguistically recognized states.


According to Paul Brass it is difficult to arrive at definite conclusion about the general direction of centre-state relation in India until an overall view of the Indian federal system that encompasses all relevant aspects, institution and processes is constructed. In so far as long term tendencies and underlying persistent patterns can be discerned across institution and policy arises in India the direction are towards pluralism, regionalism and decentralization. The differences concerning the nature of the Indian federal system often arise out of the differences in the institution examined. Scholars who look upon primarily at the Planning Commission and the Finance Commission or at the use of President’s Rule have tendered to argue that state autonomy has declined and central control over the states has increased.

Federal structure

As regards the Federal structure of the Indian state, our constitution does not explicitly use the term federation, instead Article I, declares that India that is Bharat shall be a Union of States. However, this does not make India a unitary state. The original decision of the Indian Federal System
had all the basic features of a federal set up.

Federal features:

A Federal system is characterized me by two sets of government with a clear cut division of powers. It must also have a written constitution and a Supreme Court to examine the validity of the federal laws. Measured by these yardsticks India though called a Union of States is in constitutional, theory of federation. It has a written constitution which is the supreme law of the land and which is also the source of authority both for the national and sub-national Governments. Its provisions are binding an all Governments-of the country.


Secondly, in its Seventh Schedule the constitution lays down in great detail in three lists like Union list, the state list and the concurrent list, the distribution of powers between the Union and the states.

Unitary features:

Despite these essential features of a federal set up India is not a classical federation. Nor did the constitution makers have any intention of providing for a tight mould of federation. This is evident from the dominant position which the founding fathers assigned to the centre in the original design of the Indian Federal System. (The paramount position of the centre is underscored by the constitutional division of powers. After distributing the Legislative Powers in three lists the residual subject that is those not covered by three lists are left with the union. By far more significant even in matters included in the concurrent list; the Union Govt. has the final say. The same is true about the state list Art 249 empowers the Parliament to make laws with respect to any matter in the state list, if the Rajya Sabha declares by a resolution that it is a necessary or expedient in the national interest.

Art-3 of the constitution authorizes the Indian Parliament to create new states to alter the boundaries of the existing states and even to abolish a state by ordinary legislature procedure without recourse to constitutional amendment. It is completely destructive of the essence of a federal state which is supposed to be composed of units with co-ordinate but limited powers. A plea has been-made by the Karnataka Govt. to modify this article so as to make the consent of a State Legislature a precondition for the introduction in Parliament of any Bill affecting that state.

The constitution envisages a sufficiently favorable position to the centre in matter of finance also. For good reason the more productive sources of revenue such as the income and the do-operation taxes and the duties of customs and excise are assigned to the Union Govt. Besides residuary powers of taxation are also vested in the Union Govt. A good many taxes are collected by the centre and distributed on the recommendation of the Finance, Commission among the states.

Emergency provision:

Under the emergency provision of the constitution the centre can arrogate to itself all or any legislative and executive function of the states. The President Rule thus tends to shift the balance in favor of the centre and converts the federal system into a unitary one.


Apart from the unequal representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha a number of other provisions also reveal the constitutional imbalance between the Union and the states. The amending process of the Indian constitution, the single judicial system, the All India services, the single constitutional frame the single and uniform citizenship, the single Election Commission and provision for reservation of centre in State Bills for President’s Assent.

Art 256 places a state government under obligation to exercise its powers as to ensure compliance with laws made Parliament and to that end the centre is empowered to issues necessary directives tout. In case of non-compliance by any state government of central directive the centre can resort to the extreme step of taking over the administration of such a state under Art. 356.

With the coming of profound changes in the economic and technical fields as also in the ideas of men about Government and institution the environment of federalism has also radically changed. Both the centre and the units-all over the world have been compelled by circumstances to move out of their areas and the states have come to acquiesce in the pre-dominance of the centre. In view of this also to cling to the traditionalists approach emphasizes the need to redefine federalism in the light of the universal trends and tendencies which are clearly discernible in the existing federation. He also pleads that if under a system of government both the central and state authority declare their states and powers from the constitution and not from the central law and can ordinarily enjoy substantial autonomy within their respective jurisdiction set by the constitution then there’s no valid ground to deny federal character to that system of Government. Examined in the light of these criteria which are quite close to the living realities, Indian constitution can be safely described as federation.

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