Federal System in India UPSC

Importance of Federal System

What Modi 2.0 means for India's federal system - The Federal

On the basis of the nature of interactions between the central government and regional governments, political scientists have categorised governments as unitary or federal. A unitary government, by definition, is one in which the central government wields all powers and the regional governments, if any exist, get their authority from the national government.

A federal government, on the other hand, is one in which the powers of the national government and regional governments are split by the Constitution, and both operate autonomously in their respective domains. The unitary form of government is used in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, China, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and other countries, whereas the federal model is used in the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries. The national government is known as the Federal government, Central government, or Union government under a federal model, and the regional government is known as the state government or provincial government.

Differences between the federal and unitary administrations.

The word ‘federation’ comes from the Latin word foedus, which means ‘agreement’ or ‘treaty.’ As a result, a federation is a new state (political system) founded by a treaty or agreement between multiple components. States (as in the United States), cantons (as in Switzerland), provinces (as in Canada), and republics (as in Russia) are some of the names given to federation subdivisions.


Comparing Features of Federal and Unitary Governments

Federal Government Unitary Government
1. Dual Government (that is, national government and regional government) 1. Single government, that is, the national government which may create regional governments
2. Written Constitution 2. Constitution may be written (France) or unwritten (Britain)
3. Division of powers between the national and regional government 3. No division of powers. All powers are vested in the national government
4. Supremacy of the Constitution 4. Constitution may be supreme (Japan) or may not be supreme (Britain)
5. Rigid Constitution 5. Constitution may be rigid (France) or flexible (Britain)
6. Independent judiciary 6. Judiciary may be independent or may not be independent
7. Bicameral legislature 7. Legislature may be bicameral (Britain) or unicameral (China)

A federation can be founded in two ways: through integration or breakup. In the first situation, a group of militarily weak or economically backward (independent) states band together to establish a large and powerful union, such as the United States. In the second situation, a large unitary state (for example, Canada) is changed into a federation by delegating authority to provinces in order to promote regional interests. The United States of America is the world’s first and oldest federation. Following the American Revolution (1775–83), it was founded in 1787. It is considered the model of federation and consists of 50 states (initially 13). The Canadian Federation, which consists of ten provinces (originally four), is also fairly old, having been established in 1867.

The Indian Constitution establishes a federal system of government for the country. The federal system was chosen by the framers for two key reasons: the country’s vastness and socio-cultural diversity. They realized that the federal system not only supports the country’s effective governance, but also balances national unity and regional autonomy.

The term ‘federation,’ on the other hand, appears nowhere in the Constitution. Instead, India is described as a ‘Union of States’ in Article 1 of the Constitution. The phrase ‘Union of States’ has been preferred to ‘Federation of States’ to indicate two things, according to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: I the Indian federation is not the result of an agreement among the states, as is the case with the American federation; and (ii) the states have no right to secede from the federation. Because it is indestructible, the federation is called a union.

The Indian federal system is founded on the ‘Canadian model,’ not the ‘American model,’ as is the case in the United States. The ‘Canadian model’ is fundamentally different from the ‘American model’ in that it builds a strong center. The Indian federation resembles the Canadian federation in I its formation (i.e., by disintegration); (ii) its preference for the word ‘Union’ (the Canadian federation is also known as a ‘Union’); and (iii) its centralizing tendency (i.e., vesting more powers in the centre vis-à-vis the states).

The following are the federal features of India’s Constitution:

  1. Dual Polity
    The Union is in the center of the Constitution, and the states are at the outside. Each is given autonomous powers to exercise in the fields that the Constitution has designated for them. Defense, foreign affairs, currency, communication, and other issues of national importance are dealt with by the Union government. State governments, on the other hand, are responsible for regional and local issues such as public order, agriculture, health, and local administration.
  2. Written Constitution
    The Constitution is not just a written document, but it is also the world’s longest. It had a Preamble, 395 Articles (split into 22 Parts), and 8 Schedules when it was first written. It now consists of a Preamble, around 470 Articles (split into 25 Parts), and 12 Schedules (as of 2019). It lays forth the structure, organization, authorities, and functions of the federal and state governments, as well as the parameters within which they must work. As a result, misunderstandings and arguments between the two are avoided.
  3. Division of Powers
    The Union List, State List, and Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution distribute powers between the federal government and the states. The Union List has 98 subjects (up from 97), the State List has 59 subjects (up from 66), and the Concurrent List has 52 subjects (up from 47). On the issues on the concurrent list, both the Centre and the states can pass legislation, but in the event of a disagreement, the Central law takes precedence. The Centre receives the residuary subjects (those not mentioned in any of the three lists).
  4. Supremacy of the Constitution
    The Constitution is the country’s top (or highest) law. Its provisions must be followed by both the Centre and the states. Otherwise, the Supreme Court or the high courts can declare them invalid using their judicial review powers. As a result, the government’s institutions (legislative, executive, and judicial) at both levels must function within the Constitution’s jurisdiction.
  5. Rigid Constitution
    The Constitution’s established separation of powers, as well as its supremacy, can only be maintained if the system of amending it is strict. As a result, the Constitution is rigid to the point where only the joint action of the federal and state governments can modify articles relating to the federal structure (i.e., federal-state relations and judicial organization). For such provisions to be amended, a special majority of Parliament is required, as well as the assent of half of the state legislatures.
  6. Independence Judiciary
    The Supreme Court is the head of an independent judiciary established by the Constitution for two purposes: one, to safeguard the supremacy of the Constitution through judicial review, and two, to settle disputes between the Centre and the states or between the states. To make the judiciary independent of the government, the Constitution includes provisions such as judge tenure security, fixed service conditions, and so on.
  7. Bicameralism
    A bicameral legislature, consisting of an Upper House (Rajya Sabha) and a Lower House (Lok Sabha), is established under the Constitution. The Rajya Sabha represents the Indian Federation’s states, whereas the Lok Sabha represents India’s people as a whole. The Rajya Sabha (despite being a weaker house) is essential to maintain the federal balance by safeguarding state interests from undue interference by the Centre.

The Constitution’s Unitary Characteristics

Apart from the federal features mentioned above, the Indian Constitution also has the following unitary or non-federal features:

  1. Strong Centre
    From a federal standpoint, the division of powers favors the Centre and is very inequitable. To begin with, the Union List has a larger number of subjects than the State List. Second, the Union List has been expanded to include the more relevant subjects. Third, the Concurrent List is under the control of the Centre. Finally, residuary powers have been delegated to the Centre, whereas they are delegated to the states in the United States. As a result of the Constitution, the Centre has become extremely powerful.
  2. States Not Indestructible
    India’s states, unlike those in other federations, have no right to territorial integrity. Any state’s area, boundaries, or name can be changed unilaterally by the Parliament. Furthermore, it just requires a simple majority, not a supermajority. As a result, the Indian Federation is referred to as “an indestructible Union of destructible states.” On the other hand, the American Federation is described as “an indestructible Union of indestructible states.”
  3.  Single Constitution
    In a federation, the states usually have the authority to write their own constitutions apart from the one of the federal government. States in India, on the other hand, have no such authority. The Constitution of India enshrines not only the national but also the state constitutions. This single-frame must be followed by both the federal government and the states. Jammu & Kashmir was the only exception in this sense, as it had its own (state) constitution.
  4. Flexibility of the Constitution
    The process of amending the constitution is less strict than in other federations. The majority of the Constitution can be changed unilaterally by Parliament, using either a simple majority or a special majority. Furthermore, only the Centre has the authority to propose a constitutional modification. States in the United States can also propose constitutional amendments.
  5. No Equality of State Representation
    On the basis of population, states are represented in the Rajya Sabha. As a result, the membership ranges from one to thirty-one. The principle of equal representation of states in the Upper House, on the other hand, is completely recognized in the United States. As a result, the United States Senate is made up of 100 members, two from each state. This principle is thought to protect smaller states.
  6. Emergency Provisions
    The Constitution defines three sorts of national, state, and financial emergencies. During a national emergency, the federal government becomes all-powerful, and the states are completely under the control of the federal government. Without a formal revision to the Constitution, it transforms the federal structure into a unitary one. No other federation has undergone such a metamorphosis.
  7.  Single Citizenship
    Despite having a dual polity, India’s Constitution, like Canada’s, has a single citizenship system. There is no separate state citizenship, simply Indian citizenship. All citizens, regardless of where they were born or where they live, have the same rights across the country. Other federal states, such as the United States, Switzerland, and Australia, have dual citizenship, i.e. national and state citizenship.
  8. Integrated Judiciary
    The Indian Constitution established an integrated judicial structure, with the Supreme Court at the top and state high courts at the bottom. Both the federal and state laws are enforced by one unified judicial system. In the United States, on the other hand, there is a dual court system, with the federal judiciary enforcing federal laws and the state judiciary enforcing state laws.
  1. All-India Services
    The federal government and state governments in the United States provide separate public services. In India, the central government and the states each have their own public services. However, there are some all-India services (IAS, IPS, and IFS) that are shared by the Centre and the states. The Centre, which also has ultimate control over them, recruits and trains the members of these services. As a result, these services are in violation of the Constitution’s federalism concept.
  2. Integrated Audit Machinery
    The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India audits both the central government’s and state government’s accounts. However, the president appoints and removes him without consulting the states. As a result, this office limits the governments’ budgetary sovereignty. The Comptroller-General of the United States, on the other hand, has no authority over governmental accounting.
  3. Parliamentary Authority Over State List
    The states do not have complete control, even in the narrow field of jurisdiction allocated to them. If the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution in the national interest, the Parliament can legislate on any issue on the State List. This means that Parliament’s legislative authority can be expanded without altering the Constitution. This can be done even if there isn’t any form of emergency.
  4. Appointment of Governor
    The president appoints the governor, who is the state’s chief executive. He is in office when the President is in office. He also works for the Centre as an agent. The Centre exercises power over the states through him. The American Constitution, on the other hand, established an elected head of state. India adopted the Canadian system in this regard.
  5. Integrated Election Machinery
    Not only does the Election Commission hold elections for the Central assembly, but it also holds elections for state legislatures. However, the President appoints this committee, and the states have no say in the matter. The situation is the same when it comes to the removal of its members. The United States, on the other hand, has separate machinery for conducting federal and state elections.
  6. Veto Over State Bills
    The governor has the authority to hold certain sorts of laws passed by the state legislature for presidential consideration. The President has the authority to refuse to sign such bills not only in the first instance, but also in the second. As a result, the President has absolute (rather than suspensive) veto power over state legislation. However, in the United States and Australia, states are independent within respective fields, and no such reservation exists.

The Federal System Is Being Critically Examined

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the Indian Constitution deviates from classic federal systems such as the United States, Switzerland, and Australia, incorporating a considerable number of unitary or non-federal aspects that favor the Centre. This has spurred constitutional experts to question the Indian Constitution’s federal nature. As a result, KC Wheare defined the Indian Constitution as “quasi-federal.” “Indian Union is a unitary state with subsidiary federal elements, not a federal state with subsidiary unitary features,” he said.

According to K Santhanam, these two elements have contributed to the Constitution’s developing unitary bias (centralization tendency). These are: I the Centre’s financial domination and the states’ reliance on Central grants; and (ii) the establishment of a powerful former planning body that oversaw the states’ development. “India has essentially functioned as a unitary state, notwithstanding the Union and the states’ attempts to operate nominally and legally as a federation,” he said.

Other political scientists, on the other hand, disagree with the preceding descriptions. According to Paul Appleby, the Indian system is “very federal.” It’s referred to as “bargaining federalism” by Morris Jones. It has been described as a “federation with a strong centralizing tendency” by Ivor Jennings. “The Indian Constitution is primarily federal,” he said, “with specific provisions for ensuring national unity and progress.” “India is a case sui generis (i.e., unique in character),” Alexandrowicz said. Indian federalism was dubbed “cooperative federalism” by Granville Austin. He claimed that while the Indian Constitution established a powerful central government, it did not weaken state governments or relegate them to the status of administrative entities charged with carrying out the Central government’s plans. “A new form of federation to fulfill India’s specific needs,” he said of the Indian federation.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar made the following statement in the Constituent Assembly about the character of the Indian Constitution: “The Constitution is a Federal Constitution insofar as it establishes a dual polity.” The Union is not a loose confederation of states, nor are the states its agents, receiving powers from it. The Constitution creates both the Union and the states, and they both receive their distinct powers from it.” “Yet the Constitution defies the strict mold of federalism,” he continued, “and could be both unitary and federal depending on the requirements of time and circumstance.” “A severe objection is made on the ground that there is too much centralisation and the states have been reduced to municipalities,” he said in response to accusations of over-centralisation in the Constitution. This viewpoint is clearly exaggerated, as well as based on a misunderstanding of what the Constitution actually accomplishes.

When it comes to ties between the Centre and the states, it’s important to remember the fundamental idea that underpins them. The core premise of federalism is that the legislative and executive powers are divided between the Centre and the states by the Constitution itself, not by any law passed by the Centre. The Constitution accomplishes this.

The states are not reliant on the federal government for legislative or executive power. In this regard, the states and the federal government are on an equal footing. It’s hard to understand how such a Constitution could be described as centrist. As a result, it is incorrect to assert that the states have been subordinated to the Centre. The Centre cannot change the partition’s boundary on its own. “Neither can the judicial system.”

The Supreme Court held in the Bommai case (1994) that the Constitution is federal and that federalism is its “basic element.” “The fact that the Centre has more power than the states under the system of our Constitution does not entail that the states are mere appendages of the Centre,” it said. The states are self-governing under the Constitution.

They are not the Centre’s satellites or agents. The states are supreme within the spheres given to them. The fact that their powers are overridden or invaded by the Centre during emergencies and in certain other circumstances does not negate the Constitution’s basic federal element. They are exceptions to the rule, not the rule. Let it be argued that the Indian Constitution’s federalism is not a question of administrative convenience, but of principle–the result of our own process and a recognition of the realities on the ground.”

In truth, India’s federalism is the result of a compromise between two opposing considerations:

(I) the normal division of powers, in which states have autonomy within their respective sectors. 

(ii) the requirement for national integrity and a strong Union authority in unusual circumstances.

The following tendencies in the Indian political system’s operation reflect the country’s federal spirit: I Territorial disputes between states, such as the dispute over Belgaum between Maharashtra and Karnataka; (ii) Disputes between states over river water sharing, such as the dispute over Cauvery Water between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; (iii) The emergence of regional parties and their rise to power in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and others; (iv) The creation of new states to meet regional aspirations.

Leave a Comment