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Federalism in India: Nature and Characteristics

  • Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states that India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.
  • According to Ambedkar, the term ‘Union of States’ in Article 1 implies two things:

      (1) Indian Federation is not the result of an agreement by the states

      (2) No state has right to secede from the Federation

  • But in reality the term ‘Union’ does not indicate any particular type of polity. It has been used in the Preamble USA Constitution (which is a Federal system), South American Constitution (which is Unitary), and Constitution of USSR (which even formally allows secession from the Federation).
  • In Indian, Constitution is the supreme organic law and Union and States derives authority from this Constitution.
  • In USA, double citizenship is permitted. That means, a person is a citizen of USA as well as the state he resides. But Indian Constitution allows only Single Citizenship.
  • Indian Constitution envisages a two-government system, with one in Centre and in states. It details the division of administrative and legislative powers and their corresponding jurisdiction over various matters.
  • Union Government can reorganize states and alter their boundaries.
  • The Upper House of Parliament, i.e., Rajya Sabha (Council of States) represents interests of States as the members of it are elected by the members of state legislative assemblies.
  • The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution contains three lists such as the Union List, State List, and Concurrent List. Union List consists of subjects on which Parliament has exclusive power to legislate. State List consists of subjects on which state has executive power to legislate. On subjects in the concurrent list, both the central and the state legislatures may legislate.
  • It is noteworthy that Union list has more number of subjects than other two lists and also contains most important and crucial powers.
  • Even on state subjects, the central legislature has power to legislate in national interest.
  • As per Article 249, if the Council of States (Rajya sabha) has declared by resolution supported by not less than two thirds of the members present and voting that it is necessary or expedient in national interest, Parliament can make laws with respect to any matter enumerated in the State List.
  • In the case of Concurrent lists, if there is any inconsistency between laws made by Parliament and State legislatures on subjects included in the Concurrent list, then Central law prevails (Art. 254)
  • The power to legislate on the subjects not mentioned in these three lists is called residuary power. In USA the residuary powers vest in the States, but in India, it is vested in Union.
  • Centre can assume all powers of States to itself in emergencies. Thus it can become a pure unitary state at certain times. In cases of national emergency under Art 352 and break down of Constitutional machinery under Art. 356, the state autonomy is reduced to nullity.
  • According to Article 256, State should comply with the law made by Parliament and in the case of willful defiance or negligence, Union can issue directions to states regarding this matter. In Article 257, Constitution goes one step ahead and makes some specific provisions, which give a clear supremacy to centre over states. This article calls upon every state to not to impede the executive power of the Union in the state. In the case of con-compliance, Union can issue directs to states.
  • If State Government failed to comply with the directions issued by Union under the provisions of the Constitution, then According to Article 365, the President can hold that Government cannot be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
  • According to Article 356, if the President is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, then he can dismiss the government and assume the powers of states to himself (impose President’s rule in the state).
  • It a nutshell, although Indian states enjoy autonomy envisages by the Constitution, it also set some limitations to this autonomy and it is subordinate to Union in many aspects. That means, India is neither purely federal and nor purely unitary. It is a unique combination of both.

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