Concept of Federalism, Federalism in India

Concept of federalism

There are three ways in which power can be divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country:

  • Federal
  • Unitary
  • Confederation Federalism: a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. In this system, the Central Government usually oversees the issues that are of importance for the entire country, whereas the government at the lower level looks after issues of local concern.

The purpose of this Division of Power between the two tiers of government is twofold:

  1. Preventing concentration of power in the hand of one tier of government
  2. Generating strength of the nation through the Union.

What exactly are the characteristics of federalism?

There should be two levels of governments, with each having its own independent sphere of administrative and legislative competence.

  • Each level of the government should have an independent tax base.
  • A Written Constitution from which respective governments derive power.
  • An independent judiciary to adjudicate if conflict arises between the two tiers of government.

How does the Central government excise this control?

The Central government has control over the states through different agencies and varied techniques:

  • Governor
  • Directions to the State Government
  • Delegation of Union functions
  • All-India services
  • Grants-in-aid
  • Inter-State Councils
  • Inter- State Commerce Commission
  • Immunity from mutual taxation

Federalism in India

While India is a federation, the nature of the India’s federalism is often discussed. Some have argued that it is a quasi-federal arrangement. Others consider it as having a unitary character, with many federal features.

Moreover, though India has a federal form of government, the world federalism/federation has not been used in the Indian Constitution (the Constitution does not expressly declare India as a federation).

Article 1 of the Constitution says that India is a Union of States. 

India’s position, thus, is significantly different from that of USA, where states bargained and a federation was created. The overriding concern at the time of drafting the Constitution was the “unity and integrity of India”.

This led to a number of factors that gave the Indian Constitution a decidedly unitary tilt, with several provisions in favour of the Union. Some of them have been mentioned below:

Unitary Features:

  • Residuary powers are with the Union Government
  • States can be created or diminished without their consent
  • Concept of single citizenship, unlike that of USA
  • All India Services officers head important positions in States
  • The role of Governor in States is very important and he is appointed by the Central Government
  • The system of audit is headed by the CAG, who is appointed by the Central Government
  • The judges of High Courts are appointed by the President

The framers of the Indian Constitution went in for a mix of strong Central government, with substantial autonomy to the States.

Inspite of the centrist bias of the Constitution largely instituted for preserving unity and integrity of the country, the Supreme Court had to concede in S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (AIR 1994 S.C. 1918) that federalism, like secularism, is a basic feature of the Constitution.

By B2B

Revisiting the Basics

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