Federal System of India : HPSC HCS Exam
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Federal System of India : HPSC HCS Exam

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Federal System of India : HPSC HCS Exam

Federalism is a system of government in which powers have been divided between the center and its constituent parts such as states or provinces. It is an institutional mechanism to accommodate two sets of politics, one at the center or national level and the second at the regional or provincial level.

Federal System of India : HPSC HCS Exam

  • The government is classified into unitary and federal on the basis of the nature of relations between the national government and the regional government.
  • A unitary government is the one in which all the powers are vested in the national government and if the regional governments exist, they derive their authority from the national government. Ex. Britain, France, Japan, China, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain, etc.
  • A federal government is one in which powers are divided between the national government and the regional governments by the Constitution itself and both operate in their respective jurisdictions independently. Ex. US, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, etc.
  • In a federal model, the national government is known as the Federal government or the Central Government or the Union government, and the regional government is known as the state government or the provincial government.
  • Federation is derived from the Latin word fetus which means ‘treaty’ or ‘agreement’.
  • A federation is a new state (political system) that is formed through a treaty or an agreement between the various units. 
  • The units of the federation are known by various names like states (as in US) or cantons (as in Switzerland) or provinces (as in Canada) or republics (as in Russia).
  • A federation can be formed in 2 ways by way of integration or by way of disintegration.
  • In the first case, a number of military weak or economically backward states (independent) come together to form a big and strong union as in the US (oldest federation). It was formed in 1787 following the American Revolution (1775-83). It comprises 50 states (originally 13 states).  

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The Indian federal system is based on the Canadian model (have a strong center). It resembles the Canadian federation-

    • In its formation (i.e., by way of disintegration).
    • In its preference to the term ‘Union’.
    • In its centralizing tendency (vesting more powers in the center).

Division of Powers-

    • The Constitution divides the powers between the Centre and the states in terms of Union List, State List, and Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule.
    • The Union List consists of 100 subjects (originally 97), the State List 61 subjects (originally 66), and the Concurrent List 52 subjects (originally 47).
    • The ‘residuary’ subjects (not given in any of the three lists) are given to the Centre. 

Supremacy of the Constitution-

    • The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
    • The laws enacted by the Centre and the states in order to be valid should conform to the provisions of the Constitution.

Rigid Constitution-

    • The provisions which are concerned with the federal structure (center-state relations and judicial organizations) can be amended only by a special majority of the Parliament and approval of half of the state legislatures. 

Independent Judiciary-

    • The Constitution establishes an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court to protect the supremacy of the Constitution by exercising the power of judicial review and to settle disputes between the Centre and the states or between the states.


    • The Constitution provides for a bicameral legislature consisting of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha.

Strong Centre-

    • The division of powers is in favor of the center.
    • The Union List contains more subjects than the State List.
    • The more important subjects have been included in the Union List.
    • The Centre has overriding authority over the Concurrent List.
    • The residuary powers are also in the hands of the center.

States not indestructible-

    • The Parliament can by unilateral action change the area, boundaries, or name of any state. It requires only a simple majority.
    • The Indian Federation is “an indestructible Union of destructible states”.
    • The American Federation is “an indestructible Union of indestructible states”.

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Single Constitution-

    • Usually, in a federation, the states have the right to frame their own Constitution separate from that of the Centre.
    • But India has a single Constitution except in the case of Jammu and Kashmir.

The flexibility of the Constitution-

      • A large part of the Constitution can be amended by the unilateral action of the Parliament, either by a simple majority or by a special majority.
      • The power to initiate an amendment to the Constitution lies only with the center.

No equality in state representation-

    • The states are given representation in the Rajya Sabha on the basis of population.

Emergency Provisions-

    • During an emergency, the Centre becomes more powerful and the states go into total control of the center, converting the federal structure into a unitary one.

Single Citizenship-

    • There is only Indian citizenship and no separate state citizenship.
    • Federal states like the US, Australia, Switzerland have dual citizenship (national citizenship as well as state citizenship).

Integrated Judiciary-

    • The single system of Judiciary with the Supreme Court at the top and the high courts below it enforces both the Central laws as well as the state laws.
    • In the US, there is a double system of courts whereby the federal laws are enforced by the federal judiciary and the state laws by the state judiciary.

All-India Services-

    • In the US, the Federal government and the state governments have their separate public services. In India also, the Centre and the states have their separate public services.
    • India also has all-India services (IAS, IPS, and IFS) which are common to both the center and the states. The members of these services are recruited and trained by the Centre which possesses ultimate control over them.

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Integrated Audit Machinery-

    • The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India audit the accounts of not only the Central government but also those of the states. But his appointment and removal are done by the President without consulting the states. Hence, this officer restricts the financial autonomy of the states.
    • The American Comptroller General has no role with respect to the accounts of the states.

Parliament’s authority over State List-

    • The Parliament has the power to legislate on any subject of the State List if Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to that effect in the national interest.

Appointment of Governor-

    • The Governor who is the head of the state is appointed by the President and he holds his office during the pleasure of the President. 
    • He acts as an agent of the Centre.
    • The American constitution provided for an elected head in the states.

Integrated Election Machinery-

    • The Election Commission conducts elections to the Central and the State legislatures. But this body is constituted by the President in which states have no say.
    • The US has separate machinery for the conduct of elections at the federal and state levels.

Veto over State Bills-

    • The Governor has the power to reserve certain types of bills passed by the state legislature for the consideration of the President. 
    • The President enjoys absolute veto over state bills.
    • In the US and Australia, the states are autonomous within their fields and there is no provision for any such reservation. 
  • K C Wheare described the Constitution of India as “quasi-federal”. He remarked that “Indian Union is a unitary state with subsidiary federal features rather than a federal state with subsidiary unitary features”.
  • According to K Santhanam, the dominance of the Centre in the financial sphere and the dependence of the states upon the Central grants and the emergence of a powerful planning commission has increased the unitary bias of the Constitution.
  • Paul Appleby characterizes the Indian system as “extremely federal”.
  • Morris Jones termed it as a “bargaining federalism”.
  • Ivor Jennings has described it as a “federation with a strong centralizing tendency”.
  • Granville Austin called Indian federalism as a “cooperative federalism”. He said that though the Constitution of India has created a strong central government, it has not made the state government weak.
  • Dr. B R Ambedkar said that the Constitution is a Federal Constitution as it establishes a dual polity and both the Union and the states are created by the Constitution and derive their respective authority from the Constitution. Also the Constitution can be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of the time. The states are in no way dependent upon the center for their legislative and executive authority. The legislative and executive authority is given to center and the states by the Constitution itself.

The federalism in India represents a compromise between the following two conflicting considerations-

  • Normal division of powers under which states enjoy autonomy within their own spheres; and
  • Need for national integrity and a strong Union government under exceptional circumstances.

Following trends in the working of the Indian political system reflects its federal spirit-

  • Territorial disputes between states. Ex. Between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belgaum.
  • Disputes between states over sharing of river water. Ex. Between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery water. 
  • The emergence of regional parties and they're coming to power in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc.
  • The creation of new states to fulfill the regional aspirations.
  • The demand of the states for more financial grants from the Centre to meet their development needs.
  • Assertion of autonomy by the states and their resistance to the interference from the Centre.
  • Supreme Court’s imposition of several procedural limitations on the use of Art. 356 (President’s Rule in the States) by the Centre.
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