Features of Indian Federalism and Defects of Federal Structure of our Democracy

Features of Indian Federalism and Defects of Federal Structure of our Democracy.

Parliamentary disruption is a common occurrence in the Indian political system. In the last few days, in the midst of such disruptions, a large number of bills (such as the three Agricultural Law Bills) have been passed in the Parliament without any deliberation, which have the potential to affect the federal structure of the country.

It has drawn attention to a number of issues with regard to the structural flaws in India’s federal democracy that require serious consideration.

Features of Indian Federalism and Defects of Federal Structure of ourDemocracy

Indian Federalism

In short, federalism is a bicameral government system, consisting of a center and several states.

Unique Features of Indian Federalism:

Single Constitution: Only one constitution has been adopted in India. This applies to both the Union and the States as a whole; Whereas in a ‘true federation’, there are separate constitutions for the union and the states.

Division of Power: In a real federation, the power is divided equally between two governments.

But in India, the central government has been given more powers than the state governments and has been made more powerful (the union list in Schedule 7 has more and more important subjects than the state list).

The Constitution is not very rigid: The Constitution of India can be amended by the Indian Parliament as per the need of the time.

Amendment of the Constitution in many cases does not even require the approval of the State Legislatures by the Parliament (Article 3 permits the change of territories, boundaries or names of existing States).

However, constitutional amendments and laws affecting the functions and rights of the states require the consent of half the states (Article 368 of the Constitution).

Integrated Judiciary: Integrated judicial system has been established in India. The High Courts, which are the top courts of a state, are hierarchically placed under the Supreme Court of India.

Single citizenship: Separate citizenship has not been provided for the Union and the states in India (Provision of single citizenship under Part II of the Constitution).

All Indian citizens are citizens of the country. This is in contrast to the United States, which has a dual citizenship: one, federal and the other, state citizenship.

Nature of Indian Constitution

Federalist theorist K.C. Where’ (K.C. Where) considered the Indian Constitution to be quasi-federal in its nature.

‘S.R. In the Bommai v. Union of India case (1994), a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court considered federalism to be a part of the ‘Basic Structure of the Constitution.

In the case ‘Sat Pal Vs State of Punjab and Others (1969), the Supreme Court considered the Indian Constitution to be more of a quasi-federal than a federal or unitary one.


Advantages of the semi-federal system

National integration: The Constituent Assembly of India decided not to form a real federation in view of the then uncertain scenarios.

Along with the demand for Pakistan on the basis of religion, there were also some demands for the creation of separate nation-states in other Indian states. As a result, various provisions like Article 356 were added to the Constitution. A federal structure with unitary characteristics provided an opportunity to deal with such scenarios.

Cooperation and coordination: A quasi-federal structure gives the center the opportunity to coordinate national-level programs such as the ‘Pulse Polio Programme’.

Recently, during covid-19, the allocation of oxygen to different states according to their requirement was possible only due to a central authority.

Single Market Economy: The quasi-federal structure allows India to develop as a ‘single market for the world. The recently introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime has allowed India to emerge as a single market.

Also, there is a single income tax regime across India and the states do not have the power to impose a separate income tax. Thus, Indian citizens are protected from double taxation.

Procedural Ease: The Indian parliamentary system with its bicameral legislature offers more procedural ease than the process of passing laws in a real union like the United States of America.

The system of the bicameral legislature also ensures proper representation of the states in the upper house.

Resolution of inter-state disputes: India’s quasi-federal structure gives the Center an opportunity to play its role as an arbitrator in inter-state disputes. For example border disputes and river water disputes.

Article 262 of the Constitution: Adjudication of disputes relating to the waters of inter-state rivers or river basins


Challenges of the Semi-Federal System

Abuse of power by the Centre: The federal provisions of the constitution can be amended only with the consent of the states. A provision has been made for separate lists for the Center and the states in Schedule-7 of the Constitution.

However, the Center has been regularly violating this provision by making laws on state subjects. Three recent agricultural laws also confirm this.

Office of the Governor: According to Article 154 of the Constitution of India, all the executive powers of the state are vested in the Governor.

The meaning of this provision is that the Governor has the power to appoint the Chief Minister of the State as well as the Advocate General of the State and the State Election Commissioners. The powers of the governor are repeatedly abused by the ruling political party at the center in favor of its state unit or a regional party as a coalition partner.

The supreme executive power of the governor is that he can recommend the imposition of a constitutional emergency in a state.

Regionalism: Regionalism establishes itself through demands for autonomy on the basis of language, culture, etc.

Thus, the nation faces the challenge of internal security in the form of extremism, which causes a blow to the basic notion of the Indian Union.

way ahead

Reforms at the institutional and political level can deepen the roots of federalism in India.

The controversial role of the Governor in undermining the authority of the states for the interests of the Center should also be reviewed.

In order to develop political harmony between the Center and the States on controversial policy issues, proper use of the institutional mechanism of the Inter-State Council should be ensured.

There should be a legal guarantee for the gradual expansion of the fiscal capacity of the states without reducing the share of the Centre.


The Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar, was taking forward the appropriate view that “Our Constitution will be both unitary and federal according to the needs of the times and circumstances.”

In line with his view, it would be more appropriate to see Indian federalism as a distinct type of federalism or unique federalism in itself (Federalism sui generis).

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