Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

Studying India’s Federal Structure

What is Federalism?

  • Dynamic theory of nation and state building
  • Institutionalised political co-operation and collective co-existence
  • Grand design of ‘living together’
  • Self-rule plus shared rule – Daniel Elazar
  • Unity of polity and plurality of society – Rasheeduddin Khan

3 essential components of Federal Structure

  1. Formation of states and territorialisation of federal local administration to promote closer contact between people and govt. 
    1. This means creation of institutions of self rule
    2. States at macro level and local self-governance at micro level
  1. Distribution of federal powers on a non-centralised basis
    1. Division of federal powers and functions on a relatively autonomous basis
    2. Each unit has sufficient legislative competence, executive authority and financial resources
    3. To perform its function in the allotted domain efficiently and effectively.
  1. Creation of institutions of shared rule
    1. Collective governance on matters of trans local importance and mutual concern.
    2. Shared rule institutions may take variety of institutional shapes like zonal council, ministerial council, inter-state council, and independent constitutional authorities like boards, commissions, planning and other regulatory bodies.

Essence of Indian federalism

  • Important roles with centre
    • Nation building and nation preserving
    • Maintaining and protecting national unity and integrity
    • Maintaining constitutional political order throughout union of India
  • States assigned only local subjects

Salient features of Indian federalism


  • This allows Indian federalism to assume Unitarian features or centre rule over whole country
  • Situation – During internal or external threat to sovereignty and maintenance of constitutional – political order in the states
  • Union govt has added responsibility of securing balanced economic growth and social change across the regions and social segments


  • Valid principle of nation building and state formation

Meaning of Union

  • Implies indestructibleness of union and unity.
  • No unit possesses right to secede
  • Only centre can form states by division, merger or altering existing boundaries
  • Union also possess right to admit any new territory in union of India
  • It is not compacting federalism between 2 pre-existing sovereign entities
  • The union has come out in existence only through the unified will of the people of India, nourished during the National movement.
  • That’s why (Rajya Sabha), expected to represent the interests of the units of federation, does not have symmetrical representation.
  • A large state like UP has 31 seats whereas smaller states like Manipur and goa have only 1 seat

Working of Indian federalism

  • During 1st 4 decades federalism in India exhibited a strong centralising tendency
  • Union govt. Accumulated powers beyond its constitutional competence
  • Constitution permits circumstantial concentration of federal powers in union. But not in normal times
  • Centre legislating upon subsidiary subjects
  • Encroached upon subjects originally assigned to states
  • Acts passed under entries 52 (Industries) and 54 (Regulation of mines and mineral development) under union list
  • Under entry 52 – parliament passed industries development and regulation act, 1951
  • So union now controls large number of industries mentioned in schedule 1 of act
  • By way of omission, addition and transfer, the union government through different amendment acts has brought changes in the distribution of competences mentioned under seventh schedule of the constitution, between centre and states.
  • State list now has only 61 subjects compared to 66 originally.
  • Planning commission – centralised planning. This is an e.g. of how union has extended into areas like agriculture, fisheries, soil, water conservation, minor irrigation, area development, rural construction, housing etc.
  • Article 356 has been used, abused, misused, and overused to settle political scores.
  • Reservation of state bills by governor
  • Financial allocation of resources between union and states
  • Growing politicisation and subjectivity of institution of governor
  • Deployment of Para-military forces
  • In the Recent past [2014] – The efforts of the Union government to divide Andhra Pradesh irrespective of the State legislature’s views, pose a grave danger to federalism and unity.
  • This is the first time in India that a state is sought to be divided without the consent of the State legislature, and without a negotiated settlement among stakeholders and regions, and in the face of public opposition.

Sarkaria Commission recommendations

  • Set up in June 1983
  • To examine relationship and balance of power between states and union govt.
  • Headed by justice Rajinder Singh Sarkaria
  • Made 230 recommendations
  • 108 implemented, 35 rejected and 87 are still in implementation stage
  • Union govt. Constituted interstate council – 1990

Council decisions

  • Residuary list subjects to be transferred to concurrent list
  • Consultation with states for concurrent list legislations
  • Consultation in appointment and selection of governor
  • Person should not have any political link
  • Person should not return to active politics after tenure
  • Time bound clearance of state bills
  • Article 356 amendment

Federal democracy has decentralized to village self-governance

  • Perceived as instrument of people’s empowerment
  • States allowed to negotiate for FDI

Present Issues due to federal structure

  • Political issues relating to a state have begun impinging on India’s foreign and security policies.


  • SL Tamil issue,
  • Water sharing with Bangladesh [Teesta River Issue]
  • Left parties against nuclear deal in UPA –I
  • NCTC Issue
  • GST Issue Revenue Loss issue
  • Issue with the Post of Governor, Non-partisan nature often result in constitutional Crisis
  • With union govt. taking the form of coalitions, they have become vulnerable to pressure.
    • This sometime results in pure blackmail
  • 2013 – Gujarat election – Modi became a surprise entrant to this club by raising sir creek issue

Some other recent cases

  • Italian marines’ case and Kerala govt.
  • J&K complains about river water sharing due to Indus water treaty with Pak
  • Bihar, Assam have issues of water sharing with Nepal, china
  • Only US is the country where interest of federal constituents are taken into consideration into account in formulation of policies
  • It is difficult to graft US like structure.
  • But time has come when Mizoram, Nagaland have a say in Myanmar Policy


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