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Federalism in India: Balancing Power Between the centre and the state

Introduction

The Indian constitution establishes the structure of the Indian government, including the relationship between the federal government and state governments. Part XI of the Indian constitution specifies the distribution of legislative, administrative, and executive powers between the union government and the States of India. The legislative powers are categorized under a Union List, a State List, and a Concurrent List, representing the powers conferred upon the Union government, those conferred upon the State governments, and powers shared among them.

This federalism is symmetrical in that the devolved powers of the constituent units are envisioned to be the same. Historically, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was accorded a status different from other states owing to an explicitly temporary provision of the Indian Constitution, namely Article 370 (which was revoked by the Parliament in 2019). Union territories are of a unitary type, directly governed by the Union government. Article 1(1) of the constitution stipulates two-tier governance with an additional local elected government. Delhi and Puducherry were accorded legislatures under Article 239AA and 239A, respectively. establishes the structure of the Indian government, including the relationship between the federal government and state governments. Part XI of the Indian constitution specifies the distribution of legislative, administrative, and executive powers between the union government and the state of India. The legislative powers are categorized under a Union List, a State List, and a Concurrent List, representing, respectively, the powers conferred upon the Union government, those conferred upon the State governments, and powers shared among them.

This federalism is symmetrical in that the devolved powers of the constituent units are envisioned to be the same. Historically, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was accorded a status different from other States owing to an explicitly temporary provision of the Indian Constitution namely Article 370 (which was revoked in parliament in 2019 ). Union territories are unitary type, directly governed by the Union government. Article 1 (1) of the constitution stipulates two tier-governance with an additional local elected government. Delhi and Puducherry were accorded legislatures under Article 239AA and 239A, respectively.

Features

The governmental structure of many countries consists of multiple tiers, such as federal, state, and local levels, each with its own distinct set of powers and responsibilities. These tiers have authority over various aspects such as legislation, taxation, and administration, even though they govern the same group of citizens. The Constitution outlines and guarantees the specific powers and functions of each tier of government, ensuring a clear delineation of authority. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has been granted the authority to arbitrate disputes between state governments, serving as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution in matters of jurisdictional conflicts.

Indian constitution on federalism

The Indian Constitution establishes a federal system of government, which is characterized by the division of powers between the central government and the states. Here are some key aspects of federalism in the Indian Constitution:

1. Division of Powers: The Constitution divides legislative, executive, and financial powers between the Centre and the States through three lists in the Seventh Schedule:
– Union List: Contains subjects on which only the central government can legislate (e.g., defence, foreign affairs, atomic energy).
– State List: Contains subjects on which only state governments can legislate (e.g., police, public health, agriculture).
– Concurrent List: Contains subjects on which both the Centre and the States can legislate (e.g., education, marriage and divorce, bankruptcy).

2. Supremacy of the Constitution: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law passed by the states must conform to the Constitution. In case of conflict between central and state laws on a subject in the Concurrent List, the central law prevails.

3. Rigid Constitution: The Constitution of India is a written and rigid constitution. Certain provisions can only be amended with the approval of both the Parliament and at least half of the state legislatures.

4. Bicameral Legislature: The Indian Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States). The Rajya Sabha represents the states of India, ensuring their participation in the legislative process at the national level.

5. Independent Judiciary: The judiciary in India is independent and has the power to resolve disputes between the Centre and the states. The Supreme Court acts as the guardian of the Constitution and ensures the distribution of powers is maintained as per the constitutional mandate.

6. Inter-State Council: Article 263 provides for the establishment of an Inter-State Council to facilitate coordination between states and between the Centre and states.

7. Emergency Provisions: The Constitution provides the Centre with the power to intervene in state affairs during emergencies. There are three types of emergencies:
– National Emergency (Article 352): Can be declared on grounds of war, external aggression, or armed rebellion.
– State Emergency (President’s Rule under Article 356): This can be imposed if the President, on receipt of a report from the Governor of a state or otherwise, is satisfied that the governance in a state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
– Financial Emergency (Article 360): Can be declared if the financial stability or credit of India or any part thereof is threatened.

8. Financial Relations: The Constitution details the financial relationship between the Centre and the states. It provides for the distribution of taxes and grants-in-aid to the states. The Finance Commission is constituted every five years to recommend the distribution of revenues between the Centre and the states.

The Indian federal system is unique because, while it incorporates features of a federal polity, it also contains unitary features that allow the central government to assert its authority under certain conditions, thereby making it a quasi-federal system.

Cases

Several landmark cases in India have shaped and defined the understanding of federalism within the constitutional framework. Here are a few notable cases:

1. State of West Bengal v. Union of India (1963):

– Facts: The central government enacted a law to acquire land and coal-bearing areas in West Bengal. The state challenged this law, arguing that land acquisition falls under the State List and thus outside the Parliament’s purview.
– Decision: The Supreme Court held that the central government had the power to acquire property for a purpose related to a matter enumerated in the Union List. The court emphasized the supremacy of the central government in certain legislative matters.
– Significance: This case reinforced the dominance of the central government in certain areas, highlighting the quasi-federal nature of the Indian Constitution.

2. Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973):

– Facts: The case challenged the validity of certain amendments to the Constitution that affected property rights and the jurisdiction of the courts.
– Decision: The Supreme Court established the “basic structure” doctrine, stating that certain fundamental features of the Constitution cannot be altered by amendments. Federalism was recognized as part of the basic structure.
– Significance: This case ensured that the core principles of federalism cannot be abrogated or destroyed by constitutional amendments.

3. S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994):

– Facts: The case arose out of the dismissal of several state governments by the central government on the grounds of the breakdown of constitutional machinery (Article 356).
– Decision: The Supreme Court laid down strict guidelines for the imposition of the President’s Rule in states. It ruled that the validity of such proclamations is subject to judicial review.
– Significance: This case significantly curtailed the misuse of Article 356 and strengthened the federal structure by ensuring greater autonomy for state governments.

4. State of Karnataka v. Union of India (1977):

– Facts: Karnataka challenged the central government’s power to appoint commissions of inquiry into matters listed in the State List without state consent.
– Decision: The Supreme Court held that the central government could appoint such commissions under certain circumstances.
– Significance: This case highlighted the complex interplay of powers between the Centre and states, reinforcing the federal balance.

5. I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (2007):

– Facts: The case dealt with the scope of judicial review over laws placed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, which was intended to immunize them from judicial scrutiny.
– Decision: The Supreme Court ruled that even laws placed in the Ninth Schedule are subject to judicial review if they violate the basic structure of the Constitution, including federalism.
– Significance: This case reaffirmed that the principle of federalism is integral to the Constitution’s basic structure and thus protected from being undermined by legislative actions.

These cases collectively illustrate the evolution and reinforcement of federal principles in India, ensuring a balance of power between the Centre and the states while maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution.

Conclusion

The Indian Constitution establishes a unique federal system characterized by a balance of power between the central and state governments. This framework is enshrined in the division of legislative, executive, and financial powers, the role of an independent judiciary, and specific provisions like the Inter-State Council and emergency mechanisms. Landmark cases such as State of West Bengal v. Union of India, Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, State of Karnataka v. Union of India, and I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu have played crucial roles in interpreting and reinforcing the federal structure.

These cases demonstrate the dynamic nature of Indian federalism, ensuring that while the central government retains significant authority, the autonomy and interests of the states are safeguarded. The judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, has been pivotal in maintaining the balance of power and protecting the core principles of federalism. Through these judicial pronouncements, the federal system in India continues to evolve, adapting to new challenges while preserving the essence of the Constitution.

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Shreya Sharma
Shreya Sharma
As a passionate legal student , I am thrilled to embark on a promising internship in the realm of law articles. Through my writing, I am determined to unravel the intricate complexities of the legal world and make a meaningful impact. This is my opportunity to combine theory and practice, and I am ready to take on the challenge with enthusiasm and dedication.
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