Notes of Ch 7 Federalism| Class 11th Political Science

What is Federalism?


Federalism as a principle of government has evolved differently in different situations.

• Essentially, federalism is an institutional mechanism to accomm sets of polities-one at the regional level and the other at the national level. Each government is autonomous in its own sphere. In some federal countries, there is even a system of dual citizenship. India has only a single citizenship.

• The people likewise, have two sets of identities and loyalties--they belong to the region as well as the nation, for example we are Gujarat is or Jharkhand is as well as Indians. Each level of the polity has distinct powers and responsibilities and has a separate system of government.

• The details of this dual system of government are generally spelt out in a written constitution, which is considered to be supreme and which is also the source of the power of both sets of government. Certain subjects, which concern the nation as a whole, for example, defence or currency, are the responsibility of the union or central government. Regional or local matters are the responsibility of the regional or State government.

• To prevent conflicts between the centre and the State, there is an independent judiciary to settle disputes. The judiciary has the powers to resolve disputes between the central government and the States on legal matters about the division of power.

Federalism in the Indian Constitution

That the Constitution of India does not even mention the word federation 

Article 1

• India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

• The States and the territories thereof shall be as specified in the First Schedule.

Division of Powers

• There are two sets of government created by the Indian Constitution:
→ One for the entire nation called the union government (central government)
→ One for each unit or State called the State government.

• Both of these have a constitutional status and clearly identified area of activity.

• If there is any dispute about which powers come under the control of the union and which under the States, this can be resolved by the Judiciary on the basis of the constitutional provisions.

• The Constitution clearly demarcates subjects, which are under the exclusive domain of the Union and those under the States.

• One of the important aspects of this division of powers is that economic and financial powers are centralised in the hands of the central government by the Constitution.

• The States have immense responsibilities but very meager revenue sources.


The Union List

• Consists of 100 subjects (originally 97), the State List 61 subjects (originally 66) and the Concurrent List 52 subjects (originally 47).

• Both the Centre and the states can make laws on the subjects of the concurrent list, but in case
of a conflict, the Central law prevails. The residuary subjects (ie, which are not mentioned in any of the three lists) are given to the Centre.

Federalism with a Strong Central Government

• It is generally accepted that the Indian Constitution has created a strong central government.

• India is a country of continental dimensions with immense diversities and social problems.

• The framers of the Constitution believed that we required a federal constitution that would accommodate diversities.

• Besides the concern for unity, the makers of the Constitution also believed that the socio-economic problems of the country needed to be handled by a strong central government in cooperation with the States.

• Poverty, illiteracy and inequalities of wealth were some of the problems that required planning and coordination.

• Thus, the concerns for unity and development prompted the makers of the Constitution to create a strong central government.

The important provisions that create a strong central government:

• The very existence of a State including its territorial integrity is in the hands of Parliament. The parliament is empowered to 'form a near State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States....' It can also alter the boundary of any State or even its name.

• The Constitution provides for some safeguards by way of securing the view of the concerned State legislature. The Constitution has certain very powerful emergency provisions, which can turn our federal polity into a highly centralised system once emergency is declared. During an emergency, power becomes lawfully centralised. Parliament assumes the power to make laws on subjects within the jurisdiction of the States.

• Even during normal circumstances, the central government has very effective financial powers and responsibilities. In the first place, items generating revenue are under the control of the central government. Thus, the central government has many revenue sources and the States are mostly dependent on the grants and financial assistance from the centre. Secondly, India adopted planning as the instrument of rapid economic progress and development after independence. Planning led to considerable centralisation of economic decision making. Planning commission appointed by the union government is the coordinating machinery that controls and supervises the resources management of the States. Besides, the Union government uses its discretion to give grants and loans to States. This distribution of economic resources is considered lopsided and has led to charges of discrimination against States ruled by an opposition party.

• The Governor has certain powers to recommend dismissal of the State government and the dissolution of the Assembly. Besides, even in normal circumstances, the Governor has the power to reserve a bill passed by the State legislature, for the assent of the President. This gives the central government an opportunity to delay the State legislation and also to examine such bills and veto them completely.

• There may be occasions when the situation may demand that the central government needs to legislate on matters from the State list. This is possible if the move is ratified by the Rajya Sabha. The Constitution clearly states that executive powers of the centre are superior to the executive powers of the States.
→ Furthermore, the central government may choose to give instructions to the State government.

• Articles 33 and 34 authorise the Parliament to protect persons in the service of the union or a state in respect of any action taken by them during martial law to maintain or restore order. This provisions further strengthens the powers of the union government. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been made on the basis of these provisions. This Act has created tensions between the people and the armed forces on some occasions.

Centre State Relations

• In the 1950s and early 1960s the foundation of our federalism was laid under Jawaharlal Nehru.

• It was also a period of Congress dominance over the centre as well as the States.

• Except on the issue of formation of new States, the relations between the centre and the States remained quite normal during this period.

• In the middle of the 1960s Congress dominance declined somewhat and in a large number of States
opposition parties came to power.

• It resulted in demands for greater powers and greater autonomy to the States. In fact, these demands were a direct fallout of the fact that different parties were ruling at the centre and in many States. So, the State governments were protesting against what they saw as unnecessary interference in their governments by the Congress government at the centre.

Demands for Autonomy

• Sometimes, these demands expect that the division of powers should be changed in favour of the States and more powers and important powers be assigned to the States.

• Another demand is that States should have independent sources of revenue and greater control over the resources. This is also known as financial autonomy.

• The third aspect of the autonomy demands relates to administrative powers of the States. States resent the control of the centre over the administrative machinery.

• Fourthly, autonomy demands may also be related to cultural and linguistic issues. The opposition to the domination of Hindi (in Tamil Nadu) or demand for advancing the Punjabi language and culture are instances of this. Some States also feel that there is a domination of the Hindispeaking areas over the others. In fact, during the decade of 1960s, there were agitations in some States against the imposition of the Hindi language.

Role of Governors and President's Rule

• The role of Governors has always been a controversial issue between the States and the central government.

• The Governor is not an elected office-holder.

• Many Governors have been retired military officers or civil servants or politicians. Besides, the Governor is appointed by the central government and therefore, actions of the Governor are often viewed as interference by the Central government in the functioning of the State government.

• When two different parties are in power at the centre and the State, the role of the Governor becomes even more controversial.

• The Sarkaria Commission that was appointed by the central government (1983; it submitted its report in 1988) to examine the issues relating to centre-State relations, recommended that appointments of Governors should be strictly non-partisan.

• Powers and role of the Governor become controversial for one more reason. One of the most controversial articles in the Constitution is Article 356, which provides for President's rule in any State.

• This provision is to be applied, when a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.'

• It results in the takeover of the State government by the Union government. The President's proclamation has to be ratified by Parliament. President's rule can be extended till three years.

• The Governor has the power to recommend the dismissal of the State government and suspension or dissolution of State assembly. This has led to many conflicts.

• In some cases, State governments were dismissed even when they had a majority in the legislature, as had happened in Kerala in 1959 or without testing their majority, as happened in several other States after 1967.

• Some cases went to the Supreme Court and the Court has ruled that constitutional validity of the decision to impose President's rule can be examined by the judiciary.

Interstate Conflicts

• While the States keep fighting with the centre over autonomy and other issues like the share in revenue resources, there have been many instances of disputes between two States or among more than two States.

• It is true that the judiciary acts as the arbitration mechanism on disputes of a legal nature but these disputes are in reality not just legal.

• They have political implications and therefore they can best be resolved only through negotiations and mutual understanding.

Broadly, two types of disputes keep recurring.

• One is the border dispute: States have certain claims over territories belonging to neighboring One of the long-standing border disputes is the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over the city of Belgaum. Manipur and Nagaland too, have a long-standing border dispute. The carving out of Haryana from the erstwhile State of Punjab has led to dispute between the two States not only over border areas, but over the capital city of Chandigarh. This city today houses the capital of both these States. In 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reached an understanding with the leadership of Punjab. According to this understanding. Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab. But this has not happened yet.

• While border disputes are more about sentiment, the disputes over the sharing of river waters are even more serious, because they are related to problems of drinking water and agriculture in the concerned States. You might have heard about the Cauvery water dispute. This is a major issue between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Farmers in both the States are dependent on Cauvery waters. Though there is a river water tribunal to settle water disputes, this dispute has reached the Supreme Court. In another similar dispute Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are battling over sharing the waters of Narmada River. Rivers are a major resource and therefore, disputes over river waters test the patience and cooperative spirit of the States.

Special Provisions

• The Constitution has some special provisions for some States given their peculiar social and historical circumstances. Most of the special provisions pertain to the north eastern States (Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, etc.) largely due to their sizeable indigenous tribal population with a distinct history and culture.

• Special provisions also exist for hilly States like Himachal Pradesh and some other States like Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra Sikkim and Telangana.

Jammu and Kashmir

• The other State which has a special status is Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (Art. 370).

• Jammu and Kashmir was one of the large princely states, which had the option of joining India or Pakistan at the time of independence.

• Immediately after Independence Pakistan and India fought a war over Kashmir. Under such circumstances the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to the Indian union.

• In practice, however the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir is much less than what the language of article 370 may suggest.

• There is a constitutional provision that allows the President, with the concurrence of the State government, to specify which parts of the Union List shall apply to the State.

• The President has issued two Constitutional orders in concurrence with the Government of J&K making large parts of the Constitution applicable to the State.

• As a result, though J&K has a separate constitution and a flag, the Parliament's power to make laws on subjects in the Union List now is fully accepted.

• The remaining differences between the other States and the State of J&K are that no emergency due to internal disturbances can be declared in J&K without the concurrence of the State.

• The union government cannot impose a financial emergency in the State and the Directive Principles do not apply in J&K.

• Finally, amendments to the Indian Constitution (under Art. 368) can only apply in concurrence with the government of J&K.
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