Federal System

KNC501/KNC601 Constitution of India, Law and Engineering

Chapter 2: Indian Constitution

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4

Unit 5


Federal System

In federal systems, political authority is divided between two autonomous sets of governments, one national and the other subnational, both of which operate directly upon the people. Usually a constitutional division of power is established between the national government, which exercises authority over the whole national territory, and provincial governments that exercise independent authority within their own territories. Of the eight largest countries in the world by area, seven – Russia, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Australia, India, and Argentina are organized on a federal basis. (China, the third largest, is a unitary state.) Federal countries also include Austria, Belgium, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela, among others.

Main Federal features of the Indian Constitution

The main federal features of the Indian Constitution are as follows:

1. Written Constitution

The Indian Constitution is a written document containing 395 Articles and 12 schedules, and therefore, fulfils this basic requirement of a federal government. In fact, the Indian Constitution is the most elaborate Constitution of the world.

2. Supremacy of the Constitution

India’s Constitution is also supreme and not the hand-made of either the Centre or of the States. If for any reason any organ of the State dares to violate any provision of the Constitution, the courts of laws are there to ensure that dignity of the Constitution is upheld at all costs.

3. Rigid Constitution

The Indian Constitution is largely a rigid Constitution. All the provisions of the Constitution concerning Union-State relations can be amended only by the joint actions of the State Legislatures and the Union Parliament. Such provisions can be amended only if the amend¬ment is passed by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting in the Parliament (which must also constitute the absolute majority of the total membership) and ratified by at least one-half of the States.

4. Division of Powers

In a federation, there should be clear division of powers so that the units and the centre are required to enact and legislate within their sphere of activity and none violates its limits and tries to encroach upon the functions of others. This requisite is evident in the Indian Constitution.

The State List consisted of 66 subjects, including, inter-alia public order, police, administration of justice, public health, education, agriculture etc. The Concurrent List embraced 47 subjects including criminal law, marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, trade unions, electricity, economic and social planning, etc.

5. Independent Judiciary

In India, the Constitution has provided for a Supreme Court and every effort has been made to see that the judiciary in India is independent and supreme. The Supreme Court of India can declare a law as unconstitutional or ultra Vires, if it contravenes any provisions of the Constitution. In order to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary, our judges are not removable by the Executive and their salaries cannot be curtailed by Parliament.

6. Bicameral Legislature

A bicameral system is considered essential in a federation because it is in the Upper House alone that the units can be given equal representation. The Constitution of India also provides for a bicameral Legislature at the Centre consisting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

While the Lok Sabha consists of the elected representatives of people, the Rajya Sabha mainly consists of representatives elected by the State Legislative Assemblies. However, all the States have not been given equal representation in the Rajya Sabha.

7. Dual Government Polity

In a federal State, there are two governments – the national or federal government and the government of each component unit. But in a unitary State there is only one government, namely the national government. So, India, as a federal system, has a Central and State Government.

What makes India a federal country?

India a federal country because of the following reasons:

    • There are levels of governments – Central Government, State Government and Local Government.
    • Each level of government administers over the same region, but they have their own jurisdiction in matters of administration, taxation and legislation.
    • The Government at each level derives its power from the Constitution of the country. Thus, the Central Government cannot easily dilute the powers of the State or Local Governments.
    • The basic principles of the Constitution and the rights given to the people cannot be changed by only one tier of the Government. It requires the consent of governments at both levels.
    • Both levels of the Government can collect taxes from the people according to the guidelines of the Constitution of the country.
    • The Indian Constitution contains three lists which contain subjects in which the Union and the State Governments may form laws. Only central government can make laws in the Union List and state government in the state list. Subjects related to the interests of both Central and State Governments are included in the concurrent list.

Author – Dilip Kumar Rawat

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