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  • Manvi Priya


Manvi Priya,

Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College Pune


Indian federation is unique in its form and practice.  The country’s defining feature is diversity which is one of its kind. It is neither unitary in character nor a classic federal like the USA but falls somewhere in middle. To understand the feature of Indian federation, Article 1 of the constitution should be referred which read, union of states. It is said that the correct phraseology should be Federation of States, as unitary states are described as union. But the use of word union is deliberate by the constituent assembly to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, the federation was not the result of agreement by the states to join the federation as a result no state has a right to secede from it. Even though the population would be divided within the states but would be part of a single unit. The federation is a union because it is indestructible. The most defining and differentiating feature of India federation is, it can be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances.

The federation is also acclaimed for its dual polity, that is two tier of governance Centre at union and states at its periphery.  The division of power between the two has been a matter of contention and is made so more due to political interpretations. A harmonious relation between the two should be maintained to achieve a vision of overall development. A co-operative federalism should be embraced in actual practice for uniform outreach of resources and better administration of states. Both the Centre and state should function in tandem as they derive their force from the same imperium and are subject to it. The purpose of having defined power dynamics is only to avoid conflict and speculation regarding power sharing but interpretation of it contrary to the intention of the drafters has kept the matter debatable.

Form of Government

The major question that constituent assembly faced with was to decide the form of government. The same climate cannot suit every set of population, it is their habitat that makes the difference. For a country like India determining the form of government of a particular model was not feasible owing to its diversity on diverse matters and different identities that it accommodate together, so the other path was to extract the features of different model and get what goes best with us. On comparison to both parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of government, the members of constituent agreed to head with parliamentary form of government as for newly independent budding nation there’s required more responsibility than stability. A system of periodic assessment over five years is required to be made to strengthen this vision and so followed. A Federal Constitution means division of sovereignty by no less sanction of the law of constitution between the federal government and the states, with two necessary consequences;

a.      That any invasion by the federal government in the field assign to the states and vice versa is a breach of the constitution and,

b.     Any such invasion is justiciable to be determined by the judiciary only. 

The constitution of India has envisioned to achieve federation and at the same time to maintain uniformity in all basic matters which are required to maintain the unity of the country. The means adopted are:

a.      A single judiciary

b.     Uniformity in fundamental laws, civil, criminal, and

c.      Uniform public service offices.

The division of power between the Centre and States are done on the three core areas of governance in PART XI of the constitution;

  • Legislative Relations [ Article 245 – Article 255]

  • Administrative Relations [ Article 256 – Article 263]

  • Financial Relations [ Article 268 – Article 293]

Centre – State Relations

Through the Government of India Act 1935, distribution of power was made between Centre and states and is continues till date.

Legislative relations between the Centre and the state are shared by four facets briefly discussed below:

a.      Territorial limit of centre and state legislation

b.     Distribution of subjects to be legislated

c.      Parliament legislation in the state field

d.     Centre’s control over matters in the state list.

Administrative Relation – Distribution of executive powers

Article 256 – It gives obligation to the state and centre as;

The executive power of every state extends to the compliance of law made by the parliament

The executive power of the union extends to giving directions as required for the compliance of those laws.

Article 258 – On the matter to which executive power of the union extends the president may with consent of the state government confer power to that government.

Article 258A – Likewise, on the matter to which executive power of the state extends the governor of a state may with the consent of the government of India entrust its power to that government.

Article 263 – It empowers the president to establish Inter-state council at any time it deems required for the better co-operation between the centre and state.

Financial Relation

Both parliament and state have the right to levy taxes on the matters of their list, residuary matters rest with the parliament.

Article 275(1) - The parliament power to issue grant in aid of the revenues as may be determined for different states.

Article 280 – It talks about the establishment of the Finance Commission, a quasi- judicial body to recommend the sharing of taxes between centre and state.

Recommendations on Centre – State relations by different commission

Administrative Reform Commission

  • The post of governor should be occupied by people having extensive public service hold.

  • The governor must follow the constitutional mandate and act with neutral attitude.

  • The autonomy of the state with respect to financial matters should be strengthened, making less reliance on the Centre.

  • Tamil Nadu government appointed the Rajmannar committee to study on method than can abridge centre state growing differences.

Sarkaria Commission (1983)

  • Politically motivated use of Article 356 should be discarded as it ruptures the very foundation of federalism.

  • The institution of All-India services should be strengthened.

  • If President uses veto power to reserve passage of any state bill he must reveal, the reason for it.

  • Governors should be allowed to complete their office service term.

Punchhi Commission (2007)

  • It recommended on the criteria following to a governor of a state should be appointed like., not involved in local politics, not a resident of state, etc.

  • Governor like president should be removed from the office by measure of impeachment.

  • To consider Bommai case ruling if decision on president rule is to be taken.

  • The Inter-State Council should be used periodically to ensure seamless cooperation between the Centre and State.

The point that followed in recommendations of all formed commissions to strengthen Centre – State Relations are:

Role of Governor – Office of governor is created by the constitution, an imperium from which each office derives its power so it must not act as an agent of any specific office and act neutral in its function as required for better cooperation.

Misuse of President Rule – Provisions under constitution should be used wisely and not to defeat the very purpose. Recurrent use of Article 356 has contributed a lot to widening the gap between centre state relation.

Inter–State Council – A smooth road to co-operative federalism is the formation and periodic meet of inter- state council. Communication gap is the biggest hurdle in strengthening of any relation.

Trends in Centre – State Relation

The way Centre and State interacted over a course of time is not uniform, it has influence of power sharing dynamics. The trend can be better understood by analyzing it in four different phases as follow:

First Phase: The phase of Central Dominance (1950-1967)

  • After Independence Congress occupied the central landscape of politics, no party could withstand congress as a result it has dominance both at state and centre.

  • The question of friction didn’t arise during this phase as centre and state were part of the same unit, potentially manages the differences within.

  • The State Reorganizing Act led to the formation of Zonal Councils.

Second Phase: 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976 (1967-77)

  • This phase marked the initiation of differences between the centre and states with rising assertiveness by the states, this eventually led the shift of relation between them.

  • Fourth General Election changed the entire political dynamics demoted congress to mere majority from massive one at the centre, unsought use of Article 356 by congress to reclaim power followed a further deterioration of relation between centre – state.

  • The worst act by the centre to defeat federalism was in 1967 when it even refuses to recognize non–congress states.

  • To Centralize the power and enhance the Central control by 42nd amendment act was enforced that takes things to an unprecedented stage followed by the dark era of emergency.

Third Phase: Sarkaria Commission (1977-1989)

  • This phase marked the historic shift in the central stage occupied by congress since independence. Congress lost the majority followed by the formation of a new government under Janta Party.

  • The Janta Party supported the decentralization of political and economic power.

  • Janta Party took a contrary step by dismissing nine congress ruled state government citing, they lost the public mandate.

  • The same step was taken by the congress party when it came to power by mid election when it dismisses nine non congress state government.

  • Later, congress leaders took a few steps to build a better network with regional parties, however it didn’t serve the purpose.

Final Stage: The era of Multi Party System (1989 onwards)

  • The general election of 1989 marked the start of multiparty system where a single party cannot hold the central space without coalition with other small regional parties.

  • This also led towards greater federalization. Local parties start to have a say in determining the party in power at the centre by and negotiating their share of power.

  • The multiparty system is here to stay as current dynamics of power sharing cannot be satisfied by a single party.

Political Federalism

  • The multiparty system led to the involvement of many regional parties and in influencing the government formation at the centre.

  • DMK in Tamil Nadu and RJD in Bihar put strong assertion on centre that they had to abide by.

Asymmetric Federalism

Centre shares different relations with different states based on state’s ethnic composition, political history etc., that forms asymmetry in relation. One size fits all approach cannot withstand the power dynamics of India. Recent abrogation of Article 370 and changed status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has altered its relationship with Centre. The northeastern states have different ethnic composition, to safeguard their interest constitution provides them a special status and method of governance. Likewise, many such states that differ in their formation and composition are protected by the constitution.

Issues pertaining to Centre – State Relation

There are many issues that act as a hurdle in a healthy centre state relation but if core problems are settled ground reality can be changed and sound co-operation can be achieved. Few issues are discussed below;

Financial Allocation – States rely on centre for allocation of financial resources using which they can build their infrastructure and move towards development. Centre while allocating resources should abide by equity and allot each state their fair share. Factors like government in a state should not influence the allocation.

Institutional Framework – An institution can attribute well – functioning of centre state relation. The National Development Council and Inter – State Council should be restored in the system with revised policy. More frequent exchange of dialogues will aid abridging the differences and co-operative federalism.

Role of State in Foreign Policy – There are many states that share borders with different countries so a state’s interest should be considered while formulating the foreign policy affecting that region. Like Tamil Nadu with Sri Lanka, West Bengal with Bangladesh etc. Giving concerned state a fair say will further help in strengthen the relation between them.

The centre of debate in Centre State Relations

In recent past and before, there has been constant tussle between the centre and state that has aided weakening of federal structure. Democracy has often been attacked in the realm of power sharing. The common point that followed is the role of governor, the conflict between chief ministers in opposition to centre states and governors has always made the headlines and put a question on federalism. Chief Ministers of states like Kerala, west Bengal, Tamil Nadu etc., has always put a strong assertion on the role of governor and absence of co-ordination with him. The absence of dialogue further ruptures their relation. Many state chief ministers claim the governor misuses his powers to reserve the state bills without citing any reasons and tries to topple the state government. Mistrust to this extent can directly hamper deposition of vision of co-operative framework.

It is widely known that India is the land of vast cultures and traditions each holds a significance and has myriad of sentiments attach to it, the idea of federal system was not just for a better administration but also to retain and maintain each identity. The state government having more intimate nexus with people of that region can more efficiently address their need. They are well equipped with the local atmosphere and ground reality has also more vested trust of people so toppling of government can cause distrust of the people from the system. The centre must and should not attempt to encroach on the field of state administration and disturb the power distribution. Likewise, the state must also know the purpose of a strong centre.


The federal feature promotes the power sharing between the system of government. Politics should not have dominance over the constitution. The co-operation can never be achieved from one side and if does then cannot last, a dual side affirmative step will alter the ground reality. Lack of communication or absence of necessary dialogue will dilute the relation between the centre and state, especially when the government at both the positions are different. The responsibility of both sides is recognized and assigned by the constitution, which must be abided by.

Federalism is the basic structure of the constitution and cannot be altered. A more robust approach by the governments of different levels would withstand the democratic principle and upheld federalism.


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