Federalism under the Indian Constitution



  • A federal government is a form of government that divides authority between the federal government and the state governments. It assigns specific obligations to each sector, so that the federal government has one responsibility and the states have another.
  • A quasi-federal government is a form of government in which the central government and state governments share power, but the central government has greater power than the state governments. The central government can intervene in decisions made by the state government in a quasi-central government system.
  • The Indian constitution does not refer to the country as a federation. Article 1 of the Indian constitution, on the other hand, refers to India as a “Union of States.” This signifies that India is a union made up of many states that are all intertwined.
  • The states are unable to secede from the union in this situation. They do not have the authority to leave the union. The constituent entities, or states, in a real federation, have the ability to leave the union.
  • India is not a real federal government since it mixes the characteristics of a federal government with those of a unitary government, resulting in a quasi-federal government.

Federal Features of the Indian Constitution

  • In India, there are two levels of government: the union government and the central government. The central government is responsible for the entire country, whereas state governments are primarily responsible for the states. Both governments operate in distinct ways.
  • Division of Power:
    • The Indian constitution’s seventh schedule lays out how authorities are divided between the state and the central government. Both the central government and the state governments have distinct powers and responsibilities.
    • The 7th schedule of Indian constitution consists of union list, state list, and concurrent list.
  • The Union List encompasses all of the issues that can only be addressed by the central government.
  • The State List contains all of the areas on which the state government can pass laws.
  • The Concurrent List covers all issues that the central and state governments can legislate on.
  • Written Constitution
  • The Indian Constitution is recognised as the supreme law of the land. No law can be enacted or passed that contradicts India’s constitution. The Indian Constitution is supreme over all Indian citizens and institutions.
  • The Supreme Court of India is considered the country’s most superior court. The Supreme Court’s ruling is binding on all courts, and it has the authority to interpret the constitution’s articles.
  • In India, the legislature is bicameral. It is divided into two houses, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha is the upper house of the parliament, which represents the states, and the Lok Sabha is the lower house, which represents the people in general.

Non-Federal Features of The Constitution

  • The central government in India has been given more authority than the state governments. Normally, the federal government’s powers are split evenly between the two branches.
  • India has a single constitution. In India, there are no separate constitutions for the states; instead, the constitution applies to both the union as a whole and the states individually. There are different constitutions for the state and the union under a real federal government.
  • The Indian parliament has the power to modify the constitution. To modify the constitution, Parliament does not need the permission of the state legislature on many issues. In a real federal system, however, both the state and the federal government participate on the amending of the constitution in all areas. As a result, their constitutions are rigid and difficult to change.
  • The central government has control over state governments under the Indian constitution. This means that any law passed by the central government must be followed by the states, and the states are prohibited from interfering in the central government’s affairs.
  • Citizens of India have a single citizenship that covers the entire country. Citizens in a real federal government, on the other hand, are granted dual citizenship. They are first and foremost citizens of their provinces or states, and subsequently citizens of their country.
  • States in India do not have equal representation in the upper house (Rajya Sabha) and lower house (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha has more representatives from the more populous states than from the less populous states. In a real federal system, however, the upper chamber of the legislature has equal representation from all of the states that make up the union.
  • The Indian judicial system is unified or integrated, with the Supreme Court of India serving as the country’s highest court of justice. The supreme court supervises the high courts as well as all other subordinate courts.
  • The Indian constitution has given the President of India emergency powers. He can, however, exercise such powers and declare a state of emergency in the country if three requirements are met. When the president declares a state of emergency, the federal government takes command and the state governments are completely under its jurisdiction. State governments lose their autonomy, which is contrary to the federal government’s principles.

Constitutional Debate on Federalism

  • In his historic speech to the constituent assembly in November 1949, Dr. Ambedkar mentioned numerous characteristics of the draft resolution that mitigated the rigidity and legalism of federalism. The following characteristics are included:
    • Article 246 of Indian constitution distributes legislative power between union and states. It gives union exclusive power to legislate in respect of matters contained in list 1 and concurrent power to legislate in respect of matters contained in list 3 of schedule 7 of the constitution.
    • Parliament is given power to legislate on exclusively state subjects matters namely:
    • Article 249 of Indian constitution gives power to parliament with respect to matter in the state list in the national interest.
    • Article 250 of Indian constitution gives power to parliament in respect of any matter in the state list if a proclamation of emergency is in operation.
    • Article 252 of Indian constitution gives power to parliament to legislate two or more states by consent of those states.
    • Article 352 and 353 states about provisions for the proclamation of emergency and the effect of such proclamation.
    • There are provisions included in the constitution which are to be operative unless parliament made any contrary provision or word to the same effect.
    • Article 368 of Indian constitution states about provisions regarding the amendment of the constitution.
  • According to Dr. Ambedkar, the provisions of the Indian constitution make it both unitary and federal, depending on the needs of the time and circumstances.
  • He went on to say that in normal times, it is set up to function as a federal system. However, it is built in such a way that it appears to be a unitary system during times of war.
  • He further stated that Articles 250, 352, and 353 of the Indian constitution can only be exercised by the President of India and must be approved by both houses of the Indian parliament.

Landmark Cases

  • State of Rajasthan v Union of India, 1977
  • S.R. Bommai v Union of India
  • Haryana v State of Punjab
  • State of West Bengal v Union of India


  • The Indian government is quasi-federal in character since it has qualities like single citizenship, a single constitution, and constitutional flexibility that aren’t found in a pure federal system like the United States of America.
  • Although the Indian government has some characteristics of a federal government, such as power division and constitution rigour, it is classified as a quasi-federal government rather than a true federal one.


Leave a Comment