Indian Constitution: Unique blending of federal and unitary features

Indian Constitution is a unique blending of both federal and unitary features. Federal features present in the Constitutions are:

  1. Two governments
  2. Division of powers between the union and its constituents
  3. Written constitution
  4. Supremacy of the Constitution
  5. Partial Rigidity of the Constitution
  6. Independent judiciary
  7. Bicameralism

However, the Constitution enables the federal structure to transform into a unitary one during emergencies as mentioned in Part XVIII of the Constitution. The Constitution of India also contains various unitary features such as:

  1. A strong centre
  2. Single constitution
  3. Single citizenship
  4. Flexibility of Constitution
  5. Integrated judiciary
  6. Appointment of State governor by the Centre
  7. All India Services
  8. Emergency provisions

Questions to Analyze

  • Is India not a true federation? Why?
  • The Supreme Court has described India as a federal structure with strong bias towards centre. Explain this.
Is India not a true federation? Why?

India is not a true federation. It can be called a quasi-federation. Firstly, Constitution of India does not describe India as a “Federation of States”. Instead, Article 1 describes India as a Union of States. This implies that Union is non-destructible and states are destructible parts of an indestructible Union. The states cannot break way from Union and have no right to secede from Union. In a true federation, the constituent units would have more flexibility or freedom to move out of it. Secondly, India combines features of federal as well as unitary government, as discussed above.

The Supreme Court has described India as a federal structure with strong bias towards centre.  Explain this.

In India, there is a strong bias towards centre. Firstly, as discussed above, states have no freedom to seceded from Union; they are destructible units of an indestructible Union, Centre can change name, boundary etc. of states with minimum efforts. The states need to respect the laws made by parliament and cannot make any law on matters on which there is already a central law. Thus, mere existence of states depends on authority of centre. Secondly, in a true federation, the powers of upper house have equal representations from the constituent units. However, in India, the Rajya Sabha has unequal representations {more population, more MPs}. This implies that Rajya Sabha is not properly representative of the states. Thirdly, in true federation states, citizens have dual citizenships {states and federation}. Indian citizens have single citizenship. Fourthly, an independent Judiciary has been provided to interpret the Constitution and safeguard the rights of both the Centre and the States. Fifthly, in financial matters also, the central government is more powerful than the States. President has been vested with power to make alterations in the distribution of revenues between centre and the States. Further, CAG and Finance Commission, which have lots of say in financial matters of states are also central agencies. Sixthly, Governors are appointed by the president (article 155 and 156) and there have been many instances when centre has redundantly toppled the elected state governments using the powers of article 356 on report of Governors. Seventhly, Governor can keep some of the state laws for perusal of President, who can block them in becoming the law.

These are some of the reasons that make India federal in structure but unitary in spirit. The unitary features enable the Union Government to deal with emergencies like war or external aggression, armed rebellion inside the country, constitutional breakdown in the states etc. By these provisions, the unity and integrity of the country is maintained by checking subversive and anti-national forces. In fine, though the Constitution wears a look of a federation, in fact, it behaves like a unitary structure in many circumstances.

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