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Indian Federal System: A Critical Analysis

Federalism and its adoption in the Indian Constitution:
Federalism is the distribution of power within an organization or, it is a type of government in which, the power is not only vested in the central government but rather, divided or shared among all the other governmental units. In the Indian system, it shows the relation between the Union and the States. Thus, sovereignty is split between two territorial levels so as to ensure their independence and equal distribution of power.

After the British left India, the constitution was adopted to declare its independence and to fulfil the aspirations of the people. The constitution, not being an original work, but rather a beautiful patchwork inspired by countries like the USA, USSR, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia is not rigid but dynamic. 25 years after the constitution was adopted, certain changes in the form of amendments were made to remove all the hindrances of social, economic and political nature which stood in the way of the advancement and development of the nation.

There are many reasons why federalism was adopted in India. One of the most important factors were the vast size and diversity of the nation. India is a diverse nation in many senses, be it religious diversity, linguistic, regional or cultural. Thus, it would pose great difficulties in administration and governance to a unitary form of government and could eventually lead to a breakdown. Thus, there was the requirement of the system so designed to create harmony and prevent any action by the authorities which go beyond the purview of the constitution, by a system of check and balance.

However, it is important to note that there is no mention of federalism in the Indian constitution. It was a suggestion by the experts and founding fathers of India to establish a system of federalism with dual polity at the national and state level to suit the requirements of the nation. Article 1 of the constitution states that India is a 'union of states.' This proves that the states are what make the nation and thus, they are an equally integral part of it. But the states cannot secede from the Union, which also has the powers to change the name of a state, its territory and also to create a new state altogether.

Nature of Indian Federalism:
In a unitary form, the centre has the sole administrative and legislative powers, whereas the states have very little autonomy.

On the other hand, in a federal set-up, states which are formed on a linguistic or regional basis, have various powers similar to that of the central government.

India doesn't follow a rigid form of the federal system. Truly unique in its nature, it is rather a blend of federal form and unitary form of government. However, it is important to note that even though the powers of the states are sovereign in nature along with the union, they do not coordinate with the centre. In other words, it follows what is known as quasi-federalism. Thus, the Indian federal system has established the paramountcy of the Union with that of the states. This can be proved by various judgments of the courts.

State of West Bengal v. Union of India
The Constitution of India is not truly Federal in character. The basis of the distribution of powers between the Union and States is that only those powers that are concerned with the regulation of local problems are vested in the States and the residue, especially those which tend to maintain the economic industrial and commercial unity of the country are left to the Union.

State of Rajasthan v. Union of India
In a sense, the Indian Union is federal. But the extent of federalism in it is largely watered-down by the needs of progress and development of the country which has to be nationally integrated, politically and economically coordinated and socially, intellectually and spiritually uplifted. With such a system, the States cannot stand in the way of legitimate and comprehensively planned development of the country in the manner directed by the Central Government.

Hence, from the above judgments, it can be inferred that the system due to its dual nature is federal during normal times but during an emergency or when situations demand so, they can convert into a unitary form.

Comparison of Indian federal system with that of the US
India and the US, both being one of the largest democracies in the world, have adopted the system of federalism. The US declared itself a federal state in 1789 whereas India, in 1950. Although the Indian constitution was largely inspired by the US constitution and several other nations, the architects of the Indian constitution created various points of difference between the two. Some differences are:
  • The Indian Constitution is very flexible as compared to the US constitution, which is extremely rigid in character and allows little to no amendments.
  • There is a balance of power between the states and the centre in the US system, and allows no encroachment of the centre in the matters of the state. However, it is clearly mentioned in the Indian system that the states cannot secede from the union.
  • Central government in India has various powers like making territorial alterations, changing the name of a state etc. which is not the case in the US.
  • The residual power in India is vested in the Parliament, where in the US, it is with the states.
  • There are differences in citizenship too. Indian citizens can only have single citizenship, whereas the US allows dual citizenship.

Union-State Relations
The constitution has provided for the cooperation between the union and the states. The relations between the two have stood the test of time and have proved to be each other's strength in various instances such as:
  • Despite many separatist movements in the country, the states along with the union have worked together to establish the integrity of the nation.
  • The centre and the states have together fought external threats and restored the nation's security and earned India a respectful place in the world.
  • In times of crises, both have together achieved political stability in the country.
  • The centre and the states work in coordination towards the development of the nation and to increase the quality of administration.

Conflicts between the Union and the States
Along with its days of glory, the Indian federal system has also seen its fair share of dark days. There have been various instances where the ideas of the union and the states have not consolidated with each other, resulting in disharmony and conflicts.
  • Although there exists a division of power between the union and the states, which have been listed in the union, state and concurrent lists, there have been conflicts regarding the encroachment of the union in matters of the state, threatening its autonomy.
  • States have often accused the union of misuse of power, going against the provisions of the constitution, for political gains.
  • There have been problems of the unequal representation of the states too, regarding which no provisions exist in the constitution.
  • The states have time and again stated the importance of federalism rather than centralization to avoid injustice and equal distribution of power.

Reforms required in the Indian Federal System
In order to remove all obstacles and hindrances which stand along the path to development and to strengthen the Indian federal system, there is a need for some reformations. There is also a need to reflect on past mistakes and create a well-balanced system free from corruption.
  • The rise of a multi-party system gives rise to competition. But such a system has led to a power struggle within the federal process. The parties have started to demand autonomy of their states, a situation that demands greater democratization. Political parties should work towards their state interest rather than national interest.
  • There is a need to restructure the Planning Commission as it has now come to become almost a Super-Cabinet or Super-Government exercising authority. Experts should be appointed and plans should be made to improve the autonomy of the states.
  • The nation has been divided on a regional and linguistic basis, which is now posing a threat to the federal system. Political parties are using it as a tool to gain votes.
  • The government should develop policies and make plans to ensure equal distribution of resources for equal upliftment of all the states.
  • The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal whose decisions are binding on all. However, there have been many controversies and questions have been raised regarding the quality of judges and their biased judgments. It is important to strengthen the judicial system to restore the citizens' faith in the law.
  • The establishment of administrative agencies by the union government is the need of the hour, in order to maintain contact with its citizens. This is essential as the union government is largely dependent on the states for law and decision making of national interest. This will ensure the decentralization of power in a smooth manner.
  • One of the most vital necessities for positive reforms in education. Education opens up people's minds and facilitates a positive outlook. It is important that educational policies should be designed in such a manner so as to inculcate the importance of national integrity, unity and responsibility among the people.

The struggle towards a stronger federal system won't end without striking a balance between the unitary and federal features of the government. Power in the hands of a single authority will attract tyranny. Unequal distribution of power will lead to unequal growth. There is a need to establish a strong system abolishing differences and intolerances and collectively focus on the development of the nation.

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