12 April 2023 11:13 AM GMT
Federalism requires the division of constitutional and political power, i.e. the ability to govern at two levels; however, a state may also contain local governments. Every federal system requires a division of powers between the federal and state governments, each of which is autonomous and not subservient to the other. Power has been divided between the centre and the states to avoid...
Federalism requires the division of constitutional and political power, i.e. the ability to govern at two levels; however, a state may also contain local governments. Every federal system requires a division of powers between the federal and state governments, each of which is autonomous and not subservient to the other. Power has been divided between the centre and the states to avoid anarchy and conflict between the two competing jurisdictions, and the division of power is one of the most important aspects of federal constitutions. The Indian Constitution's Seventh Schedule contains three lists of legislation: the Union List, the Concurrent List, and the State List. The three legislative lists specified the powers conferred in Parliament, state legislatures, and both at the same time. However, if an issue is not addressed by any of the three Lists, it is considered a residual power of the Parliament. In a federal system, the independent judiciary serves as the final interpreter of the Constitution and the guardian of constitutional ideals. In this article, we shall discuss the nature of federalism in India and explore the division of powers between the federal and state governments and the role of the judiciary in interpreting the constitution. This article also identifies the Indian Constitution as having both federal and unitary elements and highlights the challenges of balancing state autonomy with central control using case-laws.
The Ambiguity of India's Federal Constitution: A Combination of Federal and Unitary Elements
Opinions on India's status as a federal constitution or a federal government vary greatly. A constitution can be divided into two types: unitary and federal. All State powers are vested in a single administration in a unitary constitution, whereas they are divided between a central government and multiple regional administrations in a federal constitution. Despite the fact that it was written with the philosophy of preserving a federal structure in mind, the Constitution contains unitary elements. The fundamental characteristics of the Constitution assist us in navigating this issue. The true federal nature of the constitution is contradicted by additional qualities, in addition to concepts such as the supremacy of the law, the delegation of powers, the rigidity of the written constitution, and the independence of the court. The Indian Constitution establishes a dual polity in which neither the Central Government nor the States are administrative units or agencies of the Central Government, each with its own Constitutional identity. The Indian Constitution, on the other hand, has strong centralising tendencies that give the Central Government absolute power. This emphasis dates back to the writing of the Constitution. The founders of the country believed that if the central government was weak, the country would break apart. India has quasi-federal characteristics, that is, characteristics resembling a federal state with some unitary characteristics. Despite the existence of substantial parts of a federal constitution, the central government retains some influence over the provinces. Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states that India is a union of states, which implies two things: first, that it is not the result of an agreement among the states, and second, that the states cannot leave the Union. Furthermore, Article 3 of the Indian Constitution grants the Indian government the authority to divide or alter state boundaries. As demonstrated by the preceding considerations, the Indian Constitution is neither fully federal nor fully integrated. It is a successful combination of the two. We will however continue along this line of thought and reach a conclusion after analysing and viewing court procurements.
Power Sharing Between Central and Component Units of Governance.
Federalism is a form of government in which power is shared by a central authority and multiple component units. A federation typically has two levels of governance. The federal government is a political structure established to protect national unity and state rights. It is an administration system in which a portion of authority and power is vested in the local region and the remainder in a central institution formed by an association of local areas. Federations differ from unitary systems in this regard because they either have a single administrative level or subunits that are subordinate to the central authority. The federal government may issue directives to provincial and municipal governments. This concept, however, does not apply to state government, and both the state and federal governments are accountable to the people in their own ways. As a result, this represents the unitary government system. Power sharing at a level of government below the state is important in a vast country like India to maintain the efficient operation of government at all levels. The concept of decentralisation of authority is introduced here, and local government is given certain rights.
The federal government and the federal constitution are diametrically opposed. As a result of the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was drafted as a framework for state governance. Because the administration of the Articles of Confederation was too flimsy, the Constitutional Convention drew up a new framework of government.
Comprehending the tension between the centre-state relations and its impact on federalism
The issue of Centre-state relations in India has been a topic of much debate and discussion among scholars and policy-makers in recent times. There has been a growing concern about the erosion of federalism in India, with the central government allegedly encroaching on the powers and autonomy of the state governments. This has resulted in tensions and conflicts between the Centre and the states, particularly with regards to finance and administration. The central government has been accused of undermining the constitutional framework that governs Centre-state relations, by using its powers to override the decisions of the state governments. For instance, the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) were both controversial moves by the central government, with the former being viewed as a violation of state autonomy and the latter as discriminatory against certain groups. These actions have raised questions about the nature of federalism in India, and the extent to which the states are able to exercise their constitutional rights and responsibilities.
The impact of these developments on federalism in India has been significant. The weakening of the federal structure has resulted in a concentration of power in the hands of the central government, at the expense of the states. This has led to a sense of resentment and frustration among the state governments, who feel that their voices are not being heard or their concerns addressed. It has also created a sense of disunity and division, as the states become more isolated from one another and from the central government. Moreover, the erosion of federalism has implications for the principles of democracy, diversity, and decentralization that underpin the Indian Constitution. These principles are essential for the functioning of a democratic and pluralistic society, and their erosion could have far-reaching consequences for India's political and social fabric.
There are significant geographical inequalities in India despite its federal system. In this sense, a unitary government would have rendered it impossible to meet the demands of the nation, necessitating separate authorities at the federal and state levels. As a result, certain provisions of the Indian Constitution cover interactions between the centre and the state. As was mentioned above, the development of the nation has benefited greatly from these interactions between the centre and the states. It has aided in improving national government, administrative efficiency, and the integration of minority populations into society at large. Additionally, the state now plays a more active role, which contributes to improved governance. A significant influence has also been played by the various Constitutional clauses since without them, there would have been a lot of chaos in relations to the distribution of powers between the centre and states. The distribution of powers between the centre and states in the legislative and executive fields, as stipulated in the Constitution is clearly delimited in their scope. At the same time, the Constitution includes mechanisms for facilitating cooperation between the centre and the states. These include the establishment of All India Services, the creation of a Joint Public Service Commission for two or more states, and the existence of an integrated judicial system. There are numerous safeguards in the Constitution, such as grants-in-aid and the institution of a Finance Commission, to ensure healthy financial ties between the federal government and the states. It is regarded that the National Front government's establishment of the Inter-State Council was a crucial step towards fostering cordial ties between the union and states in order to promote peace and development in the nation. Thus, it is hopeful that the centre-state relations strengthen with time and there is enhanced cooperative federalism since it is an important factor for determining the governance of the country.
Assessing the Core Constitutional Issues using Case-Laws
In the case S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, the Supreme Court had to address the reasons and scope of the imposition of President's rule in a State. Also questioned was whether or not the President's authority could be challenged. The constitutionality of this proclamation was challenged by S.R. Bommai in the high court, which ruled that the word ‘satisfaction' of the president is not immune to judicial examination if it is founded on mollified fides, irrelevant grounds. However, the high court did not find ‘satisfaction' to be compromised on any of the aforementioned grounds and affirmed the proclamation. S.R. Bommai challenged the decision of the High Court to the Supreme Court. Later, the Supreme Court ruled that the President's ability to remove a state's government is not absolute but contingent. In addition, it was stipulated that the President should not exercise this authority until his proclamation (of establishing President's Rule) had been authorised by both houses of Parliament. The President can only suspend the Legislative Assembly till then. If the proclamation does not receive the consent of both Houses, it expires after two months and the ousted government is reinstated. The ruling aimed to prevent the flagrant abuse of Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, which permitted the imposition of President's power over state governments.
In State of West Bengal v. Union of India, the state challenged the constitutionality of the 1957 Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act since the state government held the land. The state (West Bengal) argued that the Parliament lacked the authority to establish legislation governing the acquisition of land and that the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, passed by the Parliament exceeded its authority. According to Chief Justice Sinha, the relationship between the Centre and the States under the Government of India Act of 1935 provides the basis for the division of powers between the Centre and the States. In addition, he stated that the courts had the ultimate authority to interpret actions that violate the Indian Constitution and to declare them unlawful. The supreme court determined that there is no state-specific constitution and that the Indian Constitution is the supreme law of the area. It can only be revised by the Union Parliament; individual states lack the authority to do so. It was ruled that the Acquisition and Development Act of 1957 did not exceed the authority of Congress, hence it was legitimate. Entry 42 of List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India grants the Parliament the ability to adopt legislation regarding the acquisition of any State's property. Inasmuch as the Indian Constitution is both federal and unitary in spirit, it is not wholly federal in nature. There is a distinct separation of powers between the Union and the States. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to argue that the United States possesses total sovereignty. Parliament cannot be declared incompetent to acquire property owned by the states based solely on the concept of total state sovereignty. This was the prevailing opinion of the case. Moreover, the State of West Bengal did not get any compensation, and the claim was dismissed with costs.
R.C. Poudyal vs. Union of India focuses on reservation in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly. The case assesses the constitutional legitimacy of the Parliament's Sikkim reservations. The Supreme Court has deferred to Congress in establishing how self-government should be implemented and the Court has become more rigorous and curious about separation-of-powers issues, notably judicial power. Upon close consideration of the federal and unitary characteristics of the constitution, it is not difficult to conclude that in each federal feature, there exists an extreme centralising power.
Thus, it would not be incorrect to conclude that the Constitution of India is federal in form but unitary in essence, i.e., it is quasi-federal in nature. Both the Union and the State adhere to the principle of separation of powers. Even the government of India is composed of multiple layers, including Central, State, and Local, which divide authority and restrict freedom correspondingly. Consequently, it is reasonable to argue that India is federal in form but unitary in nature. There are elements of federalism in both the government and the constitution; but, selecting one of these and claiming it to be a pure form of federalism would be neither exact nor accurate. Hence, both these forms include the features of federalism with hints of unitary characteristics in the context of India.