Is Indian Constitution Federal in Nature?

Nature of Indian constitution

Is Indian Constitution Federal in Nature? Talking about the nature of Indian Constitution, it is always in debate as different people have different opinion. Many jurists like Kenneth C. Wheare said that India is quasi-federal because it has some features of the federal system and some of unitary constitutions. However, according to the framers of the constitution, it is federal in nature. Even Dr. B. R. Ambedkar defined it as a federal constitution, although the center has some powers to override the provinces.

Is Indian Constitution Federal in Nature?

An important point, here, is to note that the Indian Constitution has not declared India as a federation. On the other hand, Article 1 of the Constitution calls it “Union of States” which means, India is an association, made up of various states which are integral to it. Here, states cannot be separated from the Union. They do not have the right to break away from the union. In a true federation, the following units or states have the freedom to come out of the Union.

India is not a true federation. Constitution of India combines the characteristics of both federal government and the unitary government which can also be called non-federal features. Because of this, India is considered as a quasi-federal state. The Supreme Court of India also describes Indian Constitution as “a federal structure with a strong bias towards the Center”. Let us now discuss the federal and unitary or non-federal features of the Indian Constitution.

What are the federal features of Indian Constitution?

Federal features of Indian Constitution are as follows: –

  • Two sets of government: – There are two sets of government in India- Central Government and State Government. The central government works for the entire country and the state governments oversee the states. The areas of activity of the two governments are different.
  • Division of powers: – The Constitution of India has divided the powers between the Central Government and the State Governments. The Seventh Schedule to the Constitution contains three lists of subjects that describe how the power is divided between two sets of government. The two governments have their own separate powers and responsibilities.
  • Written Constitution: – The Constitution of India is written. Each provision of the constitution is clearly written and discussed in detail. It is considered to be one of the longest constitutions in the world with 395 articles 22 parts and 12 schedules. It originally consisted of 395 articles which have now increased to 448 articles after 105 amendments, as of August 2021.
  • Supremacy of the Constitution: – The constitution is considered the supreme law of the land. The Constitution is above all the citizens and organizations within the territory of India and must be loyal to the Constitution.
  • Supreme Judiciary: – The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of justice in India. It has been given the responsibility to interpret the provisions of the Constitution. It is considered the protector of the constitution.
  • Bi-Cameral law: – In India, the legislature is bi-cameral. The Indian Parliament, that is, the legislature, it has two houses- the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha is the upper house of the parliament representing the state, while the Lok Sabha is the lower house which represents the people in general.

What are the unitary or non-federal features of Indian Constitution?

Unitary or Non-Federal features of Indian Constitution are as follows: –

  • The division of power is un-equal: – In a federation, power is divided equally between two governments. But in India, the central government has been given more powers and strengthened more than the state governments.
  • The Constitution is not strictly rigid: – The Constitution of India can be amended very easily by the Indian Parliament. On many subjects, Parliament does not require the approval of state legislatures to amend the constitution. But in a true federation, the Union and the state legislature participate in the amendment of the constitution in respect of all matters. Therefore, those formations are rigid and difficult to amend.
  • Single Constitution: – In India, we have only one constitution. There are no separate formations for states. But in federation, there are separate constitutions for both the Union and the States.
  • Central control over states: – The center controls states. States must respect the laws made by the central government and cannot make any law on matters which already have a central law. The Center can also give directions to the states which they have to fulfill.
  • The Rajya Sabha does not represent equality of states: – In a true federation, the upper house of the legislature has equal representation from the following units or states. But there is no equal representation of states in our Rajya Sabha. Rajya Sabha has more representatives in populated states than less populated states. The upper house of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, is not properly representative of all the states of the Indian Union.
  • The existence of states depends on the center: – In India, the existence of a state or unit of a union depends on the authority of the center. The boundary of a state can be changed by making it out of the existing states.
  • Single citizenship: – In a true federal state, citizens are given dual citizenship. First, they are citizens of their respective provinces or states and then they are citizens of the federation. However, citizens in India enjoy single citizenship, i.e. the Indian citizenship or the citizenship of the country.
  • Unified Judiciary: – India has a unified judicial system. The High Court’s functioning in the States are under the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court is the highest court of justice in the country and all other subordinate courts are subject to it.
  • Declaration of Emergency: – The Constitution of India has given emergency powers to the President. He can declare an emergency in the country under three conditions. When an emergency is declared, the union or central governments become all powerful and the state governments come under its full control. State governments lose their autonomy. It is against the principles of a federation.

Why Indian Constitution is Quasi-Federal?

Thus, we find that although India has adopted the federal government, our constitution has various characteristics that are non-federal or unitary. The framers of the Constitution wanted to form a strong central government and, therefore, did everything possible to make the central government more powerful than the state governments. There are many reasons for this. India is a vast country inhabited by people of different religions, languages, castes and culture, etc.
To maintain unity and integrity among them, a strong center was deemed necessary. Again, a strong center with adequate resources and authority was necessary for a modern welfare state to assume the huge responsibility and economic development of a newly independent country. Furthermore, to establish India on international forums, the central government needed to be powerful.

Case laws

1. Kuldip Nair vs. Union of India, AIR 2006 SC 3127

Facts of the case: – In this case, the issue was that a proper residence is required before 2003 that was removed in 2003 by which it was argued that the amendment violated the federal character of the Indian Constitution.

Judgement of the case: – In this case, the Supreme Court held that a specific type of federalism or American type of model cannot be a fragment of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Indian federalism is one of a kind in nature and custom according to the special needs of the country.

2. State of West Bengal vs. Union of India1963 AIR 1241

Facts of the case: – This case is a suit filed by the State of West Bengal against the Union of India for a declaration that Parliament is not competent to authorize the Central Government to acquire rights over a land and to acquire land, which are vested in the State.

Judgement of the case: – The Supreme Court held that the decentralization of authority in India was primarily to facilitate the smooth governance of a large country and, therefore, it also contained many central features.

3. S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India, AIR 2017 SC 2734

Facts of the case: – The situation had worsened in Karnataka in April 1919 and led to the state’s Emergency/Art 356 (1). This declaration was then ratified by Parliament. The situation due to the state’s emergency was that in 1988, S.R. Bommai, a person from the Janata Party, formed the government, but later joined the Lok Dal which were in collision of the Janata Party. But there were differences among party members soon leading to the fall of the government. Therefore the President had to declare a state of emergency. This declaration was challenged through writ petition but the High Court rejected the petition. Therefore, appeal to the Supreme Court.

Judgement of the case: – Proclamation of Emergency U/Art 356 is subject to judicial review. Relevance and such proclamation may be required by the court concerned if it is found to be incorrect. The power of the President under 356 is subject to restriction. The formation of opinion is not based on the report of the governor and only on satisfaction. The Supreme Court struck down the proclamation, even though the two Houses of Parliament were the same on the basis of malafide.

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