Federalism is a method of segregating powers so that the central and local governments are each within a domain, harmonizing and autonomous. To be lucid, federalism postulates a constitutional apparatus for bringing unity in diversity by toning the divergent forces of centripetal and centrifugal trends in the country for the attainment of conjoint national targets.
The classic definition of federalism is that offered by K.C. Wheare, who described the federal principle as “the method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each within a sphere coordinate and independent.”
The Emergence of Federalism and its Evolution
The idea of federalism was initially a religious one and it was from this divine perception that the up-to-the-minute political doctrine of federalism materialized. The Bible is regarded as the first book to discuss the problems of federal polity. Ancient Israel offers the first example of a union of constituent politics grounded on a sense of shared religion nationality.
In India, Between 321 and 185 B.C. in Magadha, the Mauryans for the first time assimilated a number of kingdoms and republics which might be the first sub-continental state in Indian history India. And the Mughals, beginning with Sher Shah’s land revenue system and taking shape with Akbar’s division of his empire into 12 Subahs or Provinces provide excellent examples of a federal government.
India: A Brief History of Foundation of today’s Federalism
The genesis of the present federal system in India lies in the Simon Report of May 1930 which supported the idea of a federal government in India. This support for the federal form of government for the India of the future was further affirmed in the in the First Round Table Conference of 1930.
After the Third Round Table also flopped significantly, the British Government issued a White Paper in March 1933, which proposed a new Indian Constitution with an accountable government in the provinces and the principle of dyarchy at the Centre. As a result of the publication of the White Paper, a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament was appointed by His Majesty’s Government in April 1933 to evaluate and survey the proposals of the White Papers. These proposals were enacted into law and received the assent of the British Crown and became ultimately the basis for the Government of India Act of 1935.
The significance of the Act of 1935 lies in the fact that the provinces were endowed with a legal personality under a national scheme, and that the character of the national scheme was ultimately a federal system. This meant the abolition of the principle of dyarchy at the provincial level and its retention at the Centre.
But the federal construction that India follows today is poles apart from what the British came to us with. The biggest hint of federalism in India lies in the history of its foundation in 1947 when after the Partition of Pakistan from the Indian subcontinent all the provinces, presidencies, and princely states were united under an instrument of accession that signifies that all these previously sovereign or reliant states came together to be called one nation-state. The development and the journey of India as a federal country can be broadly understood by dividing it into two parts: The constitutional/legal provisions and the face of federalist India brought in by the Judiciary.
Judicial Character of Federalism in India
The Indian judiciary has time and again heard a number of cases involving the issue of the federal character of the Indian constitution. To understand what it had to say I have collected a few cases that will help in understanding the judiciary’s take on this.
Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala
Some of the judges, in this case, held federalism to be a part of the basic structure of the constitution which means it can’t be tampered with.
State of Karnataka v. Union of India
“The Indian Constitution is not federal in character but has been characterized as quasi-federal in nature. Even though the executive and legislative functions of the Centre and States have been defined and distributed, there runs through it all a thread or rein in the hands of the Centre in both the fields. “
Merits and Demerits of Federalism in India
Federalism in a diverse country like India has both merits and its consequences. Division of power helps in the easy governance of the 7th largest country but then a country with the second largest population needs a united government to govern people of almost every possible religion that exists. The integrated and independent judiciary is definitely a merit for the nation as it helps in proper remedy for rights. On the other hand, a written constitution with the kind of flexibility and rigidity possessed by the Indian constitution is a boon when it comes to the codification of rights but the same rigidity can stand as a bane if amendments need to be made. However, amendments to the Indian constitution are not that tough after all.
The basic principle of federalism is that the legislative, executive and financial authority is divided between the centre and the states not by law passed by the centre but the Constitution itself.
Indian Constitution also defines a counterpoise of powers between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. If courts are deprived of the powers, the fundamental rights conferred on the people of the country will become just equal to a decoration and people as puppet in the hands of the sovereign. Thus, it will also lead to a system wayward to that of democracy and undermine its spirit. The bestowal of the right to spifflicate the identity of the Constitution twinned with provision that no Court of Law shall pronounce upon the validity of such wipeout and no limit to the amending powers. If the constitutional amendment cannot be pronounced to be invalid even if it destroys the basic structure of the Constitution, a law passed in pursuance of such will be beyond the pale of judicial review as it will receive the protection of Constitutional amendment thus made and no organ has power to overrule it.
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