Nature of Indian Federalism

Federalism is division of power within an institution. It is a form of government, where power is distributed equally among all the other governmental bodies instead of placing power only in the hands of central government. In India, federalism describes the relationship between the States and the Union. In other words, we can say that Sovereignty in India is divided in two levels to make sure that power is equally distributed among states and union as well as to safeguard their independence. 

Constitution of India does not mention the word ‘federalism’ or ‘federation’, rather it was a mere advice given by the founding fathers of our nation. They suggested that in order to meet the requirements of our nation, India needs to form a federal system with dual polity. According to Article 1 of our constitution, “India is a ‘Union of States’.” It means that number of states come together in India to form a nation. In other words, states are equally important and fundamental in our country.[1] However, States in our country do not have the permission to withdraw itself from Union. Whereas the power to create new state or change its name or its territory is placed in the hands of Union. 

In unitary governance, the central government holds complete control of both legislative and administrative power, wherein, little to no discretion is placed with the states. Whereas States and central government share number of similar powers in case of federal governance. India does not adhere to a strict federal system. It is truly unusual in nature, as it is a hybrid of federal and unitary governance. India follows ‘Quasi-federal’ system,[2] which means that state and central government both of their powers are independent in nature and yet they do not coordinate with each other. 

Essence of federal system of India has been iterated in case of S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India,[3] wherein supreme court differentiated federalism in united states and India. In United States of America, states have complete control of their government and are distinct from union but in India, parliament holds few powers over states such as power of renaming them, power to change its territory, etc.[4] Furthermore, in certain instances it is observed that central government overrides the power of states. 

To conclude the nature of Indian Federalism, we can say that Indian constitution contains powers of both federal and unitary government and thus, it is Quasi-federal in nature. 

Concept of Federalism in Union Territories

Asymmetric Federal system is one where different states possess different powers, sometimes the powers vested in one state are little distinct from powers in other states as well as under this concept of federalism, few states are allowed greater autonomy than other states. Asymmetric federalism acts as a dispute resolution for matters relating to linguistic, ethnic and cultural differences amongst the states. Under this concept, few states are granted with more legislative, executive and at various instances more judicial powers than other states.[5]

Administration in India is mostly handled by Centre or State, but there also exist other forms of administration like union territories. Union territory fall under the ambit of central government but they have certain powers that are special in nature. Union territories are given special status in order to address certain historical, local and geographical differences.[6] Certain Union territories have their own legislations and some do not. For example, In India, Puducherry and Delhi have legislature whereas other territories do not have legislatures or council of minister in order to advice administration. In this manner there are certain disparities in the way some States and other component units of the Indian Union relate to the Centre, just as the Centre and the States do not have equal powers in all areas. This results in a significant asymmetry in the functioning of Indian federalism.[7]

There are two kinds of asymmetric federalism, namely, de facto and de jure. In de facto, asymmetry in federalism is on the basis of difference in culture, language, ethnicity, wealth, population, etc, between states. However, de jure means to provide specific powers different from other states/units to certain units thus, providing them with a special status. De jure in most situations is an element of constitutional design. 

Examples of de jure asymmetric federalism in India is the power, position and protection that is possessed by the states of Nagaland under Article 371A of Indian Constitution, Similarly under Article 371F, Sikkim enjoys special position and under Article 371G, Mizoram is given special powers. Fifth and Sixth Schedule of our constitution contains special provisions for protection and administration of Scheduled Tribes and Areas located in any state of India.[8] When special protection and administration is granted to Scheduled tribes as well as scheduled areas located in Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram and Tripura, it falls under the ambit of Sixth Schedule of our Indian Constitution. 

One of the most vital example of asymmetric federation in India is the previous state of Jammu and Kashmir. Special status provided to Kashmir is a kind of asymmetry that is not observed in any other states or union territory. Until 2019, Article 370 of our Indian Constitution provided state of Jammu and Kashmir with the permission to have their own constitution. Jammu and Kashmir had special rights in relation to holding a property, barring an outsider from holding a property[9]. It also had its own meaning for the term permanent residence. Along with all of these special rights and powers, Residence of Jammu and Kashmir did not have to follow any Indian Laws and instead had their own Criminal and Penal Code.[10]

[1] What is federalism ? – Federalism under the Constitution of India, , (last visited Dec 14, 2021).

[2] Id.

[3] S. R. Bommai V. Union of India, supra note 17.

[4] Id.

[5] The nature of Indian Constitution, , (last visited Dec 14, 2021).

[6] K. Venkataramanan, Explained | India’s asymmetric federalism, The Hindu, August 11, 2019, (last visited Dec 14, 2021).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Whether India a Union of States is an example of asymmetric federalism?, , (last visited Dec 14, 2021).

[10] Id.

Aishwarya Says:

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