Short Notes : Federalism


  • two or more levels (or tiers) of government.Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.
  • Power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country (the states).
  • One is the government for the entire country that is usually responsible for a few subjects of common national interest.
  • The others are governments at the level of provinces or states that look after much of the day-to-day administering of their state.
  • Both these levels of governments enjoy their power independent of the other.

The Indian Federation

Indian Union was formed on the basis of federalism.

  • The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government. The Union Government or Central Government and the State governments.
  • Later, a third tier was added in the federation; with the formation of Panchayats and Municipalities.

Key Features of Federalism

  • Two or more levels (or tiers) of government.
  • Same citizens are governed, but each tier has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of legislation, taxation and administration.
  • Existence and authority of each tier of government is constitutionally guaranteed.
  • Fundamental provisions of the constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government.
  • Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government.
  • Dual objectives: to safeguard and promote unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity.

Balance of Power

The exact balance of power between the central and the state government varies from one federation to another.

Two kinds of routes through which federations have been formed; which are as follows:

  1. Coming together federations
  2. Holding together federation

List of Jurisdiction

Union List

  • Includes subjects of national importance; such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency.
  • The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.

State List

  • Contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture and irrigation.
  • The State Governments alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the State List.

Concurrent List

  • Includes subjects of common interest to both the Union Government as well as the State Governments, such as education, forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption and succession.
  • Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list. If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.

Residuary List

  • Anything out of purview of above mentioned list is taken as residuary subject. Union Government has the power to legislate on these subjects.

Special Status

  • Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution.
  • Many provisions of the Indian Constitution are not applicable to this State without the approval of the State Assembly.
  • Indians who are not permanent residents of this State cannot buy land or house here.
  • Similar special provisions exist for some other States of India as well.

Union Territories

  • There are some units of the Indian Union which enjoy very little power.
  • These are areas which are too small to become an independent State but which could not be merged with any of the existing States.
  • These areas, like Chandigarh, or Lakshadweep or the capital city of Delhi, are called Union Territories.
  • These territories do not have the powers of a State. The Central Government has special powers in running these areas.

Reasons for Success of Federalism in India

  • Linguistic States
  • Language policy
  • Centre-State relations

Situation during Congress Monopoly

  • For a major period; after independence; same party was in power in both centre and states in most parts of the country.
  • Those were the days of Congress monopoly in India.
  • In those days, the central government often undermined the rights of the state governments.
  • Many states were brought under President’s rule at slight pretext of assertiveness from the state government.

Situation in the Era of Coalition Government:

  • After 1989, the pattern has shifted to multi-party coalition government at the centre.
  • As a result a new culture of power sharing and respect for the autonomy of State Governments has developed.
  • It can be said that now the federalism is more developed in India.

Decentralisation in India

A vast country like India cannot be run only through two-tiers of government as discussed above. Some of the Indian states are bigger than independent countries of Europe. The population of Uttar Pradesh is more than that of Russia. These states are internally very diverse in terms of variety of dialects, eating habits and culture.

Hence, a need for creating a third tier of government was always being felt.

A major step towards decentralisation was taken in 1992. The Constitution was amended to make the third-tier of democracy more powerful and effective. The local governing bodies were given constitutional status.

  • Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
  • Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
  • At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
  • An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
  • The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies. The nature of sharing varies from State to State. Rural local government is popularly known by the name panchayati raj.
  • Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat. This is a council consisting of several ward members, often called panch. The president of the panchayat is called sarpanch.
  • Members of a panchayat are directly elected by the all the adults who are living in the panchayat.
  • The local government structure goes right up to the district level. A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a panchayat samiti or block or mandal.
  • Similarly, local government bodies exist for urban areas as well. Municipalities are set up in towns.
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