Indian Federalism and Center State Relations
The Constitution provides a federal system of government in the country even though it describes India as ‘a Union of States’. The term implies that firstly, the Indian federation is not the result of an agreement between independent units, and secondly, the units of Indian federation cannot leave the federation. The Indian Constitution contains both federal and non- federal features.

Federal Features

The federal features of the Constitution include:

(1) A written constitution which defines the structure, organization and powers of the central as well as state governments
(2) A rigid constitution which can be amended only with the consent of the states
(3) An independent judiciary which acts as the guardian of the constitution.
(4) A clear division of powers between the Center and the States through three lists- Union list, State list and Concurrent list
(5) The creation of an Upper House (Rajya Sabha) which gives representation to the states, etc.

Non – Federal Features

The Constitution also contains a number of unitary features:

(1) The creation of a very strong centre
(2) The absence of separate constitutions for the states
(3) The right of Parliament to amend major portions of the constitution by itself
(4) A single citizenship for all
(5) Unequal representation to the states in the Rajya Sabha
(6) The right of Parliament to change the name, territory or boundary of states without their consent
(7) The presence of All- India Services which hold key positions in the Centre as well as the States appointment of the Governor by the President
(8) The granting of extensive powers to the President to deal with various kinds of emergencies
(9) The right of Parliament to legislate on state subjects on the recommendation of the Rajya Sabha
(10) The presence of a single judiciary with the Supreme Court of India at the apex
(11) The residuary powers under the Indian Constitution are assigned to the Union and not to the States.
(12) The exclusive right of Parliament to propose amendments to the Constitution.
(13) On account of the presence of a large number of non- federal features in the Indian Constitution India is often described as a ‘quasi-federal ‘country.


Relations between the Union and States can be studied under the following heads

(a) Legislative Relations- The Constitution divides legislative authority between the Union and the States in three lists- the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. The Union list consists of 99 items. The Union Parliament has exclusive authority to frame laws on subjects enumerated in the list. These include foreign affairs, defence, armed forces, communications, posts and telegraph, foreign trade etc. The State list consists if 61 subjects on which ordinarily the States alone can make laws. These include public order, police, administration of justice, prison, local governments, agriculture etc. The Concurrent list comprises of 52 items including criminal and civil procedure, marriage and divorce, economic and special planning trade unions, electricity, newspapers, books, education, population control and family planning etc. Both the Parliament and the State legislatures can make laws on subjects given in the Concurrent list, but the Centre has a prior and supreme claim to legislate on current subjects. In case of conflict between the law of the State and Union law on a subject in the Concurrent list, the law of the Parliament prevails. Residuary powers rest with the Union government. Parliament can also legislate on subjects in the State list if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution by two-third majority that it is necessary to do so in the national interest. During times of emergency, Parliament can make laws on subjects in the State List. Under Article 356 relating to the failure of constitutional machinery in the state, Parliament can take over the legislative authority of the state. Likewise, for the implementation of international treaties or agreements, Parliament can legislate on state subjects. Finally, Parliament can make laws on subjects in the State list if two or more states make a joint request to it to do so. Thus, the Centre enjoys more extensive powers than the states.

(b) Administrative relations- The Indian Constitution is based on the principle that the executive power is co-extensive with legislative power, which means that the Union executive/the state executive can deal with all matters on which Parliament/state legislature can legislate. The executive power over subjects in the Concurrent list is also exercised by the states unless the Union government decides to do so. The Centre can issue directives to the state to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament for construction and maintenance of the means of communications declared to be of national or military importance, on the measures to be adopted for protection of the railways, for the welfare of the scheduled tribes and for providing facilities for instruction in mother tongue at primary stage to linguistic minorities. The Centre acquires control over states through All India Services, grants- in- aid and the fact that the Parliament can alone adjudicate in inter- state river disputes. During a proclamation of national emergency as well as emergency due to the failure of constitutional machinery in a state the Union government assumes all the executive powers of the state.

(c) Financial Relations – Both the Union government and the states have been provided with independent sources of revenue by the Constitution. Parliament can levy taxes on the subjects included in the Union list. The states can levy taxes on the subjects in the state list. Ordinarily, there are no taxes on the subjects in the Concurrent List. In the financial sphere also the States are greatly dependent on the Centre for finances. The Centre can exercise control over state finances through the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and grants. but during financial emergency the President has the power to suspend the provision regarding division of taxes between the centre and the states.

Finance Commission –One of the instruments which the Constitution has evolved for the purpose of distributing financial resources between the Centre and the states is the Finance Commission. The Finance Commission according to Article 280 of the Constitution is constituted by the President once every five year and is a high- power body. The duty of the Commission is to make recommendations to the President as to: (a) the distribution between the union and the states of the net proceeds of the taxes which are to be divided between them and the allocation between the states themselves of the respective share of such proceeds; (b) the principles which should govern the grants-in-aid of the revenues amongst the states out of the Consolidated Fund of India.

Co- operative Federalism

The Indian Constitution provides for a number of mechanisms to promote co-operative federalism. Article 263 empowers the President to establish Inter-State Council to promote better co-ordination between the Centre and States.

Inter -State Council was formally constituted in 1990. It is headed by the Prime Minister and includes six Cabinet ministers of the Union and Chief Ministers of all the states and union territories.

Zonal Councils were set up under the State Re-organization Act, 1956, to ensure greater cooperation amongst states in the field of planning and other matters of national importance. The act divided the country into six zones and provided a Zonal Council in each zone. Each council consists of the Chief Minister and two other ministers of each of the states in the zone and the administrator in the case of the union territory. The Union Home Minister has been nominated to be the common chairman of all the zonal councils.