What is Federalism? What is its difference from confederalism? What is the Indian federal system like? What clauses in the Constitution guarantee federalism? What are the issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure? To learn more, Read here.
Federalism has become a relevant and important factor in modern politics. The core objectives of Indian federalism are unity in diversity, decentralization in administration, and devolution in authority. The state will be able to pursue the goal of common welfare amid diversity through federalism.
Due to the uniqueness of the Indian federal system, there arise many issues & challenges about the federal structure. Let us learn about each issue faced by India for its quasi-federal structure.
What is Federalism?
Federalism is a combined or compound mode of government that combines a general government with regional governments in a single political system, dividing the powers between the two.
Federalism differs from confederalism, in which the general level of government is subordinate to the regional level, and from devolution within a unitary state, in which the regional level of government is subordinate to the general level.
It represents the central form in the pathway of regional integration or separation, bounded on the less integrated side by confederalism and on the more integrated side by devolution within a unitary state.
Federal Structure of India
- K.C. Wheare, a federal theorist, has maintained that the Indian Constitution is quasi-federal. as it represents the features of federation and union.
- The Supreme Court of India concluded in Sat Pal v State of Punjab and Ors (1969) that the Indian Constitution is more quasi-federal than federal or unitary.
- As per Article 1 of the Indian Constitution, “India that is Bharat shall be a Union of States.” Federalism in India was not about coming together of the states to form the Federal Union. But, it was a conversion of a unitary to a federal system.
- The federal system in India is considered one of a kind in the world. It is also regarded as ‘federation sui generis’, which means a federation of its kind. The federalism system in India is a compromise between autonomy enjoyed by the states and the need for strong central governance.
- The federalism system in India is a relationship between the Central government and State governments. In the Indian system of federalism, there are two tiers of government, and each tier has its distinctive power and judiciary system. However, the Central judiciary lies in the hands of the Supreme Court of India.
- Indian federal system is one of a kind and is different from the systems practiced in the United States of America.
- However, due to the quasi-federal system, many issues & challenges about the federal structure arise in India.
Provisions in the Constitution to Ensure Federal structure
- Articles 245 to 254 of the Indian Constitution outline the states and the Centre’s separate legislative powers.
- 7th Schedule: The listings in the Constitution’s 7th Schedule — Union, State, and concurrent — also demonstrate a fair distribution of powers, with each level of government having its realm, allowing for context-sensitive decision-making.
- Article 263: Article 263 established an Inter-State Council to ensure a seamless transition of commerce between the Union and the states, as well as the resolution of disputes.
- Article 280: Article 280 established the Finance Commission, which was charged with defining the Union’s and states’ financial relationships and terms.
- 73rd and 74th Amendments: The 73rd and 74th Amendments further provided structures for local self-government to improve grassroots democracy.
- Article 200: Article 200 of the Indian Constitution stipulated that the states must obey the laws made by the Central government during emergencies and it empowers the Union Government to earn more power.
- Institutions for Federalism: The Planning Commission was always open to debate on matters relating to the polity’s federal nature and was attentive to the various developmental needs of states.
- Inter-state tribunals, the National Development Council, and other informal bodies have acted as platforms for dialogue between the Union, states, and UTs.
Issues and Challenges Pertaining to Federal Structure
But like all political systems, it will have its fair share of challenges. Below are some of the challenges regarding federalism in India
- India is a nation of diversity, where people from different cultural backgrounds reside together. Regionalism is one of the major issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure.
- Regionalism is where an individual’s region is given preference, at times that of other regions as well. In a country as diverse and geographically vast as India, regionalism tends to rear its ugly head from time to time.
- Regionalism is a significant hindrance that stands in front of federalism.
- Some factors can be cultural as in the example of the Northeast states whose denizens feel that they are not culturally close enough to the rest of the country or the case of the Southern states who feel they are not given their fair share of central funds despite having large states.
- In such situations, people prefer their state over any other state, giving rise to regionalism. After several years of federal rule, we can still find regionalism in India.
Centralized Amendment Power
- In a typical federation, the power of amendment to the Federal Constitution lies on a shared basis between the federation and its units. In India, the power of constitutional amendment lies with the Centre under Article 368 and other provisions.
- Although ratification of half of the states is sought in some limited areas, the states in the Indian Union have virtually no power in this critical area of governance.
- Federations worldwide have sought a constitutional mechanism to provide equal representation to all units to prevent the predominant influence of larger units on the smaller units. However, there is no such provision for equal representation of units in the Rajya Sabha in India. The States are not allowed to give opinions over the amendments done to the Constitution of India from time to time.
Encroachments on States’ Autonomy in State Subjects
- In recent years, several major and politically sensitive decisions have been made without consultation or reference to the relevant states, such as:
- Without consulting the state legislature, Article 370 was repealed.
- Overstepping its power and forcing a law on the states, Parliament legislated on “agricultural” in the state list to enact the three disputed farm laws.
- The New Education Policy 2020 has also been criticized for infringing on the polity’s federal nature.
- In addition, the BSF’s jurisdiction was expanded without consultation with the respective governments in Assam, West Bengal, and Punjab.
- India is a land of diversity, and people of different cultures and backgrounds reside in India. Diversity in languages in India sometimes causes a blow to the federal spirit of the Constitution. There are 22 languages constitutionally approved in India. Besides, hundreds of dialects are spoken across the country.
- Trouble arises when the strongest unit of the federation attempts to force a particular language on others. The tussle for the official language in India is still a burning issue.
- The southern states’ opposition to Hindi as the official language of India has led to a deep-seated language crisis in India.
Economic Incompatibilities of the Units
- Differences in economic standards and relative economic and fiscal incompatibilities among the constituent states also pose a threat to a federation.
- The forces of imbalances in the field are demands for economic planning and development for regional economic equality and the financial autonomy of states. Demand for financial equality in a region creates problems in a federation.
- In India, some states are declared as poor and on the principle of equalization, are getting grants-in-aid. However, the dilemma in a federation emerges that if the principle of equalization is adhered to, the national income and the total income growth will suffer.
Problems with the Tax System
- The ill-conceived Goods and Services Tax (GST) has already stripped states of most of their sovereignty and made the country’s indirect tax framework unitary.
- The Union government routinely breached the GST regime’s reimbursement commitments to the States during the pandemic. The impact of the economic slump was exacerbated by the failure to pay the States their dues.
Read: Types of taxes in India
Division Of Powers
- Unlike other federations globally, India’s distribution of power is different and unique. According to the Indian Constitution, the division of powers are made under three list among the Central and State governments.
- The powers of Central and State governments are mentioned in the Union list and State list, respectively. Whereas, some other powers are vested in the hands of both governments, and it is mentioned in the Concurrent List.
- The division of power among the Central and State governments is one of the significant issues & challenges to the Federal structure.
- Although economic and social planning is found in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, Still, the Union government still gets unconstrained authority over national and regional decision-making and planning in India.
- Centralized planning, through the Planning Commission, now NITI Aayog appointed by the Centre, considerable preponderance in legislative power for the Union, the financial dependence of the states on the Centre’s mercy, and the administrative inferiority of the states make the states meek and weak.
- The State governments are dependent on the Central Government for financial aid. The lack of powers in the hands of the State government makes it difficult for federalism in India.
Article written by Aseem Muhammed