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Breaking Down the Basics

  • The three main ways of Division of Power between Central authorities and other units of the country are –
    => Federalism: two levels of government are at par, equal.
    => Unitary: regional levels are subordinate to general level.
    => Confederation: general level is subordinate to regional level.

  • Federalism is a form of governance where the power is divided between the National Government and other governmental units, typically, the states/provinces.

  • The Central Government (Federal Government) and other regional units (provincial, state, other government sub-units) are combined in a single political system.
    Powers are divided between two levels of Government of equal status.
    It is a hybrid (mixed) mode of government.

  • The United States of America is a distinct example of this system. Other examples of federations/federal states are Brazil, Germany, Australia, etc.

Characteristics of Federalism

  • There should be at least two levels of government.
    Different levels govern the same citizens with each tier having independent jurisdiction over matters such as legislation, administration and taxation.
    Central level is responsible for subjects of common national interest.
    Regional levels are responsible for day-to-day administration.

  • Written Constitutional guarantee for the existence and authority of each level of government.

  • Unilateral changes in fundamentals of the Constitution are not allowed. Both or all levels must give consent.

  • Courts can interpret constitution, and the power bestowed upon each level.
    In cases of conflict between the levels, the judiciary can intervene to settle and adjudicate.

  • Revenue source is outlined clearly for each level to ensure financial independence and security.

  • Dual objective of federal system –
    => Safeguard unity by preventing singular concentration of power.
    => Promoting unity by generating strength of the Nation through it.

Types of Federal Systems

The type of Federation is classified on the basis of the autonomy possessed by the constituent/regional units. The two types of Federations are:

  • Holding Together Federation:

Power sharing between different constituent units so as to cater to diversity in the society.
In this type, there is a Unitary Tilt –tilt towards Central authority– in power.
Examples include India, Spain, Belgium etc.

  • Coming together Federation:

Independent States/constituent units coming together to form a bigger unit forms a ‘coming together’ Federation.
States give up some amount of power to the Centre, but enjoy much more autonomy as compared to those in Holding Together Federations.
Examples include United States of America, Australia, Switzerland etc.


Federalism in India

  • Article 1 of the Constitution says that India is a Union of States.

  • Interestingly, though India has a federal form of government, the Constitution of India does not explicitly declare India as a federation, nor has the term ‘Federalism’ been used in it.
    Due to clear demarcation of boundaries and power between Centre and States it said to have a Federal structure.

  • While framing the Constitution, the idea was that of a strong Centre, with States having a substantial amount of independence.

  • Federalism was declared a basic feature of the Indian Constitution in S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (AIR1994SC1918) by the Supreme Court despite its ‘Unitary Tilt.’
    Constitution is said to have Centrist Bias – catering for several provisions favouring the Centre.

  • This debatable position has led to system of distribution of power in India being termed as a quasi-federal arrangement or semi-federal.
    While in normal times the Constitution is Federal, in emergency periods such as wars etc. it becomes unitary.

Federalism in India


Current Affairs POI –

Federalism in the time of COVID-19

  • The importance of smooth Centre-State relations can be observed and tested in emergencies such as the global pandemic we are currently facing.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic may be seen as a test of the Federal structure of India.

  • The States are first on the scene – first responders to the pandemic. It is essential in such cases for the ‘Unitary Tilt’ to take a backseat and for Centre and States to establish a relationship of parity to strengthen their response and effectively handle the situation. Some Federal issues that have come up are mentioned below.
    => Financial Dependence of Stets on Centre has increased as the former’s sources of revenue have taken a hit.
    => Zone Classification plan to classify areas as red, orange and green based on their infection rate was formulated despite strong opposition from some states. States demand more autonomy in making classifications.
    => Migrant Crisis has seen both Centre and States fail to come up with an effective solution to avert the same. Increase in State population as these workers return to their home States, mostly => States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which are in financial crisis, will put greater pressure on their pockets.

  • Few suggestions to tackle these are –
    => Inclusion of Management of Disasters and Emergencies (both natural and manmade) in the => Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule.
    => Review of institution of the governor and Article 356.
    => Promote co-operative Federalism by making Inter-State Council a permanent body (Prime Minister recently held a meeting with Chief Ministers of the States, this highlights co-operative federalism).

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