Thursday, March 16, 2017

Is the Constitution of India Federal or Not ??

The Constitution of India has made a provision for a federal government system in India.

In this article we shall discuss the various features and characteristics of a federal government.

Some Facts about Federation - 

The word federation originated from the Latin word, ‘foedus’ which means treaty or agreement.

In other words, a federation is a state that is formed by an agreement between various regions.

For example, the United States of America is a federal country which was formed when 13 states joined hands to become a stronger and bigger unit.

Current, there are 50 states in the United States of America.

It is the oldest federation in the world.

Each unit or region that come together to form a larger union is known as states like in the United States, cantons like in Switzerland, provinces like in Canada or republics like in Russia.

Types of federation based on the type of formation -

There are two kinds of federations.

The first one is formed when a number of militarily or economically backward states or units sign an agreement to become a bigger union, for example the US.

The other type is when a bigger region is disintegrated into several smaller units. This is basically done to provide a sort of autonomy to the individual regions for efficient governance. For example, Canada.

There are 10 provinces in Canada, originally there were 4.

The reason why the framers of the constitution decided to adopt the federal system are -

(a) Large size of the country

(b) India’s Socio-cultural diversity

Although the word ‘federation’ is not mentioned in the constitution, but the government is framed in federal manner.

It is even mentioned in Article 1 of Indian Constitution, that India is a Union of States.

Please note, it nowhere mentions India as a federation of states.

According to Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the phrase, ‘Union of States’ is used for mainly two reasons.

Firstly, India is not a result of an agreement between different states and secondly, any of the Indian states have no right to withdraw from the Union.

India is a federation that is indestructible.

In other words, India is a Union.

One of the advantages to adopt a federal nature was that given the large size and diverse community, it would be much more efficient to govern if each state had a certain level of sovereignty and autonomy.

Federal Features of the Constitution -

1. Dual Polity -

The constitution implemented a dual polity system which consisted of the Union at the Central level and the states at the boundaries.

Each of these governing bodies were provided and endowed with specific sovereign powers which they could use for the welfare of the country.

The state governments work for the benefits and development of smaller regions or states while the union government caters to the overall development and welfare of the whole nation.

Matters like national defense, foreign policies, currency and communication is handled by the union government whereas the state government handles matters of regional importance like maintaining public order, regional agriculture, health issue etc.

2. Written Constitution -

Our Constitution is the lengthiest written Constitution in the world.

Originally it contained 395 articles and 8 schedules.

Over the years, by the procedure of amendment, the number of articles has increased to 450 and 4 additional schedules have also been added.

The constitution explains in detail the organisation, powers and functions of both the governments.

It also describes the limits of each government in which they must operate.

This avoids a lot of confusion and conflict of powers between the two.

3. Division of Powers -

The powers of the state and union government are divided by the Constitution in terms of the Union list, State list and Concurrent list.

The Union list has 100 subjects, the State list has 61 subjects and the Concurrent list has 52 subjects at present.

These subjects are nothing but a list of the extent of power of both the governments.

The two governments can make laws upon the matters of their respective lists.

On the matter mentioned in the concurrent list, both the union and the state government can make laws.

In case of any conflicts on subjects that are not mentioned in any lists, the power rests with the union government.

4. Supremacy of Constitution -

The Constitution is the highest law of our country.

Every law mentioned in the constitution is known as a constitutional law whereas every law made by the parliament is known as ordinary law.

These ordinary laws must be in line with the constitutional laws.

If they violate them, the Supreme Court can use its judicial review power and render such ordinary laws null and void.

5. Rigid Constitution -

The balance between the powers of the state and union government can only be maintained if the procedure to amend this part of the constitution is rigid enough.

Otherwise, if the parliament had the power to easily amend it, then it may try and shift the balance towards its own side.

Thankfully, the amendment procedures requires a special majority which also requires the states to vote in favor of the amendment.

This way, the powers of the state government are secure.

6. Independent Judiciary - 

According to the constitution, the judicial system of the country is independent.

This was done for mainly two reasons.

Firstly, the judicial system, headed by the Supreme Court, can exercise its judicial review power to maintain and protect the supremacy of the constitution and secondly, to resolve any kind of power conflict between the union and the state government.

7. Bicameralism -

Bicameral legislature means two houses of the parliament.

The Upper house and the Lower house.

They are commonly known as the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha respectively.

Rajya Sabha represents the states whereas the lok sabha represents the people of the country as a whole.

Rajya Sabha is less powerful than the Lok Sabha, but it is still vital as it maintains the balance between the two governments by protecting the interests of the states.

The Constitution of India deviated from the strict definition of the federal system by implementing a number of non-federal features. This made the union government more powerful than the state government. Hence, KC Wheare called the Indian Constitution as ‘quasi-federal’. According to him, India is a Unitary state with some federal features.

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