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Indian Constitution- Federal or Unitary

Constitution of India- Whether Federal or Unitary

It has been the matter of debate among the scholars that whether the constitution of India is completely federal or unitary in nature. But actually Indian constitution contains both features of a federal constitution and unitary constitution. But for the very clear picture of this conclusion first of all we have to know that what is the federal constitution and what is unitary constitution. What feature of Indian constitution makes it federal or what features makes it unitary.

Federal Constitution:

In a federal set up there is a two tier of Government with well assigned powers and functions. In this system the central government and the governments of the units act within a well defined sphere, co-ordinate and at the same time act independently. The federal polity, in other words, provides a constitutional device for bringing unity in diversity and for the achievement of common national goals. K.C. Wheare defines federal government as an association of states, which has been formed for certain common purposes, but in which the member states retain a large measure of their original independence. A federal government exists when the powers of the government for a community are divided substantially according to a principle that there is a single independent authority for the whole area in respect of some matters and there are independent regional authorities for other matters, each set of authorities being co-ordinate to and subordinate to the others within its own sphere. The Constitution of India has adopted federal features; though it does not, in fact, claim that it establishes a federation. The question whether the Indian Constitution could be called a federal constitution troubled the minds of the members of the Constituent Assembly. This question cannot be answered without going into the meaning of federalism and the essential features that are evident in federal state.

Unitary Constitution

A unitary system is governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. All power is top down. A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as one single unit in which the central government is supreme and any administrative divisions (sub national units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate.

Federal Features of Indian Constitution

Supremacy of the Constitution: This is one of the federal features of the Indian constitution. The supremacy of the constitution means that both, the Union and the State Governments, shall operate within the limits set by the Constitution. And both the union government and the central government derive their powers from the constitution. Written Constitution The most important feature of a federation is that its constitution should be a written one. The Constitution of India is a written constitution is the most elaborate Constitution of the world.

Rigid Constitution: The constitution of India is a rigid constitution and this is one of the basic features of federal constitution. The procedure of amending the Constitution in a federal system is normally rigid. Indian Constitution provides that some amendments require a special majority. Such an amendment has to be passed by majority of total members of each house of the Parliament as well as by two-thirds majority of the members present and voting there in. However, in addition to this process, some amendments must be approved by at least 50% of the states. After this procedure the amendment is signed by the head of the state i.e; the President. Since in India important amendments can be amended through this procedure Hence, Indian Constitution has been rightly called a rigid constitution.

Division of Powers:

In Indian constitution the powers of state and centre are clearly defined and there are very clear limits of both the centre and the state for law making powers. Our constitution enumerates three lists, viz. the Union, the State and the Concurrent List. The Union List consists of 97 subjects of national importance such as Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, etc. The State List consists of 66 subjects of local interest such as Public Health, Police etc. The Concurrent List has 47 subjects important to both the Union and the State such as Electricity, Trade Union, Economic and Social Planning, etc.

Supremacy of the Judiciary: Supremacy of judiciary is another very important feature of a federal state where there is an independent judiciary to interpret the Constitution and to maintain its sanctity. The Supreme Court of India has the original jurisdiction to settle disputes between the Union and the States. It can declare a law as unconstitutional, if it contravenes any provision of the Constitution.

Unitary Features of Indian Constitution:

In spite of the fact that the Indian Constitution establishes a federal structure, it is indeed very difficult to put the Indian Constitution in the category of a true federation. The following provision of Indian constitution makes it unitary

Union of States; Article I of the Constitution describes India as a ‘Union of States’, which implies two things: firstly, it is not the result of an agreement among the States and secondly, the States have no freedom to secede or separate from the Union. Besides, the Constitution of the Union and the States is a single framework from which neither can get out and within which they must function. The federation is a union because it is indestructible and helps to maintain the unity of the country.

Appointment of Governor: Art 155 and 156 provide that the Governor, who is the constitutional head of a State, is to be appointed by the President and stays only until the pleasure of the President  The Centre may take over the administration of the State on the recommendations of the Governor or otherwise. In other words, Governor is the agent of the Centre in the States. The working of Indian federal system clearly reveals that the Governor has acted more as centre’s representative than as the head of the State. This enables the Union government to exercise control over the State administration.

Representation in the Legislature: The equality of units in a federation is best guaranteed by their equal representation in the Uppers House of the federal legislature (Parliament). However, this is not applicable in case of Indian States. They have unequal representation in the Rajya Sabha. In a true federation such as that of United State of America every State irrespective of their size in terms of area or population it sends two representatives in the upper House i.e. Senate.

Appointment on Key Positions: In addition to all this, all important appointments such as the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General are made by the Union Government. Besides, there is single citizenship. There is no provision for separate Constitutions for the states. The States cannot propose amendments to, the Constitution. As such amendments can only be made by the Union Parliament. All India Services such as IAS and IPS have been created which are kept under the control of the Union. In financial matters too, the States depend upon the Union to a great extent. The States do not possess adequate financial resources to meet their requirements. During Financial Emergency, the Center exercises full control over the State’s finances.

Disturbances in the state:  In case of disturbances in any State or part thereof, the Union Government is empowered to depute Central Force in the State or to the disturbed part of the State. Also, the Parliament, by law may increase or decrease the area of any State and may alter its name and boundaries.

Unified Judiciary: The federal principle envisages a dual system of Courts. But, in India we have unified Judiciary with the Supreme Court at the apex.

Power to make laws: The Constitution of India empowered the central government to make laws on the subjects in the state list. It is exercised only on the matters of national importance and that too if the Rajya Sabha agrees with 2/3 majority. The constitution establishes a strong Centre by assigning all-important subjects to the Centre as per the Union List. The State Governments have very limited powers.

Power to form new states and to change existing boundaries:

Under Art 3, center can change the boundaries of existing states and can carve out new states. This should be seen in the perspective of the historical situation at the time of independence. At that time there were no independent states. There were only provinces that were formed by the British based on administrative convenience. At that time States were artificially created and a provision to alter the boundaries and to create new states was kept so that appropriate changes could be made as per requirement. It should be noted that British India did not have states similar to the States in the USA.

 Emergency Provisions:

The President of India can declare three different types of emergency under article 352, article 356 and article 360 for an act of foreign aggression or internal armed rebellion, failure of constitutional machinery in a state and financial emergency respectively.. During the operation of an emergency, the powers of the State Governments are greatly curtailed and the Union Government becomes all in all.


From the above discussion it is seen that the constitution of India neither is the complete federation nor it is completely unitary. It has the features of both. Sir Ivor Jennings was of the view that India has a federation with a strong centralizing policy. In the words of D.D.Basu, the Constitution of India is neither purely federal nor unitary, but is a combination of both. It is a union or a composite of a novel type. It is often defined to be quasi-federal in nature. Thus we can safely say that It is primarly Unitary having some unitary features. 

 SUVEER DUBEY June 17, 2010
Here,it is systematic points which are given according to need for subjective conventional exams.Its provide all information required to give a complete answer.
 NAMAN NAYAK August 30, 2010
 hasannn November 15, 2010
ind cons is federal in normal times but unitary at emergency. dat iz stupendous peculiarity besides all others.
 Sushant Sawant March 16, 2011
I believe indian constitution has got both federal as well as unitary features which reflect in the respective provisions made in it. Whenever the situation arises where we have to determine if it is unitary or federal, i think it is always decided from the perspective of the context of that respective case. Moreover, it also depends on the respective judges's conscience as to if it is to be treated as unitary or federal. I beleive more emphasis should be given on the just verdict over a case does'nt matter if it demands constitution to be treated as federal or constitiution.
 srikala April 20, 2011
thank you for that precise answer.
 Ganesh Pol May 15, 2011
good article..... It helped me in the preparation of post-graduation entrance of Political science.
 Aarez Shaikh May 16, 2011
Nice article dude,,,,
It helped me to understand my first topic of Company Secretary a lot.
Raj Kshirsagar June 1, 2011
Should have more information about the conclusion
Raj Kshirsagar June 1, 2011
Information should also have some pictures in it so that the reader should not get boar
 aditya June 2, 2011
should also have from which country did indian constitution took it
reese robertlv. June 3, 2011
internet is the best place where we can get every information.
 Sonali Singh June 4, 2011
A very nice article, it helped me a lot in my vaccation homework.
 saket August 13, 2011
nice article......thanx a lot
 abdulbasithmk September 18, 2011
It was realy use ful for me as a student thank u ....
Paul Jerang  October 2, 2011
Had it included the name of the respective country from where the Indian Constitution adopted it, then I guess it would have been much better and informative.
 Randhir chandra October 21, 2011
I think more definition of the federation should be included in according to different different scholar
 Lobsang norbu December 3, 2011
It's very comprehensive and useful article, especially for the student of pol-science. Thanks!
 Barunav Das December 7, 2011
India directly cant be said as a quasi-federal state.Prof.wheare has coined the phrase"quasi federal" applicable to India but he has nowhere defined what "quasi-federal" is.The term quasi federal is extremely vague as it does not denote how powerful the centre is, how much deviation there is from the pure "federal model" or what kind of special position a particular quasi federation occupies between a unitary state and a federation proper. India is Federal though it deviate in respect of cerain matters from the so called strict federalism of America ,Australlia or Switzerland...but the reason is obivious ,our constitution framers defined the indian federal structure not with an eye on theoritical but on practical considerations in designinfg fedaralism.It is rather a merit of the constitution that it visualises the contingencies when the strict application of the federal principle might destroy the basic assumption on which our constitution is built. So India is federal and America is more federal in the outline of the constitution.In the words of D.D.Basu, the Constitution of India is neither purely federal nor unitary, but is a combination of both. It is a union or a composite of a novel type.Thus Indian Constitution is mainly federal with unique safeguards for enforcing national unity nad growth....but calling it quasi federal will be completly wrong
 MUNEER AHMAD BHAT February 6, 2012
indian constitution consists of both fedral and unitary features but it should stick to only one of these ma oppinion indian const should be fedral only.....
it is an important article for everyone thank u
 Abhilash February 26, 2012
very nice article it is very useful for all generation......
 Swapnil March 29, 2012
Complete Federal machinery is not useful for country like India.So our constitution makers have given us strong machinery.
 ABHISHEK April 8, 2012
nice buddy.
 madhusudhan April 18, 2012
nice, useful to the aspirants of competative exams
Ruchi Tripathi April 19, 2012
"Good Article",awesome work.
 PRINCE May 2, 2012
well it is a good debatable topic. bt itz clear INDIA is mixture of ferderation & unitration no more deabtes!!!
 constitution May 27, 2012
a very very useful,important and comprehensive as well
thanx a lot for dis
lucky June 20, 2012
thank u so much for dis rticle. it s so very helpful & easy to understand...
Shatrughna July 5, 2012
here it is given good explanation. which is very helpful to clear concept
ARPAN TAMANG July 25, 2012
thank you for the answer now i can complete my assignment.
KALYANI SHARMA August 24, 2012
That is really very important for us to know about the constitution,thanks for this notes for clearification of my concept.
Mahima Sharma October 23, 2012
It can be safely said that indian constitution is primarily federal in nature even though it has unique features that enable it to assume unitary features upon the time of need.
Kalyan November 4, 2012
Very good article......Thank you very much.....
chelsye November 9, 2012
how do you find more things about india
Sneha Xavier November 19, 2012
Very Nice Article.. Precise, Simple and Clear.
Thank you so much.....
Muhammed January 9, 2013
Thanks for these articles provided.but i wish to know more things about indian constitution
alex January 18, 2013
very use full & interesting to read
garima January 18, 2013
India is federal in state but unitary in spirit. It posses almostly all the features of federal government but its with strong central so its not federal government but we can say its semi federal government.
henry hrahsel February 21, 2013
can you give me the detail of the federal features of indian constitution
veenaprasad February 23, 2013
we should have federal system works in india
sonakshi March 13, 2013
can you give more details..
swathi April 16, 2013
information is good but not totally relevant to the question
navya April 21, 2013
it is like a short summary of my entire book
navya April 21, 2013
it is like a short summary of my entire book
Shruti Sharma June 5, 2013
"This article is really awesome.It will help me in doing of my vacation homework."
paras June 8, 2013
it help me in preaparing my projecct
Brijesh June 9, 2013
An Excellent Description of each an every point is given here. Got a lot of help from here.
Raj August 3, 2013
Really wonderful explanation...
excellent article
Groovy Jack August 21, 2013
Thanks man! Saved from a debate on the above topc.
puspanjaliu rout August 28, 2013
an excillent article for political science student.
ram gopal November 18, 2013
after reading all the content containing in this page and in some books about the said topic in my submission INDIAN CONSTITUTION has its UNIQUE kind of FEDERAL Nature.
showkat ahmad malla February 1, 2014
right article
Irfan January 14, 2015
Sir, tricks suolhd be avail for indian histoy for understand the topic in detail. so please make tricks and send my e-mail id. thanks for your history quiz with answer.
KaDir January 14, 2015
Оставьте свой комментарий Вы можете использовать следующие HTML тэги: Notify me of followup ctomenms via e-mail
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