Article 1 of the Indian constitution says, India, that is Bharat, is a Union of States. The fact that Indian constitution has declared Indian polity as a “unitary” one instead of a federal one raises questions about the exact nature of our constitution.


On the contrary, the Supreme court has declared in its judgment that Indian constitution is a federal one. This is due to various features that make Indian constitution a federal structure rather than a unitary one.


Early Years

Dr. BR Ambedkar had clearly argued in the Constitutional Amendment debates that the union has been deliberately used because India was not created by the agreement of different states. Infact, the Union was indestructible but the states were not.


However, Federalism was promoted in early years of the independence by setting up:

  • National Development Council was set up in 1952
  • National Integration Council was similarly set up in 1962
  • Annual conferences were held between the centre and state chief ministers on finance, labour, food and other functional areas.


Various federal features:

  1. Written constitution
  2. Rajya Sabha
  3. Distribution of power between the Center and the States by the 7th schedule of the constitution.
  4. Independent Judiciary
  5. Dual system of governments with government at the Centre and government at the State level as well
  6. Supremacy of the Constitution


Unitary features:

  1. Residuary powers lie with the Centre and not the States as in the US
  2. Overwhelming taxation powers of the Centre
  3. Single Citizenship
  4. Integrated judiciary with Supreme court at the apex level
  5. Position of Governor vis-a-vis the State executive
  6. Emergency powers of the center under Article 356, 352, and 365
  7. All India Services


Hence, it can be seen that Indian polity is federal with peculiar unitary features.


Cooperative federalism:

Indian federalism can be more accurately described as “cooperative” federalism. It has all the features of a federal structure as described above and gives ample power to the States to run their government, impose taxes and decide various policies on development. In this matter, the central government assists the states in carrying out these plans through grants, and also ensures integrity of the nation is maintained.


More recently, cooperative federalism has become even more relevant as Planning Commission has been scrapped and NITI Aayog has been established.


Do you think partisan federalism is acting as impediment to cooperative federalism? Examine how the Supreme Court can end partisan federalism in India.


  • Federalism is a part of the Basic Structure and strengthening of federalism is key to ensuring good governance in the country. The present government has laid emphasis on cooperative and competitive federalism and seeks state’s support in many of its key initiatives such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan etc.
  • However the bane of partisan federalism still impacts the polity of the country.


Following are the manifestation of partisan federalism, which conflicts, with the idea of cooperative federalism:

  1. Appointment of governors – The post of governor has become a key tool by which the centre likes to have some semblance of control over state polity, as the appointment of governor happens through the centre. The present government post coming to power appointed many new governors replacing the old ones in line with what has been happening so far. Despite SC guidelines on removal of governor (BP Singhal vs UoI) and on office of governor (Hargobind kaur vs Raghukul), the issue persists
  2. Application of President Rule – SC in SR Bommai case had said that President Rule should be a measure of last resort. However the political developments in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand defy that directive. The Supreme Court had to step in to reinstate the Congress led government post application of President’s Rule.
  3. Use of Governor’s Office: The office of governor is still used to reserve bills of state governed by Opposition party for President’s approval. In the absence of objective guidelines on what bills should be reserved, the problem persists. Case in point is the centre’s tussle with Delhi government over bills like the delhi govt bill on Parliamentary Secretary

However the Centre has also taken steps to strengthen the rubric of Federalism in the country:

  1. The passage of 101st CA Bill by an effective process of consultation with state government and addressing their concerns through the Empowered Group of Finance Ministers is a shining example of Cooperative Federalism
  2. The implementation of the report of 14th Finance Commission accepting greater devolution of taxes to the state also shows strengthening of Fiscal Federalism
  3. Despite a single party government at the centre, compulsion of coalition politics at state level ensures that the concerns of states are taken on board


The Supreme Court though can act to ensure that the isolated cases of Partisan Federalism by directing centre to give effect to its verdict in SR Bommai case with respect to imposition of President’s Rule, appointment of governor in BP Singhal case etc.