The Federal System is based on the principle of division of powers. Which enables the Center and the states to function independently in their respective fields. 

In this article, we will discuss the Federal System of India in a simple and easy way, and try to understand its various important aspects. So read the article completely and solve the practice questions to check your understanding.

Federal System
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Introduction to the Federal System of India

Talking in the context of India, the government here is based on the parliamentary system, where the executive is responsible to the legislature. But the special thing here is that the states also have their own Legislature , which is a kind of Parliament there. And each state has its own government and that too independent of the Centre. These characteristics, they actually come from the federal system and we are going to understand this in this article.


Federalism, that is, a system of mixed governance under a single political system where there is a central government and several provincial governments and the powers of both are divided in such a way that both can make decisions and implement them independently. be able to.

A sangha (Federation) is little different from a confederation. It is said to be a political system in which two or more almost completely independent nations or any institution agree that they will have relations with the rest of the world as a single nation. For example –  European Union.

The members of confederation have more freedom as compared to Federation. confederation sometimes have only a nominal central government with no real powers.

| Federation is derived from Latin Foedus, which means – treaty or agreement. That is to say, when we say federal system, it means a political system formed under any treaty or agreement between two or more units. America is said to be the country with the oldest federal system in the world.

How does a federal system become a country?

A country with a federal system is formed in two ways; (1) When independent states together form a big and strong union. For example, USA (2) when a large or unified state is converted into a federation. For example Canada (India is also placed in this category)

If you have read Article 1, it is clearly written in it that India i.e. Bharat will be a Union of States.

There, if you look at one thing, there is a contradiction. The contradiction is that the word Federal is commonly used in English for the Sangha. But if you read the English version of Article 1, the word Federal is not found anywhere, but the word Union is mentioned. So what does it mean after all? let’s figure it out

Nature of Indian Federal System

| When America became independent from Britain, the 13 states there made an agreement that it is better to live separately than to make a center together and give some powers to it. The same thing happened, those 13 states together formed a federation or country which was named ‘ United States of America ‘.

Gradually more states were formed and now 50 states were added to it. Since there the states or let’s say small independent areas have formed a union, that is why more powers have been given to the state there.

| There first people are citizens of that state then of America, and the biggest thing is that any state can leave this union whenever it wants. States have more subjects than the Center to make laws.

But it is not so with India because it is based on the Canadian model where the states did not form the center together, but the center was already there, later the state was added to it by signing a treaty. That is why it is not called ‘ United States of India’.

| If all the states had come together to form India, then today India would have at least 550 states. Because there were almost so many royals.

Dr. Ambedkar made it clear that ‘the Indian Union is not the result of any agreement between the states like America’. That is why no state has any right to leave this union.

In the Indian Union, the Center has been given more power than the states so that they play the role of a guardian and take everyone together. In other words, it is a kind of unitary form of India, that is why the word union has been used in the constitution. [What is meant by unitary nature; understand it further]

Features of India’s Federal System

Whether a country is a country with a federal system or not can be identified by the following characteristics –

division of powers

A basic feature of the federal system is the division of powers. That is, there are two types of government in this, the central government and the state government and the powers are divided between both.

| Talking about India, here three lists have been made for the distribution of powers. Union list , State list and Concurrent list .

The Center makes laws on subjects in the Union List, such as defence, foreign affairs, communications, etc. The state makes laws on subjects in the state list such as local administration, public law, etc. and makes laws both at the Center and the States on the subjects of the Concurrent List .

Due to such division of powers between the center and the state, it is also called the dual monarchy. Federal model of government is in America, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Argentina etc.

The basic elements of the federal system are almost the same in all countries, but yes it is used in different ways in different countries. America, Switzerland and Australia are called countries with a traditional federal system .

The federal systems of some countries may have taken a different form. As in India itself, there is a division of powers, but the center has a lot of power while the states have less.

written constitution and its supremacy

For the proper operation of the federal system, it is necessary that there should be a written constitution and in that constitution it should be clearly written that how the powers have been divided and how much power has been given to whom. So that there is never a dispute between the center and the state about who has how many powers.

The supremacy of the constitution is necessary so that a definite legal system can be maintained, a solid, clear and durable legal system can be maintained and Parliament cannot be autocratic.

Talking about India, there is also a written constitution here, and also the supremacy of the constitution. It is noteworthy that in the Kesavananda Bharati case, the supremacy of the Constitution was considered as the basic structure of the Constitution .

Power of independent court and judicial review

An independent court means that it is independent of the executive and the legislature. In other words, to be outside the jurisdiction of the government.

The independence of the court is very important for maintaining the justice system, maintaining the rule of law and maintaining the confidence of the people in the democratic system. (Read from here – How independent is our Supreme Court? )

The second thing is the power of judicial review – the independence of the court gives more boost to the power of judicial review, because under this, it examines the laws made by the legislature on the criteria of the constitution and rejects it or change it if it does not seem appropriate. Significantly, the power of judicial review of the court is part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

| If you have read about the process of amending the Constitution of India, then you would know that amending the Constitution in India is neither rigid nor flexible.

In other words, it is rigid as well as flexible. That is, if there is a coalition government, then it may face some difficulties in amending the constitution, but if the government is in absolute majority, then it becomes a left-handed task.

| In such a situation, if the central government cannot harm the federal system by amending the constitution, the court exercises its power of judicial review.

Federalism of India

Overall, if we evaluate India on the above basis, then it appears to be a federal system country. Or in other words, the above system makes India a federal system country.

It’s not just that. There are many such provisions in the Indian Constitution and sometimes such situations arise which make India a unitary country. how that? Let’s see.

Unitary System

Unitary System – It simply means that there will be one center and all the powers will be vested in it. Like Britain.

It is not that such a system cannot have regional government, It can and does happen, but it is not an independent government, it works under the Centre. For example, take the Union Territory in India, it has its own administrator but it works under the central government.

| Overall, there is no division of powers in this system. The center consumes all the power. That is why it is called a unitary system . There is a unitary form of government in Britain, France, Japan, China, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain etc.

With this system, small countries can be run easily, but when it comes to big countries like India and America, then this system does not prove to be suitable.

difference between federal system and unitary system

Federal SystemUnitary System
Dual government system (central and state government)There is a national government which can form a regional government.
Written constitution (for better relation between center and states)The constitution may be written like Britain or not like France
division of powers between the center and the statesAll powers with the national government
supremacy of the constitutionThe constitution may be supreme like Japan or not like Britain
independent judiciaryJudiciary may or may not be independent
bicameral legislatureThe legislature may be bicameral such as in Britain and may not be such as in China.
rigid constitutionThe constitution may be as rigid as in France and not as in Britain.
Download this chart from here

Unitary elements in Federal System of India

The constitution of India makes many such provisions in favor of the Center which makes India a unitary country. You can see these provisions below;

Provision of Emergency and Empowered Center – Whenever emergency is imposed, the control of the center is established directly over the whole country or that particular state. In that case, all the powers of the state also come to the center and the center becomes powerful. In such a situation, the federal system ends and the unitary system comes into force.

| Secondly, the center has more powers than the states anyway. If we look at the central list, there are about 100 subjects in that list, while there are only 60 – 61 subjects in the state list. From above the law of the Concurrent List can also be made by the Centre. And what is not mentioned in these three lists, the Center can make laws on that too. In this way the center becomes very powerful.

Apart from this, there are many things that the Center can do without asking the state, such as changing the boundary of a state, a state has to be merged with another state. And so on.

Single Constitution and Single Citizenship – Since there is only one constitution for the whole country, the state always has to depend on the Centre. And secondly, since there is a provision of single citizenship in India, we are citizens of India only and not of any state. This also shows the unitary quality in the central government.

All India Services and Governor – All IAS and IPS officers are appointed by the central government. And the central government hereby exercises control over the state administration. Because the state government cannot remove it even if it wants to, it can only transfer it.

The Governor is appointed by the Center and it acts as an agent of the Centre. His work also leans more towards the center.

Integrated Election and Audit Machinery – The Election Commission of India not only conducts central elections but also conducts elections to the legislature. Apart from this, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India also examines the accounts of the states besides the Center.

Making laws by the center on state subjects – There are some situations when the center makes laws on state subjects as well, such as (1) if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution in this regard with an absolute majority (2) if there is a national emergency in the country ( 3) If any international treaty and agreement is to be implemented, etc.

In this way, if the country is evaluated on the basis of the above provisions, then the center appears more powerful and the state is nothing in front of it. It shows the unitary nature of our country .

Although this is also true in a way, if the states were given more power and the freedom to choose their constitution and their citizenship, then the states would have separated from it even on the smallest dispute and would have made their own country.

| You can take an example of this from Jammu and Kashmir; Till some time ago, where there was its own constitution and there was its own citizenship. In such a situation, many people there did not even consider themselves Indian. So in order to avoid such a situation in a diverse sensitive country like India, it is necessary that the center should be a little stronger. That is, there should be a sense of unity.

Federal system and Panchayati Raj – Since the Panchayati Raj system is also working in India since 1993 and it has also been given some powers. That is, now there is a three-tier government in India. That is why India is now also called a poly-federal system. Apart from India, this system is also in Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria.

Criticism of the federal system of India

| Some people also call India a country with a quasi-federal system. Because there is a union of India but the center is powerful.

India is a central state with a federal character and not a federal state with a central character

K C Waghmare

| Most of the people just call it the Federal System because they believe that all the things that are needed to be a federation are present here. For example, Paul Appleby also believes that it is completely federal.

The Supreme Court, while hearing the Bommai case in 1994, said that the Indian Constitution is federal and this is its basic feature. 

There K. Santhanam maintains that the Indian Constitution is unitary because the financial matters are dominated by the center and the state is always dependent on central grants. Along with this, the Center also intervenes in the development work of the states by NITI Aayog.

The federal system of India is of such mixed qualities that there will be criticism, but one thing is certain that the federal system of India has been considered as the basic structure of the constitution and that is why it will remain so.

Indian federal system is a cooperative federal system.

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Read from here – What is Co-operative Federalism? ,

Overall, this is the federal system of India, hopefully it will be understood. Below is a link to other articles, please visit it too.

Federal System of India Practice Quiz – upsc

संवैधानिक उपचारों का अधिकार
मूल अधिकारों एवं निदेशक तत्वों में टकराव
विधि की सम्यक प्रक्रिया क्या है?
संविधान की मूल संरचना
संविधान संशोधन की पूरी प्रक्रिया
राज्य के नीति निदेशक तत्व (DPSP)
संसदीय व्यवस्था
सहकारी संघवाद
केंद्र-राज्य विधायी संबंध
केंद्र-राज्य प्रशासनिक संबंध
केंद्र-राज्य वित्तीय संबंध
Types of writ and its scope
Conflict b/w Fundamental Rights and DPSP
Procedure established by law
Kesavananda Bharati Case 
process of constitutional amendment
AK Gopalan case 1950
Directive Principles of State Polic
Inter-State Water Dispute
Centre-State Legislative Relations
Centre-State Administrative Relations
Centre-State Financial Relations