Skip to content
Related Articles
Get the best out of our app
Open App

Related Articles

How is Federalism practiced in India?

Improve Article
Save Article
Like Article
Improve Article
Save Article
Like Article

Federalism refers to a system of government, in which powers have been divided between the center and its constituent parts as the states and the provinces. It refers to the institutional arrangement to accommodate two sets of politics, one at the central level and one at the regional level.



Types of Federalism

Federation is formed by two routes:

The first route involves the independent states coming together on their own to form a bigger unit, and pool of sovereignty and retaining th identity to increase security. This is known as “coming together” federations, which include USA, Australia, and Switzerland. In this category, all constituent states are equal power and are strong through the federal government.

The second type is where a large country decides to divide the power between the state and central government. India is a good example of “holding together” federations. Here, the central government is more powerful in response to the states. Some units are granted special powers.

Federalism vs Unitary Government

Under the system of unitary system, either there is one level of government or the sub-units are mostly under the subordination of the central government. The central government has the power to pass on orders to the local government.

In federalism, the central government cannot order the state to do something. The state has the power of its own for which it is not under the obligation of the central government.

Features of the Federal System of India

Some important features of federalism are:

  1. There are two or more levels or tiers of government.
  2. Different tiers of the government had to govern the same citizens, but each has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of administration, taxation, and legislation.
  3. The jurisdictions of each tier of government are specified in the constitution; so the existence and power of each tier are constitutionally guaranteed.
  4. Only one level of government cannot unilaterally change any provision of the constitution, it requires the consent of each level of government.
  5. Courts have the power and authority to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of the government.
  6. The sources of revenue for each level are specified clearly to ensure financial autonomy.
  7. The federal system has dual objectives to safeguard and promote unity among the country, while also accommodating regional diversity. 
  8. Government at each level should agree to some rules of power sharing and should trust each other to abide by its agreements. Mutual trust and agreement are important to sustain.
Features of federalism


Federalism Practice in India

The Constitution of India originally was a two-tier system of government, the Union or Central Government and second, was State governments. Later on, the third tier was added of Panchayats and Municipal bodies. Threefold distribution of power was provided between Union and State governments. It contains 3 lists:

Union List

It includes subjects of national importance like defense, foreign affairs, banking, communication, and the currency. A uniform policy in these provisions is important. Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in this Union List.

State List

It contains subjects of State and local importance like police, trade, commerce, agriculture, and irrigation. State governments trade unions, marriage, adoption, and succession. Both Union and State Governments can make laws for the subjects and if their views collide then laws made by Union Government will be prevalent.

Concurrent List

It refers to the list which consists of subjects of common interest to both the Union and the States. Both parliament and state legislatures can make laws on the subjects which are included in the list. It includes subjects like education, transfer of property, trade unions, and so forth.

All states do not hold equal powers. Some states enjoy a special status. States like Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram enjoy special powers under Article 371 of the Constitution of India due to their political and social histories. Areas that are two small and become independent enjoy less power. Like, Chandigarh, and Delhi, are known as Union territories. These territories do not have the powers of a State, however, the Central government has special powers in running them.

Any changes to this power-sharing have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament with at least a two-thirds majority, then it has to be ratified by the legislatures of at least half of the total states.

Judiciary plays an important role in overseeing the implementation of constitutional provisions. In case of dispute over the division of powers, the High Courts and Supreme Court make decisions. Union and State governments have the power to raise resources by levying some taxes to carry government and responsibilities assigned to them.

How is Federalism practiced?

The success of federalism in India is attributed to the nature of democratic politics held in the country. This ensured the spirit of federalism, respect for diversity, and desire to live together became a shared dream. Some of the major ways it happened are:

Linguistic States

Many old states have perished, and many new ones have sprung up in their place. The states’ boundaries, areas, and titles have all been altered. The boundaries of some existing Indian states were modified in 1947 in order to form new states. This was done to keep people living in the same state who spoke the same language together. Some states were founded not on the basis of language, but on the basis of cultural, ethnic, or geographic diversity.

Some national officials were concerned that the call for the formation of states based on language might lead to the country’s fragmentation. For a long time, the central government fought linguistic states. However, history has proven that the emergence of linguistic states really brings the country closer together. 

Language policy

No single language is designated as a national language in our Constitution. Apart from Hindi, the Constitution recognizes 21 additional languages as Scheduled Languages. States, like other countries, have official languages of their own. A major amount of government activity is conducted in the concerned state’s official language. The spread of Hindi has been approached with caution by our country’s leaders. The use of English for official purposes was scheduled to expire in 1965, according to the constitution. On the other hand, many non-Hindi-speaking countries demanded that English be used instead. For official reasons, the Government of India agreed to retain English and Hindi in use due to violent activities in various parts of India.

Center-state relations

The connection between the federal government and the states has been restructured, which has reinforced federalism in practice. Previously, both the federal and state governments were ruled by a single political party. As a result, state governments were unable to execute their federal constitutional rights as separate institutions. When the state’s ruling party changed, the parties in power at the federal level attempted to weaken the state’s influence.

Everything changed after 1990 when regional political parties emerged in a number of states across the country. At the same time, the era of center-right coalition governments began. Because no single party won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, the major national parties were compelled to form an alliance with a variety of other parties, including a number of regional parties, in order to form a federal administration. As a result, a new culture of power sharing and respect for the sovereignty of state governments emerged. As a result, federal power-sharing now works better than it did when the Constitution was initially established.

Decentralisation in India

A huge country like India cannot be just runned by a two-tier government. Some states of India are as large as a country in Europe. Many of the states like Uttar Pradesh are internally very diverse and thus there is a need for power sharing within the states. Below the state governments, there is a need for another tier in the Indian context; which is a rationale for the decentralization of power; which resulted in a third tier of government called local government.

When power is taken from the Central and State governments and given to local governments, it is called decentralization. People have better knowledge in the localities of where to spend the money and how to manage things more effectively and it is easier for people to participate in decision-making directly which helps in democratic participation. This helps in local self-government.

A major step toward decentralization was taken in 1992 when the constitution was amended to make the third tier of democracy more powerful:

  1. Mandatory to hold elections for local governments regularly.
  2. Seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes.
  3. One-third of all positions are reserved for women.
  4. An Independent institution called State Election Commission was created. 
  5. State governments had to share some of their powers and revenues with local governments.

Rural and Urban Local Bodies

Rural local bodies were known as Panchayati raj. Each village or group of villages in some states has a Gram Panchayat. They are directly elected by all adult population living in that ward or village. It meets once or twice or thrice a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat.

A group of gram panchayats is sometimes grouped together to form a panchayat samiti or block or Mandal. They are elected by all panchayat members of the area. All the panchayat samitis or mandals form a Zilla Parishad. The Zilla Parishad chairperson is the political head of Zilla Parishad.

Local government bodies exist in urban areas also. Municipalities are set up in towns. Big cities are constituted into municipal corporations and both municipalities and municipal corporations are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people representatives. The municipal chairperson is the political head of the municipality. Such an officer in a municipal corporation is called a mayor.

This new system of local government is the largest experiment in democracy conducted in the world. 36 Lakh elected representatives in panchayats and municipalities in approximately the country. The constitutional status of local government has helped to deepen the democracy of the country. Women’s participation has also increased.

However, it also has some challenges pertaining to elections being held regularly but the gram sabha’s are not held regularly. Most state governments have not transferred significant powers to local governments, nor have adequate resources.

Federal features of Indian Federalism

  • Government has two levels- center and states and there are three lists given in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution: 
    • Union List
    • State List
    • Concurrent List
  • The constitution is the supreme law in India.
  • The constitution provides for an independent and integrated judiciary. Lower and district courts are at the bottom, high courts are at state levels and topmost is the Supreme Court of India.

Unitary Features of the Indian Federalism

  1. The flexibility of the Constitution: For certain provisions, the constitution can be amended easily, while for others it can’t be.
  2. More powers vests on Centre: More power is granted on Union List. On Concurrent List subjects, parliament can make laws that can override laws made by state legislatures on some matters.
  3. Unequal representation of states in Rajya Sabha: Representation in the upper house is based on state populations.
  4. Lok Sabha is more powerful than Rajya Sabha: This inequality is against the principle of federalism.
  5. Single Citizenship: In India, only single citizenship is available to citizens, and cannot be citizens of the state as well.

FAQs on Federalism in India

Question 1:  What are the main features of Indian Federalism?


Clear division of powers between centre and states, independent judiciary, bicameral legislature are some features of Indian federalism.

Question 2: Which type of federalism is practiced in India?


Quasi-federal system, which contains the major features of both federation and union is practiced in India.

Question 3: What are the three lists of Indian Federalism?


Union list, State list and Concurrent list.

Question 4: What is the main purpose of federalism?


Preserve the personal liberty by separating powers of the government, so that one government donot dominate over other.

Question 5: How many types of federations are there?


Two types are there:

  1. Holding Togrther Federation
  2. Coming Together Federation

My Personal Notes arrow_drop_up
Last Updated : 25 Apr, 2023
Like Article
Save Article
Similar Reads
Related Tutorials