September 18, 2021

Nature of Indian Constitution – Quasi Federal, Federal , Unitary

The Indian Constitution which is the supreme law of our country is a complex instrument. It determines and decides the entire structure and functioning of our Constitution. So for the purpose of better knowledge of our nation and its structure there is a great need to understand the features of our Constitution as the constitution is the place from which the structure of our nation gets its shape.

For the proper understanding of the nature of Indian Constitution whether it is Federal or Unitary, we have to read the various Features of Indian Constitution and deduce that whether they reflect federalism or Unitariness or Quasi-Federal. But before that lets start with understanding what is the meaning of Federal, Unitary and Quasi-Federal.

  • Federalism – It is the form of government guaranteed by the Constitution which ensures the equal distribution of power between the Union and State level government.
  • Unitary – Unitary means when power or authority lies in one centre. There is consolidation of powers at central level and it is the apex power in the government.
  • Quasi-Federal – It refers to a government organized in the form of union of states under a central government with more powers kept at centre. It is the form of government which is federal in nature but unitary in spirit.

Federal Features

The most important feature of the Federal System of the government is the requirement of a perfectly written Constitution. As the Constitution acts as the Suprema lex, the establishment of the structure of federalism takes place from here. Thus, having a constitution highlighting Federal features is the prime necessity for it.

  • In India we have a perfectly written rigid Constitution which provides rules and laws regarding everything. It provides for the division of powers between the Central and State level governments by creating a list of matters which can be dealt by them, in the 7th schedule of the Constitution. The list consists of three categories namely, Union list (matters coming under this list are taken by the Union Government), State list (matters which comes under this list are taken up by the respective State Governments), Concurrent list (matters which comes under this list comes under the control of both union and state level government) and it also talks about a residuary list which involves all the matters which are left in the above mentioned list and they directly comes under the supervision of the Central level government.
  • Under the federal provisions of Indian Constitution which deals with the centre-state relations, it has been provided that no changes can be made in such provisions without getting the ratification from at least half of the states.
  • Independence of Judiciary is another important federal feature of the Indian Constitution. It ensures the freedom of the judiciary to deal with the national and regional level problems for the good of a larger sum of people without facing any sort of intervention from the government.

Unitary features

The Indian Constitution’s Federal features which we already discussed in the previous section, makes a great point that our constitution is dominantly Federal. But when we analyse it more we can see Unitary features in it too. These Unitary Features make us see that even after proper distribution of powers amongst different levels, there are few centralising elements too, which empowers the central government with much greater power. At that time when we just got the freedom and somehow we managed to get all the scattered kingdoms together as one nation, relying completely on a pure model of federalism would have further led to a spur in the fear of Balkanisation in India. Thus making India a completely federal nation was not a good decision and there was a need for a certain level of rigidity in the constitution which is guaranteeing supreme powers to the apex level.

These features are :-

  • Centralization – It is one of the most important features of Indian Constitution. Back in the days when India just got independence and our Constitution was framed, the Constitution makers understood that India is an underdeveloped country and the need of the hour was to establish a welfare state and for the fulfillment of that purpose the Union Government needed to have more power. The Central government is much more equipped financially and technically to serve these goals, so at that time it was practically impossible to dispense the power totally to the subordinate level of government.
  • The other important feature of a unitary government is that it is governed constitutionally as one single unit and the power is distributed from top to bottom in the hierarchical system of government. The perfect example of the unitary form of government is the United Kingdom where the U.K’s Parliament is the Supreme Authority across the nation. The supremacy of Parliament in India doesn’t match with the powers which it has in U.K but still we see that our constitution guarantees a higher level of powers to the government sitting at the central level.

Drawing the Conclusion

It is hard prima facie to call Indian Constitution federal or unitary as both the features are imbibed in our constitution.

We see that the word federal which was used in the draft of the constitution by its makers is nowhere mentioned in the original constitution. But in the actual structure we see that our constitution has divided the powers between the centre and state and has provided states with a considerable amount of authorities. Separate elections and providing states autonomy to decide whether to go with certain policies of the centre or not makes a great case for the federalism of Indian Constitution. As all the prime features of Federalism are present in our Constitution to a larger extent.

On the other hand Article 1 provides for India to be called as a Union of States. And Article 3 and 4 provides centre enormous power in deciding the boundaries and organization and reorganization of the states. The power of appointment of governors and various other eminent authorities like CJI’s, CEC’s etc. which is specifically provided to the president by the constitution. Provisions of emergency and Single Citizenship, are also some other measures which makes a great case for the unitarity of Indian Constitution

So in conclusion it would be right to say that Indian Constitution imbibes both federal and unitary features in its constituents and does not rigidly complement with any one of it. Hence it would be perfect to call it a Quasi-Federal Constitution. Quasi-Federal is a system which is a federation with a strong centre, and this is what we follow in India (it is conclusively proven in the above discussion of the paper). Thus, we can Conclude that India is neither a Unitary nor a Federal State. It is something which we call as a Quasi-Federal state.

Author Details: Pragya Dixit

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)


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