The Indian Federation

The Indian Federation:

  • India had emerged as an independent nation after a painful and bloody partition.
  • Soon after Independence, several princely states became a part of the country.
  • The Constitution declared India as a Union of States.
  • Although it did not use the word federation, the Indian Union is based on the principles of federalism.
  • The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government, the Union Government or what we call the Central Government, representing the Union of India and the State governments.
  • Later, a third tier of federalism was added in the form of Panchayats and Municipalities.


Originally, the Indian Constitution, like any other federal Constitution, provided for a dual polity and contained provisions with regard to the organisation and powers of the Centre and the states.

Later, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (1992) have added a third-tier of Government (i.e., local) which is not found in any other Constitution of the world.

Threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments.

Threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments.
Threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments.
  • Union List includes subjects of national importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency.
  • They are included in this list because we need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country.
  • The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
  • State List contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture and irrigation.
  • The State Governments alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the State List.
  • Concurrent List: includes subjects of common interest to both the Union Government as well as the State Governments, such as education, forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption and succession.
  • Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list.
  • If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.
  • Residuary List: Anything out of purview of above mentioned list is taken as residuary subject.
  • Union Government has the power to legislate on these subjects.

States with special power

  • Special Status: Jammu and Kashmir had its own Constitution.
  • Many provisions of the Indian Constitution were not applicable to this State without the approval of the State Assembly.
  • Indians who are not permanent residents of this State could not buy land or house here.
  • Recently the Indian govt has repealed the special status to Jammu and Kashmir
  • Similar special provisions exist for some other States of India as well.

Union Territories :

  • There are some units of the Indian Union which enjoy very little power.
  • These are areas which are too small to become an independent State but which could not be merged with any of the existing States.
  • These areas, like Chandigarh, or Lakshadweep or the capital city of Delhi, are called Union Territories.
  • These territories do not have the powers of a State.
  • The Central Government has special powers in running these areas.
  • This sharing of power between the Union Government and the State governments is basic to the structure of the Constitution.
  • It is not easy to make changes to this power sharing arrangement.
  • The Parliament cannot on its own change this arrangement.
  • Any change to it has to be first passed by both the Houses of Parliament with at least two thirds majority.
  • Then it has to be ratified by the legislatures of at least half of the total States.

Linguistic States:

  • The creation of Linguistic States was the first and a major test for democratic politics in our country
  • Since independence, many old States have vanished and many new States have been created.
  • Areas, boundaries and names of the States have been changed.
  • In 1947, the boundaries of several old States of India were changed in order to create new States.
  • This was done to ensure that people who spoke the same language lived in the same State.
  • Some States were created not on the basis of language but to recognize differences based on culture, ethnicity or geography.
  • These include States like Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.
  • Experience has shown that the formation of linguistic States has actually made the country, more united.
  • It has also made administration easier.

Language policy:

  • A second test for Indian federation is the language policy.
  • Our Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language.
  • Hindi was identified as the official language.
  • But Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 40 per cent of Indians.
  • Therefore, there were many safeguards to protect other languages.
  • Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognized as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.
  • Promotion of Hindi continues to be the official policy of the Government of India.
  • Promotion does not mean that the Central Government can impose Hindi on States where people speak a different language.
  • The flexibility shown by Indian political leaders helped our country avoid the kind of situation that Sri Lanka finds itself in.
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