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The term ‘FEDERALISM’ refers to the distribution of powers between the different levels of government in a nation. The word Federalism is derived from the Latin word “foedus” which means a treaty or an agreement. A country is divided into various provincial subunits for administrative convenience and these smaller units together constitute the Nation. India doesn’t possess an entirely federal constitution, instead, the federal structure of India has an inherent bias towards the union. The makers of the Indian Constitution believed that to create a politically stable country the union had to be given more powers than the states. The Indian model of federalism has two tiers of government, one being the Union/Centre and the other the state. So, India has a ‘Centralised Federalism’ wherein the Centre gets an upper hand whenever there is any conflict of interests between the state and the centre.


In a multi-diverse country like India wherein the various states are made on linguistic lines and where each state represents regional interests, cooperative federalism is a very important component of governance for ensuring that the stability of the nation remains intact. To address the broader national concerns of the nation both the Centre and the state need to work together to guide the country towards the road of prosperity and growth in every aspect. Cooperative federalism allows the needs and concerns of the remotest part of the country to get noticed by the government because of the reach of the decentralized government, which has greater access to the people. And this way allows the people at the grassroots level to voice their needs and grievances to the government. Cooperative federalism allows the government to pool natural resources and human capital from the different areas of the country, and also get access to the Nationwide market that can help the economic cause of the nation. Cooperative federalism allows the Government to channel all the resources for the common good of the people. Cooperative federalism also allows the Government to formulate policies to cater to the needs of any particular section/group/community which becomes possible because of the decentralized nature of governance. In a large country like India cooperative federalism is a very important factor in ensuring uniform development across the geographical stretch of the country. Cooperative federalism bridges the linguistic gap in governance, as Federalism allows for the representation of the regional interests of various states. India has hundreds of different languages, and thousands of smaller districts spread across the country. To provide effective governance and grievance redressal, cooperative federalism becomes the key. And this coordination between the state and the centre helps in devising solutions to the various problems.


In State of West Bengal vs Union of India[1] the majority judgment didn’t consider the constitution as federal. But, later in the Kesavananda Bharati[2] judgment the Supreme Court considered federalism as a part of the basic structure of the constitution. Because of various disputes among the states, states, and the centre, and unequal distribution of power between centre and the state, there have been many judgments that have questioned the federal structure of the constitution. But, again in the case of Kuldip Nayar[3] it was held that India is a federal state.

  1. Over-centralization: India is quasi-federal with most of the powers in the hands of the union government. The Centre enjoys more power than the states, and the most important subjects of the country are listed in the Union List. The Centre imposes many rules and regulations which many states find discriminatory to them, as a result of which a conflict of interest situation arises between the Centre and the state. One of the most relevant examples of conflict of interest because of over-centralization is the taxation issue. The centre is the one responsible for the collection of taxes and giving a certain decided share of the taxes back to the states. But, most of the states complain about the centre delaying the payment of the tax share to the states and abusing the power conferred upon them by the constitution.
  2. Regionalism: India is a diverse country with so many different languages, cultures, traditions, etc, many states feel neglected or left out, or alienated from the mainstream. This sense of alienation gives rise to a strong feeling of regionalism. A strong feeling of regionalism makes it difficult for the Government to bind the nation as one because this feeling of regionalism gives rise to secessionist forces, which threaten the very existence and identity of the country.
  3. President’s rule: The centre has used the provision of the President’s rule to dissolve state governments on many occasions. When the Centre and the state are run by governments formed by two different political parties, the Centre tries to abuse the powers under President’s rule to dissolve the state government and usurp the power and take it into their own hands. Though in the S.R. Bommai vs Union of India[4] judgment the supreme court did impose certain limitations on the abuse of these powers but it has had very little impact on the state of affairs.
  4. Taxation: Finance has always been a contentious issue between the state and the centre. The States most of the time complain that their opinions aren’t given much significance while different financial decisions are taken. During the introduction of the 101st Amendment Act in the Indian constitution, the states were upset, because the power of certain taxation was taken away from them without proper consultation with the states. This lack of cooperation in taxation matters spills over to the general relations between the centre and the state, and this makes cooperation between them difficult.
  5. Uniform Approach: The Centre while framing policies fails to take into account the heterogeneity of India. The one size fits all approach doesn’t work in a diverse country like India. This uniform approach makes many states feel that their concerns aren’t taken into consideration while framing policies. And this Uniform approach makes it difficult for the different states to get their local/regional problems addressed. This makes cooperation between the centre and the state very difficult.


Article 1 of the Indian constitution states that India i.e. Bharat is a Union of States, and to recognize the national character of India the Federal structure has to be recognized as well. Extreme Centralisation or decentralization should be avoided, and there has to exist a perfect balance between the two to ensure effective governance. Instead of the blame game between the Centre and the states, both of them need to work in a coordinated manner keeping the broader national concerns as their priority. The power tussle between the two tiers of the government proves to be detrimental to the growth of the nation and this creates political instability in the country which hinders the development of the country in various realms. The centre should always respect the federal angle in the Indian polity and should refrain from destabilizing the state governments by abusing the greater power that is conferred upon them by the constitution. Developing political goodwill between the Centre and the state is the way forward in which the country can be governed in a better way and nation-building can get priority.

Author(s) Name: Biprojeet Talapatra (Delhi University)


[1] State of West Bengal vs Union of India, 1963 AIR 1241, 1964 SCR (1) 371

[2]Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461

[3] Kuldip Nayar vs Union of India AIR 2006 SC 3127

[4] S.R.Bommai vs Union of India, 1994 AIR 1918