Daily Editorials

Editorials In-Depth, 17 May

FEDERALISM as a new politics

General Studies- II (Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure)

Nations are described as ‘federal’ or ‘unitary’, depending on the way in which governance is organised. 

  • In a unitary set-up, the Centre has plenary powers of administration and legislation, with its constituent units having little autonomy.
  • In a federal arrangement, the constituent units are identified on the basis of region or ethnicity, and conferred varying forms of autonomy or some level of administrative and legislative powers.


However, federalism in India has always had political relevance, but except for the States Reorganisation Act, federalism has rarely been an axis of political mobilisation.

  • Fiscal and administrative centralisation persisted despite nearly two decades of coalition governments. 
  • Ironically, rather than deepen federalism, the contingencies of electoral politics have created significant impediments to creating a political consensus for genuine federalism. 
  • When confronted with entrenched centralisation of the present regime, the challenge is, ironically, even greater.

Model of federalism:

 In S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India, it notes the commonly invoked model of federalism is the United States, by which it is clear that it is a federation of States. 

  • These States were independent and sovereign in their territories, and decided to form a federation. 
  • Their territories cannot be altered by the federal government

On the other hand, In India, Parliament has the power to admit new States, create new States, alter their boundaries and their names, and unite or divide the States. 

  • In the latest exercise, the unprecedented act of converting a State into a Union Territory has also been performed.
  • The concurrence of States is not needed for the formation and unmaking of States and Union Territories. 

Why is India called ‘quasi-federal’?

The Supreme Court has noted that the essence of a ‘federation’ is the existence of the Union of the States, and the distribution of powers between them.

The existence of several provisions of the Constitution allows the Centre to override the powers of the States. 

  • In legislation, there is a Concurrent List, unlike in the U.S., which outlines the powers of the federal government, and leaves any matter not mentioned in it as the legislative field for the States. 
  • In India, the residuary powers of legislation, that is the power to make law in a field not specified in the Constitution, is vested in Parliament, whereas in the U.S., residuary powers are with the States.
  • Further, in fiscal matters, the power of the States to raise their own resources is limited, and there is a good deal of dependency on the Centre for financial assistance.
  • Even though the States are sovereign in their prescribed legislative field, and their executive power is co-extensive with their legislative powers.
  • It is clear that “the powers of the States are not coordinate with the Union”. 

This is why the Constitution is often described as ‘quasi-federal’.

Why is it said that India has asymmetric federalism?

The main forms of administrative units in India are the Centre and the States. But there are other forms, too, all set up to address specific local, historical and geographical contexts. 

Besides the Centre and the States, the country has Union Territories with a legislature, and Union Territories without a legislature.

When the Constitution came into force, the various States and other administrative units were divided into Parts A, B, C and D. 

  • Part A States were the erstwhile provinces, while Part B consisted of erstwhile princely states and principalities. 
  • Part C areas were the erstwhile ‘Chief Commissioner’s Provinces’. 
  • They became Union Territories, and some of them initially got legislatures and were later upgraded into States. 
  • Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa belong to this category.
  • Puducherry and Delhi have legislatures, while the other territories under the Centre do not have legislatures or a ministerial council to advise the administrator.

Just as the Centre and the States do not have matching powers in all matters, there are some differences in the way some States and other constituent units of the Indian Union relate to the Centre. This creates a notable asymmetry in the way Indian federalism works.

Difference between the administration system of Puducherry and Delhi:

  • Puducherry has legislative powers on any matter mentioned in the State List or the Concurrent List, insofar as it applies to the Union Territory.
  • Delhi, which has the same field, has three further exceptions: police, land and public order are outside its purview. However, Parliament has overriding powers over any law made by the Assembly in the Union Territories.
  • Puducherry, despite being a single administrative unit, the Union Territory is ‘non-contiguous’. That is, its territory is not limited to one extent of land. 
  • Besides Puducherry and its adjoining areas, it has enclaves located within other States: Karaikal (within Tamil Nadu) Yanam (within Andhra Pradesh) and Mahe (within Kerala).

Other examples of decentralisation of power:

There is another significant tier of administration under the larger framework of asymmetric federalism. 

The Sixth Schedule to the Constitution contains provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. 

  • These create autonomous districts and autonomous regions. Any autonomous district with different Scheduled Tribes will be divided into autonomous regions. 
  • These will be administered by District Councils and Regional Councils. 
  • These Councils can make laws with respect to allotment, occupation and use of land, management of forests other than reserve forests and water courses. 
  • Besides they can regulate social customs, marriage and divorce and property issues.

The areas regulated through Sixth Schedule:

In Assam, the Karbi-Anglong Autonomous Council, Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council and the Bodoland Territorial Council have been set up under the Sixth Schedule. 

  • Another six autonomous councils have been formed by Acts of the legislature.
  • Ladakh has two autonomous hill development councils (Leh and Kargil). 
  • The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council is in West Bengal.


Source: The Hindu

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