May 15, 2014

Nature of Indian Constitution - Federal & Unitary Features - Differences- Advantage and Disadvantages

It is often described as a centralized government. It is a government in which all powers held by the government belong to a single, central agency. The central government creates local units of government for its own convenience. A unitary system is governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. All power is top down. A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as one single unit in which the central government is supreme and any administrative divisions (sub national units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate.

compare unitary and federal features of indian constitution, nature of constitution for upsc ias india polity and appsc exams, cbse icse syllabus
ADVANTAGES of Unitary Government
1.   Uniform policies, laws, political, enforcement, administration throughout the country
2.   Less duplication of services and fewer conflicts between national and local governments
3.   Greater unity , stability and more flexible system.
4. Less Expensive and Simple Structure.
DISADVANTAGES of Unitary Government
1.     Central government out of touch with local concerns
2.     Slow in meeting local problems
3.    If the central government gets too involved in local problems it may not meet the needs of all its citizens

Compare the features of Federal and Unitary Government

Federal Government

Unitary  Government
Dual Government (that is, national government and regional government)
Single government, that is, the national govern­ment which may create regional governments
Written Constitution
Constitution may be written (Franco) or unwritten (Britain)
Division of powers between the national and regional government
No division of powers. All powers are vested in the national government
Supremacy of the Constitution
Constitution may be supreme (Japan) or may not be supreme (Britain)
Rigid Constitution
Constitution may be rigid (France) or flexible (Britain)
Independent judiciary
Judiciary may be independent or may not be independent
Bicameral legislature
Legislature may be bicameral (Britain) or unicameral (China)

Unitary Features of Indian Constitution:
 1.  Union of States: Article 1 of the Constitution describes India as a “˜Union of States”, which implies two things: firstly, it is not the result of an agreement among the States and secondly, the States have no freedom to secede or separate from the Union. Besides, the Constitution of the Union and the States is a single framework from which neither can get out and within which they must function. The federation is a union because it is indestructible and helps to maintain the unity of the country.
2.  Appointment of Governor: Art 155 and 156 provide that the Governor, who is the constitutional head of a State, is to be appointed by the President and stays only until the pleasure of the President  The Centre may take over the administration of the State on the recommendations of the Governor or otherwise. In other words, Governor is the agent of the Centre in the States. The working of Indian federal system clearly reveals that the Governor has acted more as central representative than as the head of the State. This enables the Union government to exercise control over the State administration.
3.  Representation in the Legislature: The equality of units in a federation is best guaranteed by their equal representation in the Uppers House of the federal legislature (Parliament). However, this is not applicable in case of Indian States. They have unequal representation in the Rajya Sabha. In a true federation such as that of United State of America every State irrespective of their size in terms of area or population it sends two representatives in the upper House i.e. Senate.
4.  Appointment on Key Positions: In addition to all this, all important appointments such as the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General are made by the Union Government.
5.  Single citizenship.
6.  There is no provision for separate Constitutions for the states. The States cannot propose amendments to the Constitution. As such amendments can only be made by the Union Parliament.
7.   All India Services such as IAS , IPS & IFS etc. have been created which are kept under the control of the Union.
8.  In financial matters too, the States depend upon the Union to a great extent. The States do not possess adequate financial resources to meet their requirements. During Financial Emergency, the Center exercises full control over the States’ finances.
9.  Unified Judiciary: The federal principle envisages a dual system of Courts. But, in India we have unified Judiciary with the Supreme Court at the apex.
10. Power to make laws: The Constitution of India empowered the central government to make laws on the subjects in the state list. It is exercised only on the matters of national importance and that too if the Rajya Sabha agrees with 2/3 majority. The constitution establishes a strong Centre by assigning all-important subjects to the Centre as per the Union List. The State Governments have very limited powers.
11. Power to form new states and to change existing boundaries: Under Art 3, center can change the boundaries of existing states and can carve out new states. This should be seen in the perspective of the historical situation at the time of independence. At that time there were no independent states. There were only provinces that were formed by the British based on administrative convenience. At that time States were artificially created and a provision to alter the boundaries and to create new states was kept so that appropriate changes could be made as per requirement.
12. Emergency Provisions: Center has the power to take complete control of the State in the following 3 situations :
An act of foreign aggression or internal armed rebellion (Art 352)
Failure of constitutional machinery in a state (art 356)
Financial Emergency (art 360).
During the operation of an emergency, the powers of the State Governments are greatly curtailed and the Union Government becomes all in all.
What is Federal Government? Give certain features of Federal Government?
Federalism is a form of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country. A state is federal when it has following features:
(a)    There are two sets of governments and there is distribution of powers between the two.
(b)     There is a written constitution.
(c)    Supremacy of the Constitution.
(d)   Rigidity of the Constitution.
(e)    There is an independent judiciary to interpret the constitution and settle disputes between the centre and the states.
1.     Federal unity but local governments handle local problems
2.     Local government/officials have to be responsive to people who elect them
3.   Central government can devote more time and energy to national and international problems
4.     More opportunities for participation in making decisions – in influencing what is taught in the schools and in deciding where highways and government projects are to be built
1.     Duplication of services and makes it expensive.
2.   Citizens living in different parts of the country will be treated differently, not only in spending programs, such as welfare, but in legal systems that assign in different places different penalties to similar offenses or that differentially enforce civil rights laws.
3.     Disputes over power/national supremacy versus state’s rights
4.     International relations – states may pass laws that counter national policy.
5.  federalism can lead to regional inequalities. Because many issues vary from region to region, a gap between rich and the poor states could be created.
6. Earnings and wealth may be unequally distributed in regions which could cause controversy.
Federation in India Explained: Article 1 of the Constitution of India says: - "India, that is Bharat shall be a Union of States. "The word 'Federation' is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.
Federal Features of Indian Constitution:
1.  Supremacy of the Constitution: The supremacy of the constitution means that both, the Union and the State Governments, shall operate within the limits set by the Constitution. And both the union government and the central government derive their powers from the constitution.
2.  Written Constitution: The Constitution of India is a written constitution. It is the most elaborate Constitution of the world.
3.  Rigid Constitution: The procedure of amending the Constitution in a federal system is normally rigid. Indian Constitution provides that some amendments require a special majority. Such an amendment has to be passed by majority of total members of each house of the Parliament as well as by two-thirds majority of the members present and voting there in. However, in addition to this process, some amendments must be approved by at least 50% of the states. After this procedure the amendment is signed by the head of the state i.e; the President. Since in India important amendments can be amended through this procedure Hence, Indian Constitution can  be considered as rigid constitution.
4.  Division of Powers: In Indian constitution the powers of state and centre are clearly defined and there are very clear limits of both the centre and the state for law making powers. Our constitution enumerates three lists, viz.
•   the Union, consists of 97 subjects of national importance such as Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, etc
•   the State and List consists of 66 subjects of local interest such as Public Health, Police etc.
•   the Concurrent List. has 47 subjects important to both the Union and the State such as Electricity, Trade Union, Economic and Social Planning, etc.
5.  Supremacy of the Judiciary: There is an independent judiciary to interpret the Constitution and to maintain its sanctity. The Supreme Court of India has the original jurisdiction to settle disputes between the Union and the States. It can declare a law as unconstitutional, if it contravenes any provision of the Constitution.

What is the nature of Indian Constitution? Is Indian Constitution Federal or Unitary Government?

In all the above cases, an elected state government can lose control of the state when president rule is established which is most controversial one. However, such an action can be taken only upon the advice of the governor and such an advice is not beyond the purview of the Supreme Court. Also a state cannot be left alone to defend itself from outside aggression. In the third case also, it is justified because a financial emergency could cause severe stress among the population, plunge the country into chaos and jeopardize the existence of the whole country. From the above discussion it is seen that the constitution of India is neither a complete federation nor it is completely unitary.  It has the features of both. Granville Austin remarks that the Indian Constitution is an example of Cooperative Federalism. There are various mechanisms which ensure cooperation between the Union and the state-govemments, like provision for Inter-State Councils. Zonal Councils, All India Services. National Development Council and Planning Process. Finance Commission etc.  In the words of D.D.Basu, the Constitution of India is neither purely federal nor unitary, but is a combination of both. It is often defined to be quasi-federal in nature. Thus, it can be safely said that Indian Constitution is primarily federal in nature even though it has unique features that enable it to assume unitary features upon the time of need.  Federal but its spirit is unitary.

Opinion of Different Authors about the nature of Indian Constitution
  • Dr. Subhash Kashyap, "the Indian Constitution establishes a strong centre.”
  •  Paylee considers Indian Constitution as 'perfectly federal’.
  • Morris Jones terms Indian Constitution ‘bargaining federal ism
  • K. C. Wheare terms Indian Constitution is ‘quasi-federal'.
  • Granville Austin remarks that the Indian Constitution is an example of Cooperative Federalism
  • D.D.Basu, the Constitution of India is neither purely federal nor unitary

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This article is useful for UPSC General Studies Indian Polity Bank PO Clerical, ICSE, CBSE Political Science Notes, APPSC Group 1 and Group 2 Sections


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