What is Federalism and What Makes India a Federal Country?
- Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between the central authority and various constituent units of the country.
- In the federal form of government , there is a clear cut division of powers between the Central government and various Constituent units of the country.
- A federation has usually two levels of government. One is the government for the entire country. The others are governments at the level of states. Both these levels of governmetns enjoy their power independent of the other.
- In the unitary system, either there is only one level of government or the sub-units are subordinate to the central government. The central government can pass on orders to the provincial or the local government.
- The key features of federalism are:
i) There are two or more levels (or tiers) of governmetn.
ii) Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of legislation, taxation and administration.
iii) The jurisdictions of the respective levels or tiers of government are specified in the constitution.
iv) The fundamental provisions of the constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government. Such changes require the consent of both the levels of government.
v) Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government.
vi) Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
vii) The federal system has dual objectives: To safeguard and promote unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity.
- Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States have federal governments.
- There are two types of federations. The first type involves independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit, so that by pooling sovereignty and retaining identity they can increase their security. This type of ‘coming together’ federations include the USA, Switzerland and Australia. In this type of federations, all the constituent States usually have equal power and are strong vis-a-vis the federal government.
- The second type of federation where a large country decides to divide its power between the constituent States and the national government is known as ‘holding together’ federations. India, Spain and Belgium are examples of this kind of ‘holding together’ federations.
- The Constitution of our country originally provided a two-tier system of government, the Union 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.
- Constitution clearly provided a threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments. Thus, it contains three lists:
i) Union List includes subjects of national importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency. The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
ii) 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.
iii) 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.
- According to our Constitution, the Union Government has the power to legislate on ‘residuary’ subjects.
- Some states of our country enjoy a special status. Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution. Many provisions of the Indian Constitution are not applicable to this State without the approval of the State Assembly. Indians who are not permanent residents of this State cannot buy property here. (This has changed after Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019).
- Some units of the Indian Union are smaller in size in comparison to other states to beocome an Independent State and cannot be merged with other existing states. Such units are known as Union Territories.
- Federalism : Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.
- Jurisdiction : The area over which someone has legal authority.
- Union List : It includes subjects of national importance. The Central Government alone can make decisions on these matters such as defence of the nation, foreign affairs, finance and communication.
- State List : It includes matters of state level importance. The State Government alone can make decisions on these areas. They include matters such as police, trade, agriculture , commerce and irrigation.
- Concurrent List : It includes those subjects which are of common interest to both the Central and State Governments such as education , forest, marriage, adoption, succession and trade unions. Both the Central and State governments can make decisions on these matters.
- ‘Coming together’ Federation : It is a federation in which several independent states come together on their own to form a bigger unit, so that by pooling sovereignty and retaining identity, they can increase their security. It includes the USA, Switzerland and Australia.
- ‘Holding together’ Federation : It is a federation in which a large country decides to divide its power between the constituent states and the national government. It includes India, Spain and Belgium.
- Residuary Subjects : Subjects which do not fall in any of these three lists. New subjects such as computer software that came up after the Constitution was made, come under residuary subjects.
- Unitary System : It is a system of government in which either there is only one level of government or the subunits are subordinate to the Central Government.
How is Federalism Practised – Decentralization in India
- The creation of Linguistic States was the first and a major test for democratic politics in our country.
- Hindi was identified as the official language. But besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.
- States like Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand were created not on the basis of langauge but to recognize differences based on culture, ethnicity or geography.
- Restructuring the Centre-State relations is one more way in which federalism has been strengthened in practice.
- When no single party gets a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, the major national parties enter into an alliance with many parties including several regional parties to form a government at the Centre called the Coalition Government.
- A major step towards decentralization was taken in 1992.
- The Constitution was amended to make the third-tier democracy more powerful and effective. The following measures were taken regarding this:
i) It is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
ii) Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
iii) At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
iv) An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
v) The State Governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies.
- Rural local government is popularly known by the name Panchayati raj. Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat.
- The function of gram panchayats are:
i) It is the decision-making body for the entire village.
ii) The panchayat works under the overall supervision of the gram sabha. All the voters in the village are its members.
iii) It has to meet at least twice or thrice in a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat and to review the performance of the gram panchayat.
- A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a panchayat samiti or block or mandal.
- All the panchayat samitis or mandals in a district together constitute the zilla (district) parishad.
- Zilla parishad chairperson is the political head of the zilla parishad.
- Municipalities are set up in towns. Big cities are constituted into municipal corporations.
- Both municipalities and municipal corporations are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people’s representatives.
- Municipal chairperson is the political head of the numicipality. In a municipal corporation such an officer is called the mayor.
- Language Policy : It is the safeguard to other languages. Under this policy, besides Hindi, 21 other languages are recognized as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.
- Scheduled Languages : 22 Languages which are listed in the English Schedule of the Constitution are known as the Scheduled Languages.
- Indian Federation : It has 29 states and 7 union territories. Its capital is New Delhi.
- Union Territories : These territories do not have the powers of state and come under direct rule of Central or Union Government. For example: Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, etc.
- Regionalism : A strong feeling of pride or loyalty in a particular region with a desire of more power to govern themselves.
- Autonomy : A region or territory to govern itself independently.
- Linguistic States : India is a multilingual country where people speak different langauges. After independence, some states were created on the basis of the languages people used to speak. These are known as linguistic states.
- State Election Commission : Is is a body created in each state to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
- Panchayati Raj : A system of government in which Gram Panchayats are the basic units of administration. It has three levels – Gram (village), Tehsil (block) and Zilla (District).
- Panchayat Samiti : It is a local government body at the tehsil or taluka level in India, which is a link between Gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishad.
- Gram Sabha : The bodies for the supervision of Gram Panchayats.
- Tier System : It is the system which signifies levels of government. It may be two levels (two tiers) and three levels (three tiers).
- Mayor : The Chairperson of a Municipal Corporation is known as the mayor.