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  • 03 Jul 2019 GS Paper 1 History

    The concept of federalism has continued to change its contours in Indian Polity. Analyse. (250 Words)



    • Describe federalism.
    • Trace the changing nature of federalism and highlight the current trends in centre- state relations.
    • Give a way forward.


    • A federal government is one in which powers are divided between the national government and the regional governments by the Constitution itself.
    • The specific features of the federal system are dual government, written constitution, division of powers between two levels of government, supremacy of constitution, independent judiciary.


    • The Constitution of India provides for a federal system of government. Despite structural rigidity of constitutional federalism, the practice of federation have continuously changed and evolved.

    Changing Contours of federalism in India

    • Single party dominance: The practice of federalism during 1950-66 was characterized by dominance of Congress as ruling party in centre and most states and as such major question of centre-state relations did not generally arise. After 4th general election, due to the emergence of regional parties, there were a number of conflicts between centre and states and states demanded higher autonomy in financial ,legislative and administrative spheres.
    • Planning commission: Setting up of Planning Commission in 1950 led to excessive centralization undermining the responsibility of states. Planning commission while it existed undermined the role of Finance commission a constitutional body in fiscal federalism.
    • Role of Governors and President rule: Post 1966 there were growing conflict wherever different parties were in centre and state. Governor acted as agent of central government and his interference in state was objected by states. Use of Article 356 (President’s Rule) on Governor report was abused many times. Sarkaria Commision (1988) recommended appointment of Governors be made strictly non-partisan.
    • Interstate conflicts: Interstate disputes regarding territorial disputes e.g. between Maharashtra and Karnataka on Belgaum, Interstate water disputes e.g. Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also emerged as new contour of federal system. Under Article 262, Parliament had the power to provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to water in Inter-State River or river valley. Parliament provided Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956 to deal with this issue.
    • Centrally sponsored Scheme: States have opposed these schemes and see them as hindrance on their administrative autonomy. Further, tied nature of funding associated with these schemes is also criticized by states as they see CSS ‘one size fits all model’ which induced inflexibility in development process.

    Recent changes

    • NItI Aayog: The Government of India constituted the NITI Aayog to replace the Planning Commission instituted in 1950. It is an important evolutionary change from the past, NITI Aayog acts as the quintessential platform of the Government of India to bring States to act together in the national interest.
    • Cooperative federalism: In cooperative federalism the Centre and states share a horizontal relationship, where they cooperate in the larger public interest. NITI Aayog seeks to achieve cooperative federalism. It is an important tool to enable states’ participation in the formulation and implementation of national policies.
    • Competitive federalism: In competitive federalism, States need to compete among themselves to attract funds and investment, which facilitates efficiency in administration and enhances developmental activities. For instance, spirit of competitive federalism is integrated in Smart City Mission, Ease of Doing Business state rankings etc.
    • One Nation, One Election: Recently proposed idea of conducting simultaneous centre and state election can have significant impact on federal relationship in India. Many regional parties have opposed the idea as anti federal.

    Way Forward

    • In S.R. Bommai case (1994), the Supreme Court ruled federalism as ‘basic feature’ of constitution. It observed: “The states have an independent constitutional existence; they are not satellites or agents of the Centre. Within the sphere allotted to them, the states are supreme”.
    • In this context Centre and state should work in tandem in the spirit of cooperative federalism by working within their allotted sphere determined constitutionally.
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