Federalism With A Strong Central Government


It is generally accepted that the Indian Constitution has created a strong central government. India is a country of continental dimensions with immense diversities and social problems. The framers of the Constitution believed that we required a federal constitution that would accommodate diversities. But they also wanted to create a strong centre to stem disintegration and bring about social and political change. It was necessary for the centre to have such powers because India at the time of independence was not only divided into provinces created by the British; but there were more than 500 princely states which had to be integrated into existing  States or new States had to be created.

Besides the concern for unity, the makers of the Constitution also believed that the socio-economic problems of the country needed to be handled by a strong central government in cooperation with the States. Poverty, illiteracy and inequalities of wealth were some of the problems that required planning and coordination. Thus, the concerns for unity and development prompted the makers of the Constitution to create a strong central government.

Important Provisions That Create A Strong Central Government :

  • The very existence of a State including its territorial integrity is in the hands of Parliament. The Parliament is empowered to ‘form a new State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States…’. It can also alter the boundary of any State or even its name. The Constitution provides for some safeguards by way of securing the view of the concerned State legislature.
  • The Constitution has certain very powerful emergency provisions, which can turn our federal polity into a highly centralised system once emergency is declared. During an emergency, power becomes lawfully centralised. Parliament also assumes the power to make laws on subjects within the jurisdiction of the States.
  • Even during normal circumstances, the central government has very effective financial powers and responsibilities.
    • In the first place, items generating revenue are under the control of the central government. Thus, the central government has many revenue sources and the States are mostly dependent on the grants and financial assistance from the centre.
    • Secondly, India adopted planning as the instrument of rapid economic progress and development after independence. Planning led to considerable centralisation of economic decision making. Planning commission appointed by the union government is the coordinating machinery that controls and supervises the resources management of the States.
    • Besides, the Union government uses its discretion to give grants and loans to States. This distribution of economic resources is considered lopsided and has led to charges of discrimination against States ruled by an opposition party.
  • The Governor has certain powers to recommend dismissal of the State government and the dissolution of the Assembly. Besides, even in normal circumstances, the Governor has the power to reserve a bill passed by the State legislature, for the assent of the President. This gives the central government an opportunity to delay the State legislation and also to examine such bills and veto them completely.
  • There may be occasions when the situation may demand that the central government needs to legislate on matters from the State list. This is possible if the move is ratified by the Rajya Sabha. The Constitution clearly states that executive powers of the centre are superior to the executive powers of the States.
    Furthermore, the central government may choose to give instructions to the State government. The following extract from an article of the Constitution makes this clear.
    Article 257 (1) : The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as not to impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive power of the Union, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.
  • In India, we have an integrated administrative system. The all-India services are common to the entire territory of India and officers chosen for these services serve in the administration of the States. Thus, an IAS officer who becomes the collector or an IPS officer who serves as the Commissioner of Police, are under the control of the central government. States cannot take disciplinary action nor can they remove these officers from service.
  • Articles 33 and 34 authorise the Parliament to protect persons in the service of the union or a state in respect of any action taken by them during martial law to maintain or restore order. This provisions further strengthens the powers of the union government. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been made on the basis of these provisions. This Act has created tensions between the people and the armed forces on some occasions.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Constitution At Work

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