Centre-State Relations


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The Constitution of India provides for a federal system.

Both the Union and the State are created by the Constitution and derive their respective authority from it.

Yet there is a criticism that India is a federal State but with unitary features. How far is this criticism valid?

To understand this, let us study the relationship between the Union and the States.

The relations between the Centre and the states which constitute the core of federalism have been enumerated in Parts XI and XII of the Constitution under the heads –

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Legislative Relations

With respect to legislative relations, there is a threefold division of powers in the Constitution –

  1. the Union List (for the Centre)
  2. the State List (for the State)
  3. the Concurrent List

The Union List which consists of 97 subjects of national interest is the largest of the three lists.

  • Some of the important subjects included in this list are: Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, Income Tax, Custom Duties, etc.
  • The Parliament has the exclusive power to enact laws on the subjects included in the Union List for the entire country.

The State List consists of 66 subjects of local interest.

  • Some of the important subjects included in this List are Trade and Commerce within the State, Police, Fisheries, Forests, Industries, etc.
  • The State Legislatures have been empowered to make laws on the subjects included in the State List.

The Concurrent List consists of 47 subjects of common interest to both the Union and the States.

  • Some of the subjects included in this list are: Stamp Duties, Drugs and Poison, Electricity, Newspapers etc.
  • Both the Parliament and the State Legislatures can make laws on the subjects included in this list.
    • In case of a conflict between the Union and the State law relating to the same subject, the Union law prevails over the State law.

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Power to legislate on all subjects not included in any of the three lists vests with the Parliament.

Under certain circumstances, the Parliament can legislate on the subjects mentioned in the State List.

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Administrative Relations

The framers of the Indian Constitution never intended to create administrative co-operation and co-ordination between the centre and states.

The executive power of the State is to be exercised in such a way as to ensure compliance with the laws made by the Parliament. Further, the Union Executive is empowered to give directions to a State, if necessary, for the requisite purpose.

The Union Government can issue directions to the States to ensure compliance with the laws of the Parliament for construction and maintenance of means of communications, declared to be of national and military importance, and also on the measures for the protection of Railways. In addition to all this, the Parliament can alone adjudicate on inter-state river disputes. Also, a provision has been made for constituting an Inter-State Council to advise the president on inter-state disputes.

Even the State governments may delegate some of its administrative functions relating to the State subjects, to Union Government for a specified period.

The Constitution of India has certain special provisions to ensure uniformity of the administrative system. These include the creation of All India Services such as IAS and IPS and placing members of these services in key administrative positions in the states.

The presence of All India Service Officers further paves way for the Central Government to exercise its authority and control over the states. The members of these services are recruited by the Centre but are appointed in the States. No disciplinary action can be taken against them by the State Governments without the permission of the Centre.

The Constitution also makes provision for the creation of new All India Service by the Parliament on the recommendation of the Rajya Sabha. The President also puts the entire control of the state administrative machinery under the control of the Union .

The Union executive is empowered to give such directions to a state as it may appear necessary for the purpose to the Union Government. The Union Government has wide powers to issue directions based on the subjective view of the Union and may, therefore, interfere with the state autonomy in the field of administration.

Ordinarily, the central police force and Army are posted to the states at the request of the State Government. However, there have been occasions when the CRPF or BSF have been deployed in states much against the state wishes of the State Government.

Thus, the center plays a very important role in the administrative sphere of activity concerning the States.

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Financial Relations

The distribution of financial resources is especially critical in determining the nature of the State’s relationship with the Centre. Both the Union and the State have been provided with independent sources of revenue by the Constitution. The Parliament can levy taxes on the subjects included in the Union List. The States can levy taxes on the subjects in the State List. By and large taxes that have an inter-state base are levied by the Centre and those with a local base by the State.

The Union List consists of items of taxation which fall under the following categories –

  1. Taxes levied by the Union but collected and appropriated by the State such as stamp duties and duties of excise on medicinal and toilet preparations etc.
  2. Taxes levied and collected by the Union but assigned to the States viz. railways, sea or air etc.
  3. Taxes levied and collected by the Central and may be distributed between the Central and the states if the Parliament by law so provides, such as union excise duties, excise on toilet preparations etc.
  4. Taxes levied and collected and retained by the Centre such as customs, surcharge on income tax etc.
  5. Taxes levied and collected by the Centre and distributed between the union and the states such as taxes other than agriculture etc.

It is clear that in the financial sphere too, the Centre is better equipped. The Centre can exercise control over the state finances and grants-in-aid both general and special to meet the expenditure on developmental schemes.

During financial emergency, the President has the power to suspend the provisions regarding division of taxes between the Centre and the State. He can also impose other restrictions on the expenses of the State.

State plans are framed within the priorities of the central plan. Further, the States have to carry out the centre-sponsored schemes for which the Centre gives grants and the conditions under which these are to be made. No initiative is left to the states and the centrally formulated schemes have been inappropriately and unimaginatively imposed upon them.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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