Features of Indian Federalism:
The most important feature of a federation is that its constitution should be a written one,
so that both the Union Government as well as the State can refer to that as and when
needed. The Constitution of India is a written document and is the most elaborate
Constitution of the world. It establishes supremacy of the Constitution because both the
union and the states are given powers by the Constitution as to be independent in their
spheres of governance.
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. In
India important amendments can be amended through this procedure. Hence, Indian
Constitution has been rightly called a rigid constitution.
Division of Powers
In our Constitution, there is a clear division of powers, so that the States and the Centre
are required to enact and legislate within their sphere of activity and none violates its limits
and tries to encroach upon the functions of the other. Our constitution enumerates three
lists, viz. the Union, the State and the Concurrent List. The Union List consists of 97
subjects of national importance such as Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, etc. The State 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.
Supremacy of the Judiciary
Another very important feature of a federation 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.
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, legislative,
administrative and financial relations.
Regarding legislative relations, there is a threefold division of powers in the Constitution.
We have followed a system in which there are two lists of legislative powers, one for the
Centre and the other for the State, known as the Union List and the State List, respectively.
An additional list called the Concurrent List has also been added.
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. But 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.
Power to legislate on all subjects not included in any of the three lists vests with the
Under certain circumstances, the Parliament can legislate on the subjects mentioned in
the State List.
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.
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:
(i) 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.
(ii) Taxes levied and collected by the Union but assigned to the States viz. railways, sea
or air etc.
(iii) 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.
(iv) Taxes levied and collected and retained by the Centre such as customs, surcharge
on income tax etc.
(v) Taxes levied and collected by the Centre and distributed between the union and the
states such as taxes other than agriculture etc.
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 and they are executed with
the approval of the Planning Commission. 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.
The Union Government appointed Sarkaria Commission to suggest ways and means to improve