Explain the concept of Federalism incorporated in Indian constitution. (IAS, 2016, Paper 1, Q1)

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The scholars have characterised Indian constitution in various ways such as Quasi Federal, Unitary with federal features, federal with unitary features, centralised federation etc yet it enshrines a basic features of federalism, and that is why, India is one of the member family of federations, of which better known as, USA, Canada, and Australia. The Indian Federalism has been designed after a close and careful study of the contemporary trends in the features of federalism in USA, Canada and Australia, and therefore in this regard, it seeks to mitigate some of its usual weaknesses of rigidity and legalism. It does not follow strictly the conventional or orthodox federal pattern. It breaks much new ground from what is already established and develops some novel expedients and techniques of its own.

Instead of the word “federation” the word “Union” was deliberately used by the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly to indicate two things. (a) that the Indian Union is not the result of an agreement by the states and (b) the component states have no freedom to secede from it. though the country and the people may be divided into different states for convenience of administration, the country is one integral whole, its people a single people living under a single imperium derived from a single source.  

Within a federal framework, the Indian Constitution provides for a good deal of centralisation. The Central Government has a large sphere of action and thus plays a more dominant role than the states. There is a long Concurrent List containing subjects of common interest to both the Centre and the State. The emergency provisions provide a simple way of transforming the normal federal fabric into an almost unitary system so as to meet national emergencies effectively.

In certain situations, the Parliament becomes competent to legislate even in the exclusive state field, and the process of amending the constitution is not very rigid. India’s federalism is thus a flexible mechanism. The Constitution devises several structural techniques to promote inter-governmental co-operation and thus India furnishes a notable example of co-operative federalism.

India is a dual polity but has only a single citizenship. By and large, an Indian enjoys practically the same political and civil rights of citizenship throughout the country no matter in which state he resides. While States in USA is free to draft its own Constitution covering matters within its competence, it is not so in India where the Constitution is a single frame which applies to the Centre as well as the State, from which neither can get out and within which each must work.

However, under the impact of wars, international crises, scientific and technological developments, and the emergence of the political philosophy of social welfare state, the whole concept of federalism has been undergoing a change. Centralising tendencies have become manifest and strong national governments have emerged in practically every federation.

Though India does not follow absolute and rigid concept of federalism yet the Centre in India is strong, and utmost inter-governmental co-operation is sought to be promoted within the constitutional framework, yet the States are not agents of the Centre. They exist under the Constitution and not at the sufferance off the centre. They enjoy large amount of autonomy in normal times. Their powers are derived from the constitution and not from the central laws and the federal portion of the Constitution can be amended not unilaterally by the centre alone but only with the co-operation of the centre and the state. These aspects constitute the elements and essence of federalism and these are all present in the Indian Federation. Federalism has been declared as the basic feature of the constitution in Keshwanand Bharti v. State of Kerala, 1973.