The Founding Fathers of the Indian Constitution had intended for the Constitution to have a federal structure based on an absolute separation of powers between the organs of the Government. The issue is that certain provisions of this Constitution led to certain unitary features wherein the Union government has certain powers entrenching into the functioning of States and thus breaks the barrier created by the Doctrine of Separation of Powers. It is due to these exceptional provisions that D.D Basu, a famous jurist and lawyer described the Constitution as being neither purely federal nor entirely unitary.
After the attainment of independence, the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution realised that the cultural configuration of India which was based on the principle idea of unity in the midst of diversity created within itself a federal structure of political organisation. The Indian Constitution was, therefore believed to be based on a federal principle. A federal Constitution is usually preferred and brought into power where among the constituent units there is a desire for “Union though not for Unit”. The diversity in India, may it be cultural, economic, political or social, along with the staunch values of fraternity and secularism suits has led to the need for such a principle and ideal that governs the people which therefore makes the federal structure of the Constitution necessary and appropriate soon after the end of British rule.
The constituent units of the Indian federation are the Centre and the States. The erstwhile provinces of British India became the States of the Indian Union. Well before independence, the Motilal Nehru Committee’s report had recommended the organisation of the Indian state on the linguistic basis, the same basis on which the Congress Committees were formed. After independence, it was rightly felt that the States must be demarcated on the basis of cultural and linguistic identities. On the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commission, new States were formed largely on the basis of cultural and linguistic identities. But apart from the constitution of States, there is the problem of division of functions between the Centre and the States. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution gave a Constitution which was federal but with a strong Centre because of the prevailing centrifugal tendencies in the country. However, the balance tilted increasingly towards centralised administration for several years after independence for a variety of reasons. The Indian federation started working as a Unitary state thanks to growing encroachment of the Centre on the States’ functions, the fiscal imbalance between the Centre and States, a centralised planning process and, above all, frequent imposition of Central Rule on the State under Article 356 of the Constitution. All this created misgivings in some States and led to a rise of regionalism and students’ demand for State autonomy and radical changes in the Indian Constitution. One reason for such a demand was the disparities in the social and economic development.
As P.R. Dubhashi, the famous author once said, “Federalism is an attribute of the political organisation of a State and not a category of nation. These who describe India as a Federal nation have in mind the vast and diverse nature of our population and the variety of our language, culture and regional traditions. While these features may be on a much larger scale in India than in any other state in the world, the fact remains that even small nations like Belgium and Switzerland have linguistic and cultural diversity but these are not called Federal nations.”
From the point of view of maintaining the integrity of India, it has, therefore, become necessary to have a second look at some of the basic issues relating to the constitutional system of India including its federal system in the new context. The excessively centralised system of governance and decision-making can no longer continue. Even though there is a distribution of powers between the Union and States as under a federal system, the distribution has a strong Central bias and the powers of the States are hedged in with various restrictions which impede their sovereignty even within the sphere limited to them by the distribution of powers basically provided by the Constitution. In view of this principle of the federal structure, it was believed by many scholars that the Indian Constitution provides a system of government which is quasi-federal. It enshrines the principles that in spite of federation the national interest ought to be paramount.
The Indian Constitution accepts the federal concept and distributes the sovereign powers between the co-ordinate constitutional entitles which are the Union and the States. This concept implies that one cannot encroach upon the governmental functions or instrumentalities of the other, unless the Constitution expressly provides for such interference. The legislative fields allotted to the units cover subjects for legislation and they do not deal with the relationship between the two co-ordinate units functioning in their allotted fields: this is regulated by other provisions of the Constitution and there is no provision which enables one unit to take away the property of another except by agreement. The future stability of our vast country with its unity in diversity depends upon the strict adherence of the federal principle, which the fathers of our Constitution have so wisely and foresightedly incorporated therein. To ensure this was protected, the Supreme Court of India, under this federal power was given the constitutional power and the correlative duty to prevent encroachment, either overtly or covertly, by the Union of State field or vice versa, and thus maintain the balance of federation. There have been several cases in the past, where after independence, by an abuse of its vested powers, the Union had attempted to usurp the functions and powers of the State, for which the Court should stop the Union from overstepping its boundary and trespassing into the State field.
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