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Federal and unitary features of constitution

Date: 09 January 2020 Tags: Constitution


Indian constitution is a quasi-federal form of constitution where powers are unequally distributed between centre and state. The constitution of India itself is quasi-federal in characteristics.



Federal features

  • Distribution of Powers

An essential feature of a federal Constitution is the distribution of powers between the central government and the governments of the several units (provincial governments) forming the federation. Federation means the distribution of the power of the State among a number of co-ordinate bodies, each originating from and controlled by the Constitution.

  • Supremacy of the Constitution

This means that the Constitution should be binding on the federal and state governments. Neither of the two governments should be in a position to override the provisions of the Constitution relating to the powers and status which each is to enjoy. 

  • Written Constitution

The Constitution must necessarily be a written document. It will be practically impossible to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, unless the terms of the Constitution have been reduced into writing.

  • Rigidity

It means that the power of amending the provisions of the Constitution which regulates the status and powers of the federal and state government should not be confined exclusively either to the federal or state governments, but must be a joint act of both.


Unitary features

  • Union of States

Article 1 of the Constitution describes India as a “Union of States”, which implies two things: firstly, it is not the result of an agreement among the States, as it is there in federations and secondly, the States have no freedom to secede or separate from the Union.  The Indian federation is a union because it is indestructible and helps to maintain the unity of the country.

  • Power to form new States and to change existing boundaries

In the USA, it is not possible for the federal government to unilaterally change the territorial extent of a State but in India, the Parliament can do so even without the consent of the State concerned. Under Art 3, Centre can change the boundaries of existing States and can carve out new States.

  • Unequal Representation in the Legislature

The equality of units in a federation is best guaranteed by their equal representation in the Upper House of the federal legislature (Parliament).In a true federation such as that of United States of America every State irrespective of their size in terms of area or population, sends two representatives to the Upper House i.e. Senate.

  • Single Constitution

There is a single Constitution for both Union and the States. There is no provision for separate Constitutions for the States. In the USA and Australia, the States have their own Constitutions which are equally powerful as the federal Constitution. 

  • Single citizenship

India follows the principle of uniform and single citizenship, but in the USA and Australia, double citizenship is followed. This means that people are citizens of both the federal State and their own State which has its own Constitution.

  • Power to make laws on the subjects in State list

The Parliament has the exclusive authority to make laws on the 100 subjects of the Union list, but the States do not have such exclusive rights over the State list. Under certain circumstances, the Parliament can legislate on subjects of State list.

  • Emergency provisions

The President of India an declare three different types of emergency rules under Articles 352, 356 and 360 for an act of foreign aggression or internal armed rebellion, failure of constitutional machinery in a State and financial emergency respectively.

  • Unified Judiciary

The federal principle envisages a dual system of Courts. But, in India there is a single integrated judicial system for whole of the country. We have unified Judiciary with the Supreme Court at the apex. The High Courts work under its supervision.

  • All India Services

Under Article 312, the All India Services officials IAS, IPS and IFS (Forest) are appointed by the Centre, but are paid and controlled by the State. However, in case of any irregularities or misconduct committed by the officer, the States cannot initiate any disciplinary action except suspending him/her.

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