Updated: Aug 26, 2020


The definition of federalism is that offered by K.C. Wheare, who described the federal principle as “the method of dividing powers so as that the overall and regional governments are each within a sphere coordinate and independent.”

Hence in a federation we find;

• Two sets of government constitutionally coordinate • Division of powers between center and units. • A federal court as a guardian of the constitution; and • Supremacy of the constitution which is rigid.


The genesis of this federal system in India lies within the Simon Report of May 1930 which supported the thought of a federal in India. This support for the federal sort of government for the India of the longer term was further affirmed within the First Round Table Conference of 1930.Mr. Ramsay Mac Donald, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, speaking at the final plenary session of that Second Round Table Conference said: “There remains difference of opinion, as an example on the composition and powers of the Federal Legislature, and that i regret that due to the absence of a settlement of the key questions of how to safeguard the Minorities under a responsible Central Government, the Conference has been unable to discuss effectively the nature of the Federal Executive and its relationship with the Legislature”. After the Third Round Table also flopped significantly, British Government issued a white book in March 1933, which proposed a replacement Indian Constitution with an accountable government within the provinces and the principle of dyarchy at the Centre. These proposals were enacted into law and received the assent of the British Crown and became ultimately the basis for the Government of India Act of 1935. The significance of the Act of 1935 lies within the incontrovertible fact that the provinces were endowed with a legal personality under a national scheme, which the character of the national scheme was ultimately a federal system. This meant the abolition of the principle of dyarchy at the provincial level and its retention at the Centre.


1.The constitution of India is unique with respect to its extreme detail and substance. The uniqueness of the Indian constitution is additionally within the incontrovertible fact that although it's federal in character, it declares India to be a union of states. 2.The constitution provides for a single citizenship like the United Kingdom and unlike the United States America that provides for dual citizenship. Single citizenship gives the constitution a unitary facet where all citizens are united under one identity as an “Indian”. 3.The constitution of India establishes a dual polity with the jurisdiction of making laws on different subject matters is divided between union and the state governments.The distinguishing feature here is that the residual powers lie in the hands of the central government.This attribute which is different than other countries takes makes the Indian federalism a bit intricate to fathom. 4.Another feature that marks India to be a federal country in nature is the written constitution. Indian constitution is the lengthiest and the bulkiest constitution in the world which clearly defines everything from rights to remedies. This strengthens the federal nature of the country and assures security to the state and citizens. 5.The powers in the country are split amongst the three pillars of democracy: the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary. All these three props are complementary and supplementary to each other with an independent judiciary which is the upholder of the supremacy of the constitution and get to the bottom of disagreements flanked by center and states or between 2 states. 6.The constitution of India is both stern and elastic at the same time. The rigidity of the constitution is an important feature of federalism. But an equivalent rigid constitution has hit a century of amendments in but 75 years of Independence. 7.The Constitution provides for a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House (Rajya Sabha) and a Lower House (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha is the stand-in for the states of Indian Federation, while the Lok Sabha represents the people of India as a whole. The Rajya Sabha (even though a less powerful chamber) is required to conserve the federal stability by protecting the interests of the states against the uncalled-for interference of the Centre. 8. Union has the power to make new states or alter the boundaries of existing states. 9. Union has the power to make laws on state matters and if both state and union adjudicate on a certain matter, the latter will prevail. 10. The emergency articles of the constitution when conjured up, give a unitary character.


1. State of West Bengal v. Union of India “The Constitution of India isn't truly Federal in character. The basis of the distribution of powers between the Union and States is that only those powers which are concerned with the regulation of local problems are vested in the States and the residue, especially those which tend to maintain the economic industrial and commercial unity of the country are left to the Union.” 2. State of Rajasthan v. Union of India “In a sense, the Indian Union is federal. But the extent of federalism in it's largely watered-down by the requirements of progress and development of the country which has got to be nationally integrated, politically and economically co-ordinated and socially, intellectually and spiritually uplifted. With such a system, the States cannot substitute the way of legitimate and comprehensively planned development of the country within the manner directed by the Central Government 3. Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala Some of the judges, during this case, held federalism to be a neighborhood of the essential structure of the constitution which suggests it can’t be tampered with. 4. S.R. Bommai v. Union of India In this case, 4 different opinions were given by judges 1. Justice Ahmadi: due to no mention of the words like ‘federal’ he declared it to be a quasi-federal constitution. 2. Justice Sawant & Kuldip Singh: Federalism is an important feature of the constitution. 3. Justice Ramaswamy: Declared India to be an “Organic Federation” designed to suit the requirements of the parliament. 4. Justice Jeevan Reddy and Justice Agarwal: Federalism in the constitution has a different meaning in accordance with the context.This case posed restrictions on the arbitrary use of article 356.


India’s federal structure has undergone through many questioning over these past years. • Formation of the state of Telangana under Article 3 of the constitution raised tons of questions against the federal nature of the polity. • 100th amendment of the constitution where land was transferred to Bangladesh has posed as a significant threat to federalism in India. • Introduction of Goods & Services Tax also lead to lot of questioning.


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