Federalism

NCERT 10 Social Science – Federalism

What is Federalism?

Combines a general government (central with regional or state government).

Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and a State Authority. 

Central Government – This type of government is for the Entire Country. This type of government for the entire country is usually responsible for a few subjects of common national interest.

State Government – The governments at the level of provinces or states that look after much of the day-to-day administering of their state. Both these levels of government enjoy their power independent of the other.

In a federal system, the central government cannot order the state government to do something. The state government has powers of its own that are not answerable to the central government. Both these governments are separately answerable to the people.

Only 25 of the world’s 193 countries have federal political systems, their citizens make up 40 percent of the world’s population. Most of the large countries of the world are federations.

Features of Federalism

  1. There are two or more levels (or tiers) of government.
  2. Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its own JURISDICTION in specific matters of legislation, taxation, and administration.
  3. The jurisdictions of the respective levels or tiers of government are specified in the constitution. So, the existence and authority of each tier of government are constitutionally guaranteed.
  4. The fundamental provisions of the constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government. Such changes require the consent of both levels of government.
  5. Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government. The highest court acts as an umpire if disputes arise between different levels of government in the exercise of their respective powers. 
  6. Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
  7. The federal system thus has dual objectives: to safeguard and promote the unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity. Therefore, two aspects are crucial for the institutions and practice of federalism. Governments at different levels should agree to some rules of power-sharing. They should also trust that each would abide by its part of the agreement. An ideal federal system has both aspects: mutual trust and agreement to live together.

First Type of Federalism

  • The first route involves independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit so that by pooling sovereignty and retaining identity they can increase their security. This type of ‘coming together’ federation includes the USA, Switzerland, and Australia.
  • In this first category of federations, all the constituent States usually have equal power and are strong vis-à-vis the federal government.

Second Type of Federalism

  • The second route is where a large country decides to divide its power between the constituent States and the national government. India, Spain, and Belgium are examples of this kind of ‘holding together’ federation.
  • In this second category, the central government tends to be more powerful vis-à-vis the States. Very often different constituent units of the federation have unequal powers. Some units are granted special powers.

Federalism in India

The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government.

             *  The Union Government or what we call the Central 

                     Government, representing the Union of India.

             *  The State governments.

Later, the third tier of federalism was added in the form of Panchayats and Municipalities.

Co-current List (Union)

Union List includes subjects of national importance such as the defense of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications, and currency. They are included in this list because we need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country.

Co-current List (State)

State List contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture, and irrigation.

Forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption, and succession. Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list. If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.

Special Power to States

Most federations that are formed by ‘holding together’ do not give equal power to its constituent units.

Thus, all States in the Indian Union do not have identical powers. Some States enjoy a special status. States such as Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram enjoy special powers under certain provisions of the Constitution of India (Article 371) due to their peculiar social and historical circumstances.

These special powers are especially enjoyed in relation to the protection of land rights of indigenous peoples, their culture, and also preferential employment in government services.

Union Territories

There are some units of the Indian Union that enjoy very little power. These are areas that are too small to become an independent State but which could not be merged with any of the existing States.

These areas, like Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, or the capital city of Delhi, are called Union Territories. These territories do not have the powers of a State. The Central Government has special powers in running these areas.

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