10. India is a Union of States

This is a discussion on the Nature of Indian Polity. The Constitution expressly describes India as a Union of States. It is not called a Unitary State. But the way it functions like a unitary state makes the States look like glorified municipalities. Indeed the Union exercises a lot of control over them. This distorts the working of the polity.

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36 thoughts on “10. India is a Union of States

    1. constitution of India neither is the complete federation nor it is completely unitary. It has the features of both. Sir Ivor Jennings was of the view that India has a federation with a strong centralizing policy. In the words of D.D.Basu, the Constitution of India is neither purely federal nor unitary, but is a combination of both. It is a union or a composite of a novel type. It is often defined to be quasi-federal in nature. Thus we can safely say that It is primarly Unitary having some unitary features.

    2. Unitary State is one in which there is a Central authority is Supreme and it delegates the powers to regional authorities if required. But, in India the powers of States and the Union are distributed just like as in a federal State. Also, in a federal State the authorities at States and Center function independent of each other and one cannot destroy the other. But in India, Center can take away the powers of State in certain cases and also even destroy the authority at the State.
      Thus, India is neither purely Unitary nor purely Federal in nature, and is called ‘Union of States’.

      1. Correct.. In a Unitary State there may or may not be a constitution and even if there is one, the Centre alone an amend the Constitution. *Britain is the only country in the world which has no written constitution. It has a constitution in the sense there are fundamental principles governing the country. Secondly the administrative units are crated by te centre for administrative purposes. The units do not have any original powers

    1. A unitary system is governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. All power is top down. A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as one single unit in which the central government is supreme and any administrative divisions (sub national units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate.

    2. A Unitary state is one in which there is a central authority, a supreme power which executes all the tasks and is accountable. For carrying out the operations it can delegate some of the tasks to various regional authorities. Also, the constitution in such kind of State may be modified by the Central authority.
      India cannot be called a Unitary State as in India although there are authorities at the Centre and the State levels, but their tasks are distributed by the Constitution which is the Supreme power. The regional authorities do not act as subordinates to the Center but function independently.

    1. In a federal set up there is a two tier of Government with well assigned powers and functions. In this system the central government and the governments of the units act within a well defined sphere, co-ordinate and at the same time act independently. The federal polity, in other words, provides a constitutional device for bringing unity in diversity and for the achievement of common national goals. K.C. Wheare defines federal government as an association of states, which has been formed for certain common purposes, but in which the member states retain a large measure of their original independence. A federal government exists when the powers of the government for a community are divided substantially according to a principle that there is a single independent authority for the whole area in respect of some matters and there are independent regional authorities for other matters, each set of authorities being co-ordinate to and subordinate to the others within its own sphere. The Constitution of India has adopted federal features; though it does not, in fact, claim that it establishes a federation. The question whether the Indian Constitution could be called a federal constitution troubled the minds of the members of the Constituent Assembly.

      1. There are many federal States in world as of now, with their own modifications to the way they function. One such example-
        We say that in a federal State, neither of the Union or State can destroy the other.
        But in Australia, the boundaries of a State can be modified, it just needs a popular referendum in the affected State. Yet Australia is called a federal State.

        In fact there is no exact definition of a Federal State. Just that United States of America is one of the first federal States, philosopohers and authors have considered USA as the base.
        So, I agree with Madhuri in saying that India could also be called as federal constitution. But the members of Constituent Assembly preferred to call it ‘Union of States’, one of its own kind.

    2. A federal State has a written constitution and the authorities at the Centre and the regional level function independently as their powers are distributed. There is also a Supreme Court which acts as the final authority to make sure that neither of these authorities encroaches the powers of another. To make a change to the Constitution, both the authorities must agree in a certain predefined manner and it is to be ensured that both national and regional interests are protected.
      India although resembles a lot to a federal State like it has a written constitution, and the powers of the Union and State are distributed. But in certain matters, to ensure the Unity and Integrity of the nation, powers of the State can be taken away by the Centre. Thus India cannot be called so a federal State.

    1. In India, Union Parliament by a simple majority can form new states, abolish existing states or change their boundaries. It does not require the consent of the affected state. Article 3 of the Indian Constitution provides for this right to the Central government. The President, who acts on the advice of Union Council of Ministers, merely needs to determine the views of the Legislature of the affected State, for which even time limit can be defined. These views can even be ignored by the Parliament.

      At the commencement of Constitution, it was decided to form the linguistic States. Within a short period of commencement of the constitution, the number of States in India were reduced from 27 to 14, and after that a number of states were disintegrated to form new ones, like Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland etc. Following the same process, a few years back Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were formed. And if the Central government decides, Telangana will be separated out as a new State out of Andhra Pradesh.

    1. The government works at two levels in India, Union and State level. There is a Constitution superior to both and the Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution. This was established with a view that the interests of both Centre as well as the regions must be protected. Any law or bill passed by the Central government which the State does not approve of can be challenged in the Supreme Court, which decides if the nature of the bill is constitutional or the interests of the State are being encroached by the Union.
      Such cases are possible in India as the ruling parties at the State and the Centre are in many cases different. But as long as the Supreme Court discharges its duties as guardian of the constitution, the national interests as well as the rights of the States will be ensured.

    1. In India there are two authorities, one at the Centre and other at the State level. Each has been ascertained the powers from Constitution of India. The powers of authorities at the State level are not delegated by the Centre, and the State exercises them independently. They may seek support of Central government but the Centre cannot exercise control over all the powers except for certain cases. Thus the regional or State authorities do not act as subordinated to the centre but as independent bodies.

    1. Federal Features of Indian Constitution

      Supremacy of the Constitution: This is one of the federal features of the Indian constitution. The supremacy of the constitution means that both, the Union and the State Governments, shall operate within the limits set by the Constitution. And both the union government and the central government derive their powers from the constitution. Written Constitution The most important feature of a federation is that its constitution should be a written one. The Constitution of India is a written constitution is the most elaborate Constitution of the world.

      Rigid Constitution: The constitution of India is a rigid constitution and this is one of the basic features of federal constitution. The procedure of amending the Constitution in a federal system is normally rigid. Indian Constitution provides that some amendments require a special majority. Such an amendment has to be passed by majority of total members of each house of the Parliament as well as by two-thirds majority of the members present and voting there in. However, in addition to this process, some amendments must be approved by at least 50% of the states. After this procedure the amendment is signed by the head of the state i.e; the President. Since in India important amendments can be amended through this procedure Hence, Indian Constitution has been rightly called a rigid constitution.

      Division of Powers:

      In Indian constitution the powers of state and centre are clearly defined and there are very clear limits of both the centre and the state for law making powers. Our constitution enumerates three lists, viz. the Union, the State and the Concurrent List. The Union List consists of 97 subjects of national importance such as Defence, Railways, Post and Telegraph, etc. The State List consists of 66 subjects of local interest such as Public Health, Police etc. The Concurrent List has 47 subjects important to both the Union and the State such as Electricity, Trade Union, Economic and Social Planning, etc.

      Supremacy of the Judiciary: Supremacy of judiciary is another very important feature of a federal state where there is an independent judiciary to interpret the Constitution and to maintain its sanctity. The Supreme Court of India has the original jurisdiction to settle disputes between the Union and the States. It can declare a law as unconstitutional, if it contravenes any provision of the Constitution.


    2. Many features of Indian government resemble that of a Federal State. A federal State has a written Constitution, there are two authorities Central and State, the Constitution is superior to both Central and regional authorities and is safe guarded by a Supreme authority like Supreme Court of India, the powers of Union as well as State are delegated by the Constitution, and the Constitution can be amended on certain norms or agreement of State and Center.

    1. Constitution lays down the powers which can be exercised by the State, as different from that of the Union. If the parliament passes a Bill which tempers with the rights of State it can be challenged in the Supreme Court, which acts as the guardian to the Constitution. In such a case the rights of the State are protected if the proposed Bill is regarded as unconstitutional. It is at the discretion of the Supreme Court to disregard a constitutional amendment which threatens the rights of the citizens, or destroys sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation, or changes the basic nature of the Constitution.

    1. Supreme Court acts as a Supreme power over the Union as well as the State government. Any act or bill proposed by the Union and not acceptable to the State can be challenged in the Supreme Court. If it is found that the Bill is unconstitutional, threatens the rights of the citizens, or destroys sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation, or changes the basic nature of the Constitution, Supreme Court may disregard the parliament’s decision protecting the rights of the concerned State.

    1. There are two sets of interests in a federation, that of the Center and of the State.
      In India, to serve both the interests we have a bicameral nature of government, Lok Sabha to represent the National or Cenral interest, and Rajya Sabha to represent the State interest.

    1. Union is reflected as Lok Sabha in the Parliament. It is also called as ‘House of the People’ or ‘lower house’, and has powers superior to that of Rajya Sabha (Council of States).

    1. US is an indestructible Union of indestructible States as neither the Union can destroy any State, nor the State can destroy the Union. But such is not the case with India. In India, a State cannot destroy the Union but the parliament or Union can definitely reorganize, destroy, alter, or modify the boundaries of a State. For such an action the parliament even need not take consent of the concerned State Legislature. The President is required only to ascertain the views of the State Legislature. These views may even be disregarded or ignored by the Parliament. Thus, India is ‘indestructible Union of destructible States’

    1. There were both positive and negative impacts of British policies on India. One of the darkest influence of ‘divide and rule’ policy was the emergence of communalism, which had engulfed many parts of the nation in communal riots, regional entities were strong in India, also there was opposition to Hindi in South India.
      Therefore, the Fathers of Indian Constitution, in order to maintain peace, Unity and Integrity throughout the nation, established a strong Centre, which can take away the powers of a State in several cases.

    1. At the time of independence in 1947, British dissolved the treaty relations with more than 500 states which were free to accede to India or Pakistan. Most of them acceded to India, some to Pakistan, and Hyderabad and Bhutan remained independent which were later conquered by Indian armed intervention. Many pricely states were combined to form a new province like Rajputana, Madhya Bharat, Himachal Pradesh, Vindhya Bharat. Some of the provinces like Mysore, Hyderabad, Bhopal, Bilaspur became independent provinces.

      Constitution of India which came into force on Jan 26, 1950 announced 27 states categorized in three types:
      Type A – former governor provinces, ruled by elected governor and state legislature
      Type B – princely states or groups of princely states, govered by a rajpramukh, appointed by President of India
      Type C – former chief commissioner province and some princely state, governed by Chief Commissioner appointed by the President of India.
      Jammu & Kashmir earned a special status and Andaman and Nicobar islands were established as Union territory.

      There were political movements to create the states on linguistic basis. This removed the distinction between Paart A, B and C. The States Reorganization Act of 1956 dissolved the 27 states into 14 states and 4 Union territories.

  1. If Telangana is taken to its logical end, it will be the 29th state in India and the first to be created in nine years. It was in 2000 that three new states were created
    Chhattisgarh (November 1, 2000) was carved out of eastern Madhya Pradesh, Uttaranchal (November 9, 2000), since renamed Uttarkhand, was created out of the hilly regions of northwest Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand (November 15, 2000) was created out of the southern districts of Bihar.

    First, the state legislature, in this case the Andhra Pradesh legisltaure, will have to pass a resolution and forward it to the Centre (however, this is not mandatory — Parliament suo motu can take up the issue through a direction from the President).

    Once it reaches the Centre, the home ministry will examine the issue and send the proposal to the law ministry which in turn whets it and sends it to the Cabinet. The Union Cabinet will have to approve it before placing it in the two Houses of Parliament. Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha will have to pass the resolution with a two-third’s majority since it will be a Constitution amendment to Article 3 which deals with “formation of new states and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing states”.

    After Parliament gives its seal of approval, begins the complex issue of the physical formation of the state. The logistics required for a new administration will start with Centre sending a team of officials to put things together for creation of the new state.

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