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Federal Features of Indian Constitution

Last updated date: 26th Feb 2024
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What is Federalism and Its Features?

Federalism is a mode of administration that combines a single political system of the central or "federal" government with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial, or other subunit governments). Its distinguishing feature initially embodied in the innovative system of government established by the United States Constitution of 1789, is a parity relationship between the two tiers of government. It is thus characterized as a type of governance in which powers are split between two equal levels of authority.

Federalism is distinct from confederalism, in which the general level of government is subservient to the regional level, and devolution within a unitary state, in which the regional level of government is subordinate to the general level. It is the primary form in the pathway of regional integration or separation, restricted on one side by confederalism and on the other by devolution within a unitary state. India, United States, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Russia, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Argentina, Belgium, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Australia are examples of federations or federal states. Some regard the European Union as a forerunner to federalism in a multi-state setting, a concept known as the federal union of states.

Federalism and India

Federalism in India refers to the relation between India's Central Government and its state governments. The Indian Constitution establishes the framework of the Indian government. Part XI of the Indian constitution stipulates the division of legislative, administrative, and executive functions between the union government and the Indian states. The legislative powers are split into three lists: the Union List, the State List, and the Concurrent List, which represent the powers conferred on the Union government, the State governments, and the powers shared among them.

This federalism is symmetrical in the sense that the delegated powers of the constituent entities are envisioned to be the same. Because of an intentionally temporary section of the Indian Constitution known as Article 370, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has historically been afforded a different status than other states (which was revoked by the Parliament in 2019). Union territories are unitary in nature, ruled directly by the Union administration. Article 1 (1) of the constitution provides for two levels of government, with an extra local elected government. Articles 239AA and 239A granted legislatures to Delhi and Puducherry, respectively.

Legislative Power

The Parliament of India, a bicameral legislature comprising the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, wields legislative powers. The Rajya Sabha (or the 'Council of States') is the upper house of parliament, consisting of members appointed by the president and elected by state and territorial legislatures. The Lok Sabha (also known as the 'House of the People') is the lower house. Because its legislation is subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court, the parliament does not have complete control and sovereignty. 

It does, however, have some influence over the executive. Members of the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are either appointed by parliament or elected within six months of taking office. The Lok Sabha holds the council as a whole accountable. The Lok Sabha is a transitory house that can be dissolved only if the ruling party loses the support of a majority of its members. The Rajya Sabha is an indefinite house that can never be dissolved. The Rajya Sabha members are elected for a six-year tenure.

The constitution defines the distribution of powers, and legislative powers are separated into three lists:

  • Union List

  • State List

  • Concurrent List

Union List: The Union List consists of 100 items (up from 97 before) on which the parliament has sole legislative authority. Defence, armed forces, arms and ammunition, atomic energy, foreign affairs, war and peace, citizenship, extradition, railways, shipping and navigation, airways, posts and telegraphs, telephones, wireless and broadcasting, currency, foreign trade, inter-state trade and commerce, banking, insurance, industry control, regulation, and development of mines, mineral, and oil resources are all included.

State List: There are 61 items on the State List (earlier 66 items). Maintaining law and order, police forces, healthcare, transportation, land policies, energy in the state, village administration, and so on are all topics where uniformity is desirable but not required. The state legislature has sole authority to enact legislation on these topics. The Rajya Sabha (Council of States) must pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority that it is expedient to act in the national interest in order for the parliament to create legislation on subjects listed in the State List in specific circumstances. Though states have sole legislative authority over items on the State List, articles 249, 250, 252, and 253 provide circumstances in which the Union government may legislate.

Concurrent List: There are 52 items on the Concurrent List (up from 47 previously). On this list, uniformity is desirable but not required. Marriage and divorce, transfer of property other than agricultural land, education, contracts, bankruptcy and insolvency, trustees and trusts, civil procedure, contempt of court, adulteration of foodstuffs, drugs, and poisons, economic and social planning, trade unions, labour welfare, electricity, newspapers, books, and printing press NS stamp duties are among the items mentioned in the list.

Executive Power

The Union and the States each have their own executive staffs, which are supervised by their respective governments. Except when the presidential rule is imposed in a state, the union government cannot overrule the state government's constitutional rights and powers in legislative and administrative matters. The Union's responsibility is to ensure that each State's government operates in compliance with the Constitution's provisions, as outlined in Articles 355 and 256. In administrative concerns, state governments are not allowed to break federal legislation. When a state violates the Constitution, Presidential rule can be imposed under Article 356 and the President can take over the administration of the state with the Parliament's ex post facto assent under Article 357.

Federal Characteristics of Indian Constitution

The “Separation of Powers” idea is observed by these types of governments. India operates on the premise of a two-tiered government, with the central government and state governments sharing power. The Indian constitution, which envisions a parliamentary system of government, is federal in structure and unitary in nature. The three main branches of the federal government are the legislative, executive, and judicial.

The constitutional law comprises both legal in the strict sense and usages, generally referred to as conventions, which are acknowledged as binding by all those involved in government even if they are not enacted. Many regulations and practices aren't part of the law in the sense that breaking them can result in legal action.

The Indian Constitution is regarded to be a federal structure since it provides clear demarcation of boundaries between the central and state governments, similar to that of the United States. India's legislative and executive powers are shared between the centre and the states. 

Let us describe the main features of Indian federal system

  • Dual Polity: The Constitution creates a dual polity with the Union at the centre and the states at the periphery. Each is endowed with sovereign powers to be exercised in the different fields entrusted to them by the Constitution. The Union government is in charge of subjects of national importance such as defence, foreign affairs, currency, and communication, among others. State governments, on the other hand, are in charge of regional and local issues such as public order, agriculture, health, and local governance.

  • Written Constitution: The Constitution is not only a written document, but it is also the world's longest. It began with a Preamble, 395 Articles (split into 22 Parts), and 8 Schedules. At the time of writing (2013), it consists of a Preamble, approximately 465 Articles (split into 25 Parts), and 12 Schedules. It defines the structure, organization, powers, and functions of the federal and state governments, as well as the boundaries within which they must work. As a result, misunderstandings and arguments between the two are avoided.

  • Division of Powers: In the Seventh Schedule, the Constitution divided powers between the Centre and the states using the Union List, State List, and Concurrent List. The Union List is made up of 100 subjects (originally 97), the State List is made up of 61 subjects (originally 66), and the Concurrent List is made up of 52 subjects (originally 47). The Centre and the states can both pass legislation on the subjects on the concurrent list, but in the event of a conflict, the Central law takes precedence. The Centre receives residuary topics (those that are not specified in any of the three lists).

  • Constitutional Supremacy: The Constitution is the highest (or supreme) law of the land. The laws passed by the Centre and the states must be consistent with its provisions. Otherwise, they can be ruled null and void by the Supreme Court or the High Court using their judicial review powers. As a result, the institutions of government (legislative, executive, and judiciary) at both levels must work within the boundaries established by the Constitution.

  • Rigid Constitution: The separation of powers created by the Constitution, as well as the Constitution's supremacy, can only be preserved if the system of modification is rigid. As a result, the Constitution is inflexible to the point that those parts dealing with the federal structure (i.e., Center–state relations and judicial organization) can only be modified by a joint decision of the Central and state governments. Such regulations necessitate a special majority in Parliament as well as the consent of half of the state legislatures in order to be amended.

  • Independent Judiciary: The Constitution established an independent judiciary led by the Supreme Court for two purposes: one, to safeguard the supremacy of the Constitution through the exercise of judicial review; and two, to settle disputes between the Centre and the states or between the states. To make the judiciary independent of the government, the Constitution includes provisions such as tenure security for judges, defined service conditions, and so on.

  • Bicameralism: The Constitution establishes a bicameral legislature with an Upper House (Rajya Sabha) and a Lower House (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha represents the states of the Indian Federation, whereas the Lok Sabha represents the entire population of India. The Rajya Sabha (despite being a weaker chamber) is responsible for maintaining federal equilibrium by safeguarding state interests against undue interference from the Centre.

Fact to Remember

There is one more important feature of Federalism besides the above written points and that is called "Dual Citizenship". It means that both the Union and the State have their different citizenship and the best example of this is the United States of America. But in the case of India, federalism is a little bit different. A kind of quasi federalism is found here. Dual Citizenship is not part of Indian Federalism


Thus, in this article we have covered detailed information about federalism. The term "federalism" is said to have come from the Latin word "foedus," which means "covenant, contract, or treaty." Federalism is a principle that describes a government structure in which authority is divided between the national and state governments. It is a two-machine system that governs a country. The central government and numerous state authorities have different levels of power.

FAQs on Federal Features of Indian Constitution

1. Describe any three federal features of Indian democracy.

The following are the characteristics of the Indian federal system:

  • Decentralization of Power: The Federal government's main characteristic is the decentralization of power between the central government and the governments of the constituent provinces.

  • Power Separation: The federal government's three departments, namely, the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, are entirely independent in their respective spheres. Neither of them is a stand-in for the other.

  • The Written and Rigorous Constitution: The federal type of government's Constitution is both written and rigid in nature. As a result, the procedure of altering constitutional provisions is somewhat diverse.

2. What is the core idea of features of Indian federalism?

Federalism is a governing system in which two levels of government control the same region. Both the central government and the lesser political subdivisions have the authority to pass laws, and they have some autonomy from one another. If we look at the Indian federation, the existence of Union Government as well as State Governments can be found and both have constitutional powers to control the functioning of respective regions. The Union Government is supposed to make laws on the matters mentioned in the Union List and similarly State governments can make laws and regulations on the matters of the State List and both of them can make laws on the matters belonging to the Concurrent List.

3. What are the federalist constitutional principles?

Federalism is a form of government in which sovereignty is split between a central ruling power and component political subdivisions through the constitution. It is founded on democratic principles and institutions, with national and state governments sharing power to form a federation. Some of the principles as well as features of the federal System are:

  • Dual Polity

  • Bicameralism

  • Rigid Constitution

  • Independent Judiciary

  • Dual Citizenship

  • Division of Powers