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Federal System Notes | Study Indian Polity for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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1. Unitary government: all powers vested with the national government

  • If regional governments exist, then they derive their authority from the national government
  • Britain, France, Japan, China

2. Federal government: Powers are divided between the national and the regional government by the Constitution itself

  • USA, Switzerland, Canada, India

3. Units of a federation known by many names like States (India) or Cantons (Switzerland)

4. Federation can be formed in two ways
(a) Coming together: by way of integration

  • A number of small states come together to form a big union
  • US is the oldest federation, and it is a coming together federation

(b) Holding together: by way of disintegration

  • A big unitary state is converted into a federation by granting autonomy to provinces to promote regional interests
  • Like Canada or India

5. Indian Constitution provides for a federal scheme to account for the diverse population and the vast size of the country
6. It combines efficient governances with national unity and regional autonomy
7. However, India does not describe itself as a federation.
8. The term federation is not used in the Constitution. Article 1 describes India as a Union of States.
9. Term 'Union, preferred over the term federation, as

  • Indian federation is not the result of an agreement between states, unlike the American federation.
  • States have no right to secede. The federation is a union because it is indestructible.

10. The Indian federal scheme is based on the Canadian model and not the American model.

  • Strong centre
  • Formed by disintegration
  • Prefers the term Union
  • Centralising tendency as centre has more power than states

Federal System Notes | Study Indian Polity for UPSC CSE - UPSC

1. Dual Polity

  • The Centre and the State are both endowed with sovereign powers in the fields assigned to them by the Constitution.
  • Union govt deals with matters of national importance like defence, foreign affairs, currency, communication and so on. While state govt deals with matters of regional importance like agriculture, public order, health, local govt and so on.

2. Written Constitution

  • Specifies the organisation, powers, role etc of the Centre and the States
  • Avoids misunderstands and disagreements between the two.

3. Division of powers

  • Constitution provides for division of subjects in the 7th Schedule.
  • Union List, State List, Concurrent List
  • Residuary subjects: not mentioned in any of the lists. Power lies with the Centre.

4. Supremacy of the Constitution

  • Laws of the Centre and States must conform to the Constitution
  • Thus the Centre and States must operate with the jurisdiction prescribed by the Constitution
  • The judiciary's power of judicial reviews can declare any excesses invalid

5. Rigid Constitution

  • Any provisions of the Constitution that relate to the federal scheme can be amended only with a special majority of each house and the ratification of half of the states.

6. Independent judiciary

  • Protects the Supremacy of the Constitution using the power of Judicial review
  • Settles disputes between the Centre and the States or between states

7. Bicameralism

  • Rajya Sabha represents the State of India at the Centre
  • Lok Sabha represents the people of India as a whole
  • Rajya Sabha maintains federal equilibrium by protecting the interests of the states against 'the undue interference of the Centre

1. Strong Centre

  • Division of powers is in favour of the Centre
  • Inequitable
  • Union List has more subjects than State List
  • Residuary powers are with the Centre

2. States are not indestructible

  • The Parliament can unilaterally change the area, boundaries and name of any state with a simple majority

3. Single Constitution

  • Only exception: J&K
  • Otherwise States do not have the right to frame their own Constitution

4. Flexibility of the Constitution

  • More than what is found in other federal nations
  • Power to initiate amendment is only with the Centre

5. No equality of state representation

  • Membership in Rs varies from 1 to 31 members
  • Unlike the American senate, which has 2 members from each state

6. Emergency Provisions

  • Which convert the federal structure into a unitary one without a formal amendment of the Constitution

7. Single citizenship

  • Most other federal states like USA, Australia etc have national and state citizenship but India has only one citizenship i.e. national citizenship

8. Integrated Judiciary

  • A single system of courts enforces both Central and state laws
  • USA: federal judiciary enforces federal laws. State judiciary enforces state laws

9. AIL India Services

  • Central and State governments have separate public services, but in addition there are also all-India services
  • IAS, IPS and IFS
  • Members are recruited and trained by the Centre, which also have ultimate control over them. But they also work for states. This violates the federal principle of the Constitution

10. Integrated Audit Machinery

  • CAG audits accounts of the Central and the State governments
  • S/he is appointed or removed by the President, without consulting the states
  • This restricts the financial autonomy of the states

11. Parliaments Authority over the State

  • List passes a resolution accordingly in national interest
  • This does not need a constitutional amendment, or an emergency situation

12. Appointment of Governor

  • The head of the state is appointed by the President
  • Acts as an agent of the Centre, through whom the Centre exercises control over the states

13. Integrated Election Machinery

  • The Election Commission is constituted by the President.
  • States have no say in its membership.

14. Veto over state bills

  • The governor can reserve certain types of bills passed by the state legislature for the consideration of the President.
  • President can withhold assent to these bills in the first and the second instance (absolute veto).


  • The Indian Federal scheme has deviated considerably from traditional federal systems Like US, Switzerland or Australia
  • Described as quasi-federal, bargaining federalism, cooperative federalism
  • A unitary state with federal features
  • K Santhanam: two factors responsible for increased unitary bias in the Indian system
    (i) Dominance of the centre in terms of finances, with states dependent on the Centre for grants,
    (ii) Planning Commission, which controlled the developmental process in states.
  • BR Ambedkar: The Constitution is federal in as much it establishes a federal polity.
  • Both the Union and the States are created by the Constitution, and both derive authority from it.
  • Yet the Constitution avoids the tight mould of federalism and could be both unitary and federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances
  • Basic principle of federalism: legislative and executive authority is partitioned between the Centre and the States by the Constitution (not by Laws)
  • This the Constitution does.
  • The states are in no way dependent on the Centre for their legislative or executive authority.
  • SR Bommai case (1994): federalism is a basic feature of the Constitution
    (i) Within the sphere allowed to states, they are supreme, not mere appendages of the Centre.
    (ii) Emergency powers are an exception, not the rule.
    (iii) Federalism in India is a matter of principle, not of administrative convenience.
    (iv) It is the outcome of our own process and a recognition of the ground realities of India
  • Federal Trends in the Indian political system:
    (i) Coming up of regional parties
    (ii) Creation of states to fulfil regional aspirations development needs interference by the Centre
    (iii) Demand of states for financial grants for their
    (iv) Assertion of autonomy by states, resistance of interference by the centre.
    (v) Territorial Disputes between the states, for e.g.: Karnataka and Maharashtra over Belgaum
    (vi) Disputes between states over sharing of river water, for e.g.: Between TN and Karnataka over Cauvery river.
    (vii) SC's imposition of several procedural limitations on the use of Article 356 (President' Rule in state) by Centre
  • Federalism in India is a compromise between a normal division of powers in which states enjoy their autonomy, and the heed for national integrity and a strong Union government under exceptional circumstances,

PRELIMS 2015 100. Which one of the following is not a feature of Indian federalism?
(a) There is an independent judiciary in India
(b) Powers have been clearly divided between the Centre and the States.
(c) The federating units have been given unequal representation in the Rajya Sabha
(d) It is the result of an agreement among the federating units

2014 Though the federal principle is dominant in our Constitution and that principle is one of its basic features, but it is equally true that federalism under the Indian Constitution leans in favour of a strong Centre, a feature that militates against the concept of strong federalism. Discuss

  • Federalism is a form of govt, in which the sovereign authority of political power is divided between various units-Centre, state, Local govt etc. It is a tool of political convenience intended to reconcile national unity and integrity But Indian constitution is also one which emphasizes the concept of "cooperative federalism"
  • Indian federalism was designed on the models of USA, Canada and Australia. Yet, it has its own distinctive features and deviates from the traditional 'federalism'
  • Federal characteristics: Dual polity- 7th, 11th and 12th schedule distributing powers, Supreme constitution-written and controlled(rigid), authority of courts- Supreme Court's judgement amount to law of Land.
  • Deviations:
    (i) Legislative relations: Under art 249, Parliament can make law on state List in national interest. Under art 253 for giving effects to international agreements. Under art 246, primacy given to Union's legislation in case of overlap
    (ii) ALL India services
    (iii) Art 356: Executive power of state needs to conform to parliament's Laws and executive directions. Union can impose President's rule if this is violated
    (iv) Parliament can form new states, alter boundaries of existing states,
    (v) Appointment of governors: they are answerable to President and not state. They can withhold state Law under certain circumstances and send it to President who is not bound to give her assent
    (vi) Emergency powers: Distribution of powers between state and centre undergo a vital change in favour of centre. Under Art 356 state Legislature can be dissolved.
    (vii) Single and Uniform citizenship plus integrated judiciary
    (viii) India is a single economic unit for purposes of trade and commerce under the overall control of centre.
    (ix) Residuary powers of legislation rest with parliament.
    (x) Stakes have no rights to secede
  • The SC in its judgements in Ram Dawaya V State of Punjab (19ss) and Kuldip Nayar V UOI(2006) has said that federalism in India leans in favour of a strong centre. Indian constitution is thus unique because of its mode of formation i.e. from union to states and not vice versa. Art 1 terms India into Union of states and not federation. It is both unitary and federal according to requirements of time and circumstances leading some to call it quasi federal.
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