The Indian Constitution, designed with a federal structure, distributes legislative, executive, and financial powers between the Central government and the states. Notably, there is no separation of judicial powers, as the Constitution establishes an integrated judicial system responsible for upholding both Central and state laws.
While both the Centre and states hold supremacy in their respective domains, achieving maximum harmony and coordination between them is crucial for the effective functioning of the federal system. Consequently, the Constitution incorporates detailed provisions to regulate various aspects of the relationship between the Centre and the states.
The interactions between the Centre and states can be categorized into three main areas:
- Legislative relations.
- Administrative relations.
- Financial relations.
Articles 245 to 255 in Part XI of the Constitution specifically address legislative relations between the Centre and the states, supplemented by additional articles on the same theme. Similar to other federal constitutions, the Indian Constitution allocates legislative powers between the Centre and states concerning both the territory and subjects of legislation. Additionally, the Constitution allows for parliamentary legislation in state matters under five exceptional circumstances, along with providing the Centre with control over state legislation in specific situations. Consequently, there are four key aspects to the legislative relations between the Centre and the states:
- Territorial extent of Central and state legislation.
- Distribution of legislative subjects.
- Parliamentary legislation in state field.
- Centre's control over state legislation.
Parts of Centre-State Relations
Territorial extent of Central and state legislation
The Constitution delineates the geographical boundaries within which legislative powers are conferred upon the Centre and the states through the following provisions:
- Parliament has the authority to enact laws for the entire territory of India, encompassing states, union territories, and any other region presently considered part of India.
- State legislatures possess the right to formulate laws applicable to the entirety or specific parts of the state. However, such laws do not extend beyond the state unless there is a substantial connection between the state and the subject matter.
- Exclusive authority for 'extraterritorial legislation' rests with Parliament. This implies that laws enacted by Parliament are applicable to Indian citizens and their possessions anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless, the Constitution imposes certain limitations on the comprehensive territorial jurisdiction of Parliament. Specifically:
- The President has the ability to establish regulations for maintaining peace, progress, and good governance in Union Territories such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, and Ladakh. In the case of Puducherry, the President can enact regulations only during the suspension or dissolution of the Assembly. These regulations carry the same legal weight as an act of Parliament and can modify or annul any parliamentary act related to these Union Territories.
- Governors have the authority to instruct that a parliamentary act does not apply to a scheduled area in the state or to apply with specific modifications and exceptions.
- The Governor of Assam can similarly direct that a parliamentary act does not apply to a tribal area (autonomous district) in the state or apply with specified modifications and exceptions. The President holds the same power regarding tribal areas (autonomous districts) in Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
Distribution of Legislative Subjects
The Constitution establishes a three-tiered distribution of legislative subjects among the Centre and the states, outlined in List-I (the Union List), List-II (the State List), and List-III (the Concurrent List) in the Seventh Schedule:
The Parliament possesses exclusive authority to enact laws concerning matters enumerated in the Union List, which presently comprises 98 subjects, such as defense, banking, foreign affairs, currency, atomic energy, insurance, communication, inter-state trade, commerce, census, and audit.
State legislatures, under normal circumstances, have exclusive powers to formulate laws related to subjects listed in the State List, currently comprising 59 subjects, including public order, police, public health, sanitation, agriculture, prisons, local government, fisheries, markets, theaters, and gambling.
Both the Parliament and state legislatures can enact laws on subjects mentioned in the Concurrent List, covering 52 subjects, including criminal law, civil procedure, marriage and divorce, population control, family planning, electricity, labor welfare, economic and social planning, drugs, newspapers, books, and printing presses.
Parliament retains the authority to legislate on any matter for any part of India not included in a state, even if that matter is listed in the State List, particularly referring to Union Territories or Acquired Territories.
The 101st Amendment Act of 2016 introduced a special provision for goods and services tax, granting powers to both Parliament and state legislatures. Parliament has exclusive authority over goods and services tax in the case of inter-state trade or commerce.
The power to legislate on residual subjects, i.e., matters not enumerated in the three lists, rests with Parliament, including the authority to levy residual taxes.
The distribution reflects a clear delineation, with national and uniform matters in the Union List, regional and local concerns in the State List, and matters allowing diversity along with uniformity in the Concurrent List. The Constitution establishes the precedence of the Union List over the State List and Concurrent List and the priority of the Concurrent List over the State List. In the event of overlap, the Union List prevails over the State List, and between the Union List and the Concurrent List, the former takes precedence. Conflicts between the Concurrent List and the State List are resolved in favor of the Concurrent List.
In contrast to the U.S., where only federal powers are enumerated, and Canada, which follows a double enumeration, India's Constitution aligns with the Government of India Act of 1935, featuring a three-fold enumeration. However, in India, the residuary powers were vested in the Governor-General, following the Canadian precedent. The Constitution emphasizes the dominance of central laws over state laws on concurrent subjects, with an exception for state laws assented to by the President. Nevertheless, Parliament retains the authority to override such state laws by subsequently legislating on the same matter.
Parliamentary Legislation in the State Field
The outlined system for the distribution of legislative powers between the Centre and the states is designed for normal circumstances. However, in extraordinary situations, this distribution can be altered or temporarily suspended as granted by the Constitution. The Parliament is empowered to legislate on matters enumerated in the State List under the following five exceptional circumstances:
- Resolution by Rajya Sabha: If the Rajya Sabha, with the support of two-thirds of its members present and voting, deems it necessary in the national interest for Parliament to legislate on goods and services tax or a State List matter, the Parliament gains the authority to do so. This resolution is valid for one year and can be renewed multiple times, but not exceeding one year each time. The laws cease to be effective six months after the resolution expires. State legislatures retain the power to legislate on the same matter, but in case of inconsistency between state and parliamentary laws, the latter prevails.
- National Emergency: During a national emergency, Parliament can legislate on goods and services tax or State List matters. The laws become ineffective six months after the emergency concludes. State legislatures maintain their authority to legislate on the same matters, but parliamentary laws take precedence in case of conflict.
- States' Request: If the legislatures of two or more states pass resolutions urging Parliament to enact laws on a State List matter, Parliament can legislate on that subject. The law applies only to the states that requested it, but any other state can adopt it later by passing a resolution. Amendments or repeals can only be done by Parliament, not the concerned state legislatures.
- Implementing International Agreements: Parliament can legislate on State List matters to implement international treaties, agreements, or conventions, allowing the Central government to fulfill its international obligations. Examples include laws related to the United Nations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, 1947, Geneva Convention Act, 1960, Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982, and environmental and TRIPS legislation.
- President's Rule: During the imposition of President's rule in a state, Parliament gains the authority to legislate on State List matters related to that state. Laws enacted during President's rule remain in force even after its conclusion. However, state legislatures have the power to repeal, alter, or re-enact such laws.
Centre's Control over State Legislation
In addition to Parliament's authority to legislate directly on state subjects in exceptional situations, the Constitution provides mechanisms for the Centre to exert control over state legislative matters through the following means:
- The Governor can reserve a bill passed by the state legislature for the consideration of the President. It's crucial to note that the President holds absolute veto power over such a bill (Articles 200 and 201).
- A state bill that imposes restrictions on the freedom of trade, commerce, and intercourse within or with that state requires prior sanction from the President before being introduced in the state legislature (Article 304).
- The Centre has the authority to direct states to reserve money bills and other financial bills passed by the state legislature for the President's consideration during a financial emergency (Article 360).
- The Governor is unable to promulgate an ordinance without instructions from the President in certain cases (Article 213).
It is evident from the above provisions that the Constitution accords a position of superiority to the Centre in the legislative domain. The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations (1983-88) emphasized the importance of the principle of federal supremacy, stating that it serves as a technique to prevent absurdities, resolve conflicts, and ensure harmony between Union and state laws. The commission highlighted that without this principle, there would be a risk of interference, strife, legal chaos, and confusion caused by conflicting laws, potentially stultifying the two-tier political system and hindering integrated legislative policies and uniformity on fundamental issues of common Union-state concern. The rule of federal supremacy is deemed indispensable for the successful functioning of the federal system, preserving the federal principle of unity in diversity.
Question for Laxmikanth Summary: Centre - State Relations
Try yourself: What are the three main areas of interaction between the Centre and states in India?
Articles 256 to 263 in Part XI of the Constitution specifically address administrative relations between the Centre and the states. Additionally, various other articles within the Constitution pertain to the same subject.
Distribution of Executive Powers
The executive power is distributed between the Centre and the states in alignment with the division of legislative powers, with few exceptions. The executive authority of the Centre covers the entire territory of India:
- For matters falling under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of Parliament (i.e., subjects listed in the Union List).
- For the execution of rights, authority, and jurisdiction granted by any treaty or agreement.
Similarly, the executive power of a state extends to its territory concerning matters within the exclusive legislative authority of the state legislature (i.e., subjects listed in the State List).
For matters falling under the Concurrent List, where both Parliament and state legislatures have legislative authority, the executive power primarily lies with the states. However, the Centre can assume executive authority in such matters if explicitly conferred by a Constitutional provision or parliamentary law. Consequently, a law on a concurrent subject, even if enacted by Parliament, is typically executed by the states unless directed otherwise by the Constitution or Parliament.
Obligation of States and the Centre
The Constitution imposes two restrictions on the executive power of states to allow ample scope for the Centre to exercise its executive authority without hindrance. These restrictions dictate that the executive power of each state must be utilized:
- To ensure compliance with laws enacted by Parliament and any existing laws applicable in the state.
- To avoid impeding or prejudicing the exercise of the Centre's executive power in the state.
While the first restriction establishes a general obligation on the state, the second imposes a specific duty not to obstruct the executive power of the Centre. In both cases, the Centre's executive power extends to issuing necessary directions to the state. The authority behind these directions is coercive in nature. Article 365 specifies that if any state fails to comply with or give effect to directions from the Centre, the President has the lawful authority to declare that a situation has arisen where the government of the state cannot function in accordance with the Constitution. In such a scenario, the President's rule can be imposed in the state under Article 356.
Centre's Directions to the States
In addition to the previously mentioned cases, the Centre has the authority to issue directions to the states concerning the exercise of their executive power in the following matters:
- The construction and maintenance of means of communication, declared to be of national or military importance, by the state.
- Measures to be taken for the protection of railways within the state.
- The provision of adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups in the state.
- The formulation and execution of specified schemes for the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes in the state.
Similar to the coercive sanction applicable to Central directions under Article 365 (mentioned above), the same sanction is also relevant in these cases.
Mutual Delegations of Functions
The allocation of legislative powers between the Centre and the states is rigid:
- No delegation to states: The Constitution strictly prohibits the Centre from delegating its legislative authority to the states.
- No state request to Parliament: Similarly, a single state is not allowed to request Parliament to enact a law on a subject within its jurisdiction.
The distribution of executive power generally mirrors the distribution of legislative powers:
- Potential for conflicts: The strict division in the executive realm may lead to occasional conflicts between the Centre and the states.
To address potential conflicts, the Constitution allows for the inter-government delegation of executive functions:
- Mutual delegation: The President, with the consent of the state government, can entrust any of the executive functions of the Centre to that government.
- Reciprocal delegation: Conversely, the governor of a state, with the consent of the Central government, may entrust any of the executive functions of the state to the Centre. This mutual delegation of administrative functions can be either conditional or unconditional.
The Constitution also allows for the entrustment of the executive functions of the Centre to a state without the consent of that state:
- Delegation by Parliament: In this case, the delegation is done by Parliament, not the President.
- Unilateral authority: A law enacted by Parliament on a subject in the Union List can confer powers and impose duties on a state or authorize the Centre to confer powers and impose duties on a state, regardless of the state's consent.
- Limitations on state legislature: It's important to note that a state legislature does not have the authority to do the same.
In summary, mutual delegation of functions between the Centre and the state can occur either through an agreement or by legislation:
- Centre's flexibility: The Centre can employ both methods.
- State's limitation: A state is limited to using the agreement method.
Cooperation between Centre and States
The Constitution includes provisions to ensure cooperation and coordination between the Centre and the states:
- The Parliament has the authority to establish mechanisms for the resolution of disputes or complaints related to the use, distribution, and control of waters from inter-state rivers and river valleys.
- The President can create an Inter-State Council under Article 263, tasked with investigating and discussing subjects of common interest between the Centre and the states. This council was established in 1990.
- Full faith and credit must be given throughout the territory of India to public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of both the Centre and every state.
- The Parliament has the power to appoint a suitable authority to implement the constitutional provisions concerning interstate freedom of trade, commerce, and intercourse. However, as of now, no such authority has been appointed.
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