General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity & Constitution)
Question:- 12. ‘India is slowly moving towards a unitary form of government defeating the principle of federalism embodied in the Constitution.’ Discuss. Answer in 250 words.
Jul 08, 2022


(Talk about what kind of federalism we have in India and its features)

Federalism is a system of government in which powers have been divided between the centre and its constituent parts such as states or provinces. It is an institutional mechanism to accommodate two sets of politics, one at the centre or national level and second at the regional or provincial level. India is a ‘holding together’ type of federation and Indian federalism is considered sui generis. Also, federalism is part of the basic structure of the Indian constitution which cannot be altered or destroyed through constitutional amendments under the constituent powers of the Parliament without undergoing judicial review by the Supreme Court.


(Give some details about federal features of Indian Constitution)

To accommodate the interests of states and to give them independence in functioning, the following steps have been ensured:

  1. A formal partitioning of powers and responsibilities between Union and State governments through the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution: Union List, State List and Concurrent List. The State legislatures enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over 61 subjects under the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.
  2. The Constitution is the supreme law in India and the supremacy of the Constitution is part of the ‘basic structure’ doctrine upheld by the judiciary.
  3. The Constitution provides for an independent and integrated judiciary. The lower and district courts are at the bottom levels, the high courts are at the state levels and at the topmost position is the Supreme Court of India.
  4. Bicameral legislature



(Tilt the answer to what the question is asking. However, don’t take a strong stand as it’s a discuss question and also as it might become anti-authority)


Even though there is formal partitioning of power between the center and regional units and both enjoy exclusive powers of legislation, there are certain features of a unitary state in the Indian Constitution, like- regional units have not been granted independent political identity, they can be territorially altered without their consent by the parliament, unequal representation of states in Upper House, Rajya Sabha, the appointment of Governors and the existence of strong emergency provisions. Therefore, the framework of the Indian Constitution is not straightforwardly federal. K. C. Wheare refers to this framework as “quasi-federal”. Also, there have been concerns about the Indian polity moving towards a unitary system. This has happened mainly because:


  1. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ extended the jurisdiction of BSF from 15 Kilometers to 50 Kilometers from the international border. This move brought a large area of border states of Punjab, Assam and West Bengal under center’s jurisdiction and drew harsh criticism from the opposition parties.
  2. The GST regime brought by the Central government was criticized for its assault on Indian federalism as it altered the taxing power of states and affected their revenue.
  3. Besides, the implementation of the “One nation, One ration card” scheme also drew criticism from different opposition ruled states because it went against the idea of federalism.
  4. Further, proposed changes like “One nation, One election” and “One nation, one voters’ list” under which his government has proposed to hold simultaneous elections across different levels using a single electoral list have severed ties between many states and the Central government and specifically with the ones where the state governments are from a different political party than at the Centre.


CONCLUSION: (Give a way forward here about how to balance the situation)

Time and again many forces have challenged the Indian Federalism. But now, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the rising unemployment and the upcoming AI revolution, the challenges to Indian federalism are becoming more and more intertwined than ever before. These issues highlight a federalism vs. development challenge that India is currently facing. Also, we need to overcome this challenges without losing the fine balance between innovation and authoritarianism. These challenges can be addressed by cooperative federalism where there is cooperation among the Union and State governments to work together on issues and programs for resolving the issues. Some of the recent institutions imbibing the spirit of cooperative federalism like NITI Aayog, GST Council, inter-state council and zonal councils will have a greater role to play in this regard.