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“Indian Constitution is federal in form but unitary in spirit”Mr. B.N. Banerjee

The Indian Constitution is quasi-federal in its core nature. There is a govt. at the Centre which oversee affairs of the country as well as local forms of govt. at the state level.

In a unitary form of govt., the Central Govt. has the power concentrated in its hand fully.

On the other hand, the key feature of the federal the distribution of powers between the Central Govt. and the local State Govt.

Quasi-federal features of Indian constitution:

  • The seventh schedule divides the power between the Central Govt. and the State Govt. The powers are divided into the three lists – the Union list, the State list, the Concurrent list.
  • The constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Parliament or any State legislature cannot pass any law which violates any provision of it.
  • We have a written constitution that leaves no room for doubt as for any rule. It is rigid in nature. So, we need a special majority to amend most of its provisions.
  • The Central govt. has the power to appoint the Governors of various states under Art. 155 and Art. 156.
  • Residuary Powers lie with the Central govt. under Art. 248(2).

The constitution divides power between the Centre and State keeping in mind three subjects:

  1. Legislative relations
  2. Administrative relations
  3. Financial relations

Legislative Relations Between Centre And State

The Centre and State should not invade into the sphere reserved to the other but they should know how to work together.

Art 245-255 of Part XI includes the legislation relations between Centre and State.

These articles divide the legislative powers on the basis of:

Territorial Jurisdiction:

Art. 245 allows the Parliament to make laws for whole or any part of the territory of the country. However, it allows the State Govt. to only make and enforce laws for the State or any of its parts.

The Parliament has extraterritorial authority. In other words, it can make laws that apply to Indian citizens and their property outside the country.

In A.H. Wadia V ITC,1947, the court said that the legislation may violate the rules of international law, may not be recognized by foreign courts, or there may be a practical problem in enforcing them. These all are questions of policy with which the domestic tribunals are not concerned.

It cannot make laws where there is no link between the subject matter and the State. It is because its main concern is the welfare of the people of our country as was held in the case of GVK Industries Ltd. V Income Tax Officer, 2011.

The Doctrine of Territorial Nexus says that the State legislature cannot extend its power beyond its area in case there is not enough link between the subject matter and the State.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction:

Art. 246 divides the powers between the Union and the States in three lists:

Union List:

It consists of 100 subjects which are of national interest. Nobody can make laws on these subjects, except the Union. Few examples are defense, foreign affairs, banking currency, and coinage.

Concurrent List:

It consists of 52 subjects. Both the Centre as well as the States can make laws on the subjects in this list. However, acc. to art. 254, the supreme power to make laws on the subjects in this list is with the Parliament. It was held in the case of I.T.C Ltd V. Agricultural Produce Market Committee. Few examples are forest, adoption, and succession.

State List:

It consists of 61 subjects that are of local value. Only the States have the full power to make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list. Few examples are police, public order, and public health.

Special Conditions Where Union Parliament Can Make Laws On Matters Of State List:

  1. Where the subject matter is of national value. For that, it must be passed in the Rajya Sabha. Special majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting is necessary. It remains in force for a period of one year.
  2. When there is an imposition of National Emergency or President rule in the country or any part of the country.
  3. On the request of two or more state legislatures to pass a law on a specific subject matter. For that, the resolution must be passed in their respective state legislatures with a simple majority.
  4. For applying any International agreements or conventions.

2. Administrative Relations Between Centre And State

India follows a dual polity system having a govt. at the Centre likewise at the State level. Due to this, there will always be room for variance between the govt. of both the levels. The division of administrative power reduces the chances of a clash.

Art 256-263 states the administrative relation between the Centre and the States.

Centre-State Relationship:

1. Direction by the Union to the State Govts:

Art. 256 talks about the executive power of the State. States should use its power without violating the laws made by Parliament. No existing laws which apply in that state should be broken. In case it fails to do so then the Union free to give out commands for that purpose.


In Swaraj Abhiyan (V) V. Union of India, various State Govts. refused to enact the provisions of the National Food Security Act. The court said that the State Govts. cannot dismiss the will of the Union Govt. In case of a conflict between the two, they should always look for a middle ground.

If the State refuses to follow the rules of the Union Govt., there Art. 365 is attracted.

2. Delegation of Union functions to the States:

The Parliament can assign the matter coming under the Union Govt. to the State Government. Provided that, the State Govt’s permission is not vital for doing so.

Even after delegating its powers, the Centre Govt. can still interfere in the internal working of the States. It makes sure that the law is being properly executed. This not only proves the Centre’s primacy but also reduces the role of the States to mere agents of the Centre.

Art. 258(A) inserted by the 7th amendment permits the State to confer power to the Centre.

3. All – India Services:

Art. 312 talks about forming an additional “All – India Services” common to the Union and the States. It can be created if Rajya Sabha passing a resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting that it is vital or beneficial in the nation’s interest to do so.

The motive behind this is to ensure cooperation and promote regularity in carrying out administrative duties throughout the country above all.

4. Inter-State Council:  

The President passes the order to form it. It serves greater public interests. The States Re-Organized Act,1951 has set up five Zonal Councils. The Union Home Minister acts as an ex-officio Chairman of the Councils.

The duties given to it are:

  • Inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between States.
  • Exploring and discussing subjects in which the Union and the States, have a common interest.
  • Advising upon any subject for better coordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.

5. Disputes Relating to Inter-State River Water:

Art. 262 vests the Parliament with the power to decide any dispute or complaint. These complaints must be related to the use, distribution, or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.

Parliament has passed the River Board Act,1956 which controls inter-State rivers and river valleys.

The Inter-State Water Disputes Act,1956 allows the Central Govt. to set up a Tribunal for judging the disputes.

3. Financial Relations Between Centre And State

India follows the Federal System of Finance. In the words of Dr. R.N. Bhargava,” Federal Finance means the finance of the Central Govt. as well as the State Govts. and the relationship between the two.”

Art. 268-293 of Part XII covers the Financial Relations between Centre and States.

 Distribution of tax revenue:

  1. Art. 268 discusses stamp duties raised by the Union but collected and appropriated by the States.
  2. Art. 268 A discusses service tax raised by the Union and collected and appropriated by Union and States.
  3. Art. 269 discusses taxes raised and collected by the Union but assigned to the States.
  4. Art. 270 discusses taxes raised and distributed between the Union and the States.
  5. Art 271 discusses surcharge on certain duties and taxes for the Union’s purposes.


Art. 275 allows the Parliament to make grant-in-aid out of the Consolidated Fund of India. These grants-in-aid are for those States which are in need of financial aid.

The other one is Discretionary Grants. The Centre gives advice to the States on the advice of the Finance Commission. The Centre and the State can make them for any public purpose under art. 282.

Finance Commission:

The Finance Commission is a constitutional body which is at the Centre of fiscal federalism.

Set up under Article 280, its core duty is:

  • to assess the state of finances of the Union and State Governments recommend the sharing of taxes between them,
  • to lay down the principles managing the distribution of these taxes among States.


The President constitutes it after every 5 years. It consists of a Chairman and four other members appointed by the President.

Financial Emergency:

Art. 360(4) says that during the financial emergency, the Union Govt. can direct the State Govts. to reduce the salary and allowances of its employees as well as the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts too.

All money bills or other bills are to be reserved for review by the President after being passed by the Legislature of the State.

Jurisprudence Notes: Sources of Law


India is a union of states due to which there is a division of powers that makes it very easy for conflicts and doubts to arise. The coordination between Centre and State acts as the backbone of any country. Without a proper balance between the two Govts., the country’s overall growth may collapse.

Our Constitution has given more power to the Union Govt. Therefore, it exercises its control over the State Govts over several matters time and again. Different lists help in dividing distinct tasks of Govts at both levels. Together it contributes to running the country efficiently. To sum up, all the wings of the Govt. together make the nation fly and reach new heights.

  3. Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law Of India( 56th edition. 2019 of publication)

Edited by- Ankita Roy

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