Federalism In India Essay Topics

 Home » Subject » Essay » Cooperative federalism in India

Cooperative federalism in India

Political scientists have classified governments into unitary and federal on the basis of nature of the relationship between national government and regional government .Federal governments are one, in which powers are vividly divided between central and regional governments as enshrined in Article 246 & Schedule 7 of the Indian Constitution with distinct list defining the scope of power i.e. State list, Concurrent list and Union list.

Indian Constituent Assembly was well aware that federalism was important to absorb huge diversity but simultaneously gave it a Unitary Bias to counter cessation tendencies as India was a "Nation in the Making". This process of Nation making was boosted by an innovative attribute of Federalism termed as "COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM" by GRANVILLE AUSTIN, which lucidly means cooperation between Union and States. However, Cooperative Federalism is not new to India; its root can be traced in the history.

Since the ancient period, kingdoms or empires has ruled Indian subcontinent through a federal policy of non-intervention in local affairs. Hence, chieftains were left very much alone. Successful monarch Akbar understood diversities of the subcontinent and hence ruled through a policy of cooperative Federalism.

Further disintegration of Mughals is partly attributed to centralised tendencies of monarchs like Jahangir and Aurangzeb. Moreover, Revolt of 1857 was also the result of intervention measures of British like Doctrine of Lapse, etc.

Cooperative Federalism was one of the major instruments used by prominent Vallabhbhai Patel to persuade and cajole 492 princely states to join Indian union.

Under Nehruvian era, State Reorganization Act, leading to the formation of five zonal councils was an important step towards cooperation. However, Federalism soon came under threats which can also be witnessed in contemporary times.

This threat is in the form of frequent use of Article 356 imposing president rule, as seen recently in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. Also, obscure distinction of power has led to conflicts between Delhi government and central government.

Further, special powers to Armed forces through AFSPA in some states have led to serious concerns about human right violations. "Sharmila Irom", who recently ended her fast after 16 yrs calling for the abolition of AFSPA, can be well quoted in this context.

However, few positive notes can also be pinned up here in recent context. Firstly, 42℅ devolution of funds to states as declared by Finance commission and Secondly, Land boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh in which states like West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura fully cooperated with the central government.

Cooperative Federalism is an important tool in healing many evils like inter - state and intra - state inequalities. Centre can provide Grant in aid to poor states which are disadvantaged because of adjoining international border, difficult terrain etc. Cooperative Federalism also attracts attention in case of Naxalism where central police like CRPF, BSF are used to tackle this problem helping states to attain peace.

Moreover, one may argue, Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu or Sutlej -Yamuna canal dispute between Punjab and Haryana can be solved through cooperation.

With the advent of 21 century, new challenges of global nature like climate change don't recognise state frontiers. Pollution and conservation issues reflect the uncomfortable tension between decision-making processes of the government at centre -state- local levels. Further, Disaster Management transcends interstate boundaries.

Globalisation has reinforced the need for concurrence between geographical, climatic, environmental and technological diversities, inter as well as intra-states, so that they may link with the global processes for viable and sustainable development and growth.

Since the world has become a global village, the country's internal security and political problems are open to external influence verging on interventions. Problems like terrorism, organised crimes, refugees and internally displaced persons need to be handled through centre -state cooperation.

Hence there is urgent need to strengthen this cooperation. In this context, S.R Bomai case worth mentioning, in which Supreme Court decreed centre to apply President Rule only on substantial constitutional reason and put it under the ambit of judicial review.

Further, Article 263 dealing with Inter- state council is important and this council needs to be strengthened. Also, Union government should take initiative by winding up ministries dealing with state subject leaving states with greater space. Moreover, Centre should be more conscious while dealing with Concurrent list in which central laws can overrule state laws.

Finance commission should be given control of all funds hence leaving no place to discretionary grants which are often biased.

Competitive Federalism is another instrument of efficiency and cooperation. However, a fair competition needs to be encouraged as all states are not equally capable or resourceful of competing with each other.

India is a beautiful melting pot of diversity. The same needs to be valued and cherished. And there is not a better way to do so than by cooperative Federalism. In the famous words of Justice Nani Palkivala - "WHO DIES IF INDIA LIVES AND WHO LIVES IF INDIA DIES....." People of several states sink or swim together, and that in long run, prosperity and salvation are in innovation and not conflict; cooperation and not competition.


IAS Preparation always requires a good understanding of UPSC Syllabus as a whole which comprises of Indian Polity, Indian Economy, Geography as a whole and Geography of India as a whole and the other Topics of Socio- Economic importance.  Cooperative federalism is one such topic which requires a deeper understanding and a comparative analysis with different countries because Indian Federalism is unique in various aspects.

After the Uttarakhand Issue of President Rule, this topic regains its importance for the IAS Exam. Here we discuss the Cooperative Federalism in detail.

IAS Exam preparation serves as a turning point in the candidate’s life irrespective of his or her selection in the Civil Services. IAS Preparation changes the life of the candidates, his perspective and the outlook towards life. Such changes in an aspirant’s life could only be possible if he/she is studying and experiencing the various issues of the society. The aspirants should think and develop his/her views towards the issues which are affecting the mass population of the country.

Cooperative federalism as followed in India with examples


Federalism is the division of power between center and its various constituents, like provinces, states, cantons and so on. Cooperative federalism is a concept or subset of federalism where national, state and local governments interact cooperatively and collectively to solve common problems. They make variouspolicies separately but more or less equally or clashing over a policy in a system generally dominated by the national government, as in India or Canada.

Cooperative federalism creates such a relationship in which the national government has an upper hand in the policies and behaviors of state governments, often through the use of funding in kind or cash, manipulating the policies and norms (Ex – Freight equalization policy, SEZs etc), Constructing strategic highways or similar corridors and so on for programs. For example, if the federal government is interested in ensuring that national highways are well-maintained, they might create grants in aid, a specific kind of grant from the federal government that provides funds for the states to pursue a policy. In this case, the grants in aid would likely be for purchasing necessary constituents or other supplies, or might provide funding to pay contractors and road construction workers.

Why India followed Cooperative Federalism

In India Federalism is "an indestructible union of destructible states". It was perceived at the floor of the constituent assembly that states must be integral part of India denying any right to secede. Therefore, a need for strong union was anticipated and the constitution gave dominant power to the central government. However, adequate powers were also relegated to the states in order to administer and govern the local government with much efficacy. Such arrangements have been exhibited in the Union, concurrent and state list of seventh schedule. In order to streamline the development process and enhance the progress of all the regions, cooperation between center and state is utmost necessary. Such form of cooperative federalism is required more so in case of India, due to its vastness, enormity and extreme diversity.

India's cooperative federalism, however has greatly affected by the report of Simon commission and resultant Government of India Act, 1935. Indian constitution has heavily drew its features from this 1935 act. Cabinet mission, which divided India in Group A, B and C; was another prominent factor enabling India to adopt federalism.

How it works in India

The spirit of co-operative federalism in India is observed by following

1. Distribution of Powers,
2. Supremacy of the Constitution,
3. A Written Constitution,
4. Rigidity and
5. Authority of Courts.

Under this arrangement in the Constitution, Center has got dominant power as evident from following:

  • States must exercise their executive power in compliance with the laws made by the Central government and must not impede on the executive power of the Union within the States.
  • Center can even usurp the legislative discretion of state with the permission of Rajyasabha
  • Governors are appointed by the Central government to oversee the States.
  • The Center can even take over the executive of the States on the issues of national security or breakdown of constitutional machinery of the State..

Cooperative federalism in India is practiced under following norms:

  • Article 263 of the Constitution has provided for the setting up of an Inter-State Council for investigation, discussion and recommendation for better coordination of relation between the Centre and the States.
  • The Zonal Councils set up under the State Reorganization Act 1956 provide another institutional mechanism for centre- state and inter-state cooperation to resolve the differences and strengthen the framework of cooperation.
  • The National Development Council and the National Integration Council are the two other important forums that provide opportunities for discussion to resolve differences of opinion. Central councils have been set up by various ministries to strengthen cooperation.

Examples in Other countries

Main features of federalism in prominent countries:

United States of America :

  • Rigid constitution, its amendment involving center as well as states
  • Guarantee to every state in the union a Republican Form of Government with prohibition against states entering into any treaty, alliance or confederation or any agreement or compact with another state or with a foreign power without the consent of Congress
  • only one legislative list enumerated the powers of the Union and the residuary subjects are left to states
  • Executive authority of the union and that of states in United States runs in parallel streams.
  • The United States carries on the principle of dual sovereignty into judicial system also.


  • Division of powers between the states and union is maintained by special provisions requiring special procedure for amendment, including a referendum of electors of the Australian House of Representatives.
  • Australian Constitution has no express prohibition against an individual state entering into a treaty.
  • Topics enumerated in the constitution as within legislative competence of parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, some are regarded as exclusive  powers of the Commonwealth, while rest are regarded as concurrent powers of the Commonwealth and states.
  • Australia does not have a system of dual courts for disputes under Commonwealth legislature and disputes under state legislation respectively.


  • The powers of the provincesspecifically defined and limited to the list provided, with residuary power with the center; shows center's dominance
  • Center can veto the legislation by provinces even made under provincial list
  • All of the upper echelons of judiciary is controlled by central government
  • Lieutenant-Governor of the state is appointed, paid and removable by the federal government.


  • The government, power and court are on three levels, I.e. Federal, Cantonal and Communal.
  • Most taxation (and spending) takes place at the cantons and municipal level.
  • Cantons are autonomous and sovereign and within the boundaries set by the Federal Constitution, the Cantons are autonomous in administering their own political and financial affairs.
  • The Cantons are competent for any task that is not explicitly allocated to the Confederation by the Federal Constitution
  • Cantons have constitutionally enshrined rights to participate in the decision-making process on the Federal State level

Examples of overriding the feature

Although, Indian set up is federal in character, however, its characteristic is unique and federal sui generis. The examples of overriding feature of federalism in Indian constitution are follows:

  • Residual powers to center
  • Excessive central character, as depicted by article 249, appointment of governors, hierarchical judiciary, various types of emergency and article 3
  • Limited taxation powers to states
  • Limited participation in the constitutional amendment process of states
  • Unbridled powers of governors, who is arbitrarily appointed by the center.
  • Indian union is "an indestructible union of destructible states"; this probably is the most overriding feature of federalism, prohibiting any sort of autonomy.

The way forward

Indian federalism is unique in its own sense; however, there are definitely some remedies to be done in order to streamline the efficacy of cooperative federalism in India. Some such remedies and related rectification can be highlighted by following points:

  • Articles 3 & 4 in their present form are enabling provisions empowering Parliament to act in an exceptional situation. Such agreement and proposals should be done with broad consensus or negotiated settlement.
  • Appointment of governor should be done generously by taking state government in confidence.
  • More bodies like National Development Council, National Integration Council, Inter State Council be created to tackle various issues like tax devolution, constitution amendment, grants and so on.
  • There have been blemishes in the application of Article 356 earlier. It should be applied with extreme caution and vigilance adhering to the recommendations of Sarkaria Commission, Punchhi Commission and other guidelines of Supreme Court.
  • States in India exercise limited sovereignty, and the federal spirit informs the operation of the Constitution. However, off lately, federalism is deepening in India following global practices. Further prudent autonomy can be provided to states
  • Greater encouragement for the participation of states in the legislative process is also highly desirable in order to shed the apprehension of regional parties.

Click here for Current Affairs Analysis and Questions

0 thoughts on “Federalism In India Essay Topics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *