- Federalism is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.
- Usually, a federation has two levels of government. One is the government for the entire country that is usually responsible for a few subjects of common national interest. The others are governments at the level of provinces or states that look after much of the day-to-day administering of their state.
- Both these levels of governments enjoy their power independent of the other.
- Under the unitary system, either there is only one level of government or the sub-units are subordinate to the central government.
- The central government can pass on orders to the provincial or the local government. But in a federal system, the central government cannot order the state government to do something.
Some of the key features of federalism :
1. There are two or more levels (or tiers) of government.
2. Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its ownJURISDICTION in specific matters of legislation, taxation and administration.
3. The jurisdictions of the respective levels or tiers of government are specified in the constitution. So the existence and authority of each tier of government is constitutionally guaranteed.
4. The fundamental provisions of the constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government. Such changes require the consent of both the levels of government.
5. Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government. The highest court acts as an umpire if disputes arise between different levels of government in the exercise of their respective powers.
6. Sources of revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
7. The federal system thus has dual objectives: to safeguard and promote unity of the country, while at the same time accommodate regional diversity. Therefore, two aspects are crucial for the institutions and practice of federalism.
There are two kinds of routes through which federations have been formed:
‘Coming together’ federations: this route involves independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit, so that by pooling sovereignty and retaining identity they can increase their security. This type of ‘coming together’ federationsinclude the USA, Switzerland and Australia.
‘Holding together’ federations: In this route a large country decides to divide its power between the constituent States and the national government. India, Spain and Belgium are examples of this kind of ‘holding together’ federations.
[h]What makes India a federal country?[/h]
The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government, the Union Government or what we call the Central Government, representing the Union of India and the State governments. Later, a third tier of federalism was added in the form of Panchayats and Municipalities. As in any federation, these different tiers enjoy separate jurisdiction. The Constitution clearly provided a three-fold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments. Thus, it contains three lists:
- Union List includes subjects of national importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications and currency. They are included in this list because we need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country. The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
- State List contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture and irrigation. The State Governments alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the State List.
- Concurrent List includes subjects of common interest to both the Union Government as well as the State Governments, such as education, forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption and succession. Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list. If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.
Union Territories:- Areas, like Chandigarh, or Lakshadweep or the capital city of Delhi, are called Union Territories. These territories do not have the powers of a State. The Central Government has special powers in running these areas.
In case of any dispute about the division of powers, the High Courts and the Supreme Court make a decision.
[h]How is federalism practised?[/h]
Let us look at some of the major ways Federalism practiced in india:-
In 1947, the boundaries of several old States of India were changed in order to create new States. This was done to ensure that people who spoke the same language lived in the same State. Some States were created not on the basis of language but to recognise differences based on culture, ethnicity or geography. These include States like Nagaland, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.
experience has shown that the formation of linguistic States has actually made the country, more united. It has also made administration easier.
Our Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language. Hindi was identified as the official language. But Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 40 per cent of Indians. Therefore, there were many safeguards to protect other languages. Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution. A candidate in an examination conducted for the Central Government positions may opt to take the examination in any of these languages. States too have their own official languages. Much of the government work takes place in the official language of the concerned State.
COALITION GOVERNMENTS :- A government formed by the coming together of at least two political parties. Usually partners in a coalition form a political alliance and adopt a common programme.
[h]Decentralisation in India[/h]
Decentralisation: When power is taken away from Central and State governments and given to local government, it is called decentralisation.
Panchayats in villages and municipalities in urban areas were set up in all the States.
A major step towards decentra-lisation was taken in 1992. The Constitution was amended to make the third-tier of democracy more powerful and effective.
- Now it is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
- Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
- At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
- An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
- The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies. The nature of sharing varies from State to State.
Rural local government is popularly known by the name panchayati raj. Each village, or a group of villages in some States, has a gram panchayat. This is a council consisting of several ward members, often called panch, and a president or sarpanch. They are directly elected by all the adult population living in that ward or village. It is the decision-making body for the entire village. The panchayat works under the overall supervision of the gram sabha. All the voters in the village are its members. It has to meet at least twice or thrice in a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat and to review the performance of the gram panchayat.
The local government structure goes right up to the district level. A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a panchayat samiti or block or mandal. The members of this representative body are elected by all the panchyat members in that area. All the panchayat samitis or mandals in a district together constitute the zilla (district) parishad. Most members of the zilla parishad are elected. Members of the Lok Sabha and MLAs of that district and some other officials of other district level bodies are also its members. Zilla parishad chairperson is the political head of the zilla parishad.
Municipalities and Municipal corporations
- local government bodies exist for urban areas as well. Municipalities are set up in towns. Big cities are constituted into municipal corporation.
- Both municipalities and municipal corporations are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people’s representatives.
- Municipal chairperson is the political head of the municipality. In a municipal corporation such an officer is called the mayor.