Federal and Unitary Features of the Indian Union

India is different from the United States of America because in the United States the federation is based on an agreement between different States, and the States have the right to secede from the Union. The Indian Constitution has the features both of federal and unitary forms of Government.

Federal features

1.Distribution of powers between Union and the States has been made as per the three lists.

2.The Union Government as well as the State Governments have to function strictly in accordance with the Constitution. They can neither alter the distribution of powers nor override the dictates of the Constitution.

3.Indian Constitution is entirely written. An amendment to it must be passed by the Parliament and if an amendment affects the federal structure it must be ratified by at least half the State Legislatures.

4.Like other federal states our country also has an independent Judiciary as an essential feature.

Unitary features of the Indian Constitution

1.In a federation, people enjoy dual citizenship, that of the Centre and of the State to which they belong. But the Indian Constitution provides every Indian with single citizenship.

2.The most important subjects are included in the Union List which has been allocated to the center.

3.The center can legislate on the subjects in the concurrent list.

4.Residuary powers belong to the Centre.

5.Single Constitutional Framework has been provided for the Centre as well as for the State.

6.The proclamation of National emergency can immediately turn the federal system of India into a Unitary one.

7.In a federation, each State should get equal representation irrespective of its size or population. But in the Rajya Sabha in India, States are represented on the basis of population. Besides, the President has the power to nominate twelve members to the Rajya Sabha.

8.The Governors of the States are appointed by the President and they continue to hold office only during his pleasure.

9.The Indian Constitution provides for a single judiciary, a single system of civil and criminal law, and command of All India Services.

10.The authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Chief Election Commissioner uniformly prevails over the Union as well as States.


  • Write the meaning of federal and unitary system of government in the introduction
  • Describe the federal and unitary characteristics of the Indian constitution.
  • Examine how the central government is more powerful than states.


A unitary system is composed of one central government that holds all the power, but a federal system divides power between national and local forms of government. India is a federal country. But not once in the constitution is the word “federation” ever mentioned. Instead what is said is that India is a “Union of States’.

Federal features of Indian constitution:

Division of Powers: The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution contains three lists of subjects that show how the division of power is made between the two sets of government.

Written Constitution: The Constitution of India is written. Every provision of the Constitution is clearly written down and has been discussed in detail.

The supremacy of the Constitution.

Supreme judiciary: The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of justice in India.

Bi-cameral legislation: The Indian Parliament, i.e., the legislature has two houses - the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

Unitary or Non-Federal Features:

Single Constitution: There are no separate constitutions for the States. In a true federation, there are separate constitutions for the union and the States.

Centre’s control over States: The States have to respect the laws made by the central government and cannot make any law on matters on which there is already a central law.

Rajya Sabha does not represent the State's equality: In a true federation, the upper house of the legislature has equal representation from the constituting units or the States.

Existence of States depends on the Centre: The boundary of a State can be changed by created out of the existing States.

Single citizenship: In a true federal state, citizens are given dual citizenship. In India however, the citizens enjoy single citizenship, i.e., Indian citizenship or citizenship of the country as a whole.

Unified judiciary: India has a unified or integrated judicial system. The Supreme Court is the highest court of justice in the country and all other subordinate courts are under it.

Proclamation of emergency: When the emergency is declared, the Union or Central governments become all-powerful and the State governments come under total control it. The State governments lose their autonomy.

The following provision proves though India is federal in nature but its soul is unitary:

  • In legislative matters, the Union Parliament is very powerful. It has not only exclusive control over the Union list and the residuary powers, but it has also dominance over the Concurrent List and the State list. This is of importance for the uniformity of laws in the country.

In administrative matters also, the Central government has been made more powerful than the States. The State governments have to work under the supervision and control of the Central government. The States should exercise its executive powers in accordance with the laws made by the Parliament. It can control the State governments by directing them to take necessary steps for the proper running of the administration. If the State fails to work properly or according to the Constitution, it can impose President’s rule thereunder Article 356 and take over its (the State’s) administration.

In financial matters, the President of India has the power to make alterations in the distribution of revenues earned from income-tax between the center and the States. The Centre has also the power to great loans and great-in-aid to the State governments. The Comptroller and Auditor General India and the Finance Commission of India which are the central agencies also have control over the State finances.


In 1983, the Sarkaria Commission emphasized co-operative federalism in India. It is a fact that India has a strong central government but it should not always try to interfere in the matters of the States. Both governments should respect one another’s power or authority and work harmoniously.

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