Federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. Generally, an overarching national government governs issues that affect the entire country, and smaller subdivisions govern issues of local concern. Both the national government and the smaller political subdivisions have the power to make laws and both have a certain level of autonomy from each other.
A federation is traditionally constituted when two or more independent neighboring states forge a Union for defined purposes of common interest by divesting themselves of a measure of sovereignty which is vested with the federal government. “The urge for union comes from the need for collective security against aggression and economic co-ordination for protection and expansion of trade and commerce. The federation is given only enumerated powers, the sovereignty of the states in the Union remains otherwise unimpaired”.
“A Federation in USA is of this type. Alternatively, a federation is formed when a sovereign authority creates autonomous units and combines them in a Union.” Once constituted, the national and state governments possess co-ordinate authority derived from the several constitutions and enjoy supremacy in their respective spheres of authority and jurisdiction. Canadian federation belongs to this category. However, the differences between the two lie in the degree and extent of emphasis on unitary features.
Characteristic Features of Federalism are:-
(i) Supremacy of Constitution:-Supremacy of the Constitution is a doctrine where by the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and all the State organs including Parliament and State Legislatures are bound by it. They must act within the limits laid down by the Constitution. They owe their existence and powers to the Constitution and, therefore, their every action must have its support in the Constitution.
(ii) The distribution among bodies with limited and co-ordinate authority, of different powers of government;
(iii) The authority of the courts as interpreters of the Constitution;
(iv) Double citizenship is another characteristic of some of the Federation.
A unitary system on the other hand has the highest degree of centralization. In a unitary state, the central government holds all the power. Lower-level governments, if they exist at all, do nothing but implement the policies of the national government. In a purely unitary state, the same set of laws applies throughout the nation, without variation. Unitary states create national policy, which is then applied uniformly. This uniformity sometimes serves as an advantage because people and businesses know exactly what to expect from the laws, regardless of geographical location. At the same time, to maintain its uniformity, a unitary government must overlook local differences that might call for different rules or policies.
Example: Most absolute monarchies and tyrannies operate under unitary systems. But democratic unitary states exist as well. In France, for example, the central government makes virtually all of the decisions.
The Indian Federation is a federation of its own type. It does not fall into either of the two conventional categories. The British provinces though largely autonomous after the attainment of independence in 1947 did not possess the attributes of sovereignty. Their position was just like Canadian provinces. They could not therefore form a compact of their own for common purposes of supra-provincial importance.
Moreover, the Union was not brought into existence by the British before they relinquished power. The representatives of the Indian people assembled in a Constituent Assembly and decided on the structure of the Union. Hence, they provided for the distribution of authority and functions between the national and regional governments.
The Indian Constitution, no doubt, fulfills some conditions of a federation, but it leans towards a strong Centre, it is a stable union of states and provinces (now termed as states) which have neither lost their entities nor claim complete autonomy. Evidently it does not violate the essentials of a federal polity. However, our federal system has been adjusted to the needs of our country, which has been falling prey to the foreign invaders on account of it being a house divided against itself.
Unitary nature of Indian constitution:
On the other hand the Indian constitution also incorporates many features of a unitary state. The unitary features of Indian constitution is given below:
- It provides for single citizenship an integrated judiciary, dominance of bureaucracy, uniformity at the top levels, and above all gives greater powers to the union Government.
- The Indian constitution sets up a very powerful union Government. A review of the division of powers in the Indian constitution clearly shows strong bias in favor of the union Government and several limitations on the autonomy of state Governments. For example, during the proclamation of a national emergency the union government can legislate on the subjects in the state list and can control the executive powers of the state government.
- It is not only during an emergency that the Indian constitution becomes unitary in character. Even in its normal working, the union Parliament can reorganize the states or alter the boundaries by a simple majority vote, even without the consent of the legislature of the state so affected.
- In case there is a conflict between a union law and a state law, the union law will prevail.
- The state governors are appointed by the President.
- State governments don’t have separate constitution of their own. They derive their powers from the same constitution, i.e., the Constitution of India.
- There is a single judicial system in India. The highest judicial forum is the Supreme Court. The high courts and other lower courts are sub-ordinate to Supreme Court.