The Indian system of governance is described as federal with a unitary bias. While in essence, our nation is a federation of states, with the state governments coming together under the leadership of the union government at the centre, but retaining their liberty in policy making for the state’s internal affairs; multiple factors point to the Unitarianism that is being followed in the democracy.
This type of governing mechanism makes Indian governance system unique as compared to those of other nations across the globe.
The Indian Constitution is a well-defined archive of the guidelines that help govern our country. Part V and Part VI of the constitution describes multiple aspects of the Union as a whole and the states respectively.
To maintain its status as a federation as well as implement the unitary nature, the seventh schedule of the constitution allocates the powers and functions on various subjects between the centre and the states.
This gave rise to three lists of subjects namely- the Union List, which covers 97 subjects under the jurisdiction of the Union, the State List, with 66 subjects to look after and the Concurrent List, pertaining to 47 subjects in which both the Union and the State have authority to look into.
With such a variety of subjects to tend to, both the centre and the state government are tasked with huge responsibility to maintain the stability and ensure welfare and development of the citizens.
In the following passages, we will cover the features and responsibilities of Union and State governments in India, and then explore the centre-state relationship that exists in our country.
These factors are crucial in understanding the functioning of these governments. Finally we will also take a brief look at the current problems our country is facing and what possible measures responsible Union and State governments can take to overcome these issues.
Features of the Union and State
The constitution provides an in depth description of the features of the governments that can be formed in the Democratic Republic of India. Alongside that, there is an entire schedule which is dedicated to the sharing of power on various subjects of matter to prevent dispute between the two bodies by allocating t subjects under relevant jurisdictions.
Part V of the constitution deals with the Union. It is divided into five chapters covering the executive, parliament, legislation, judiciary and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The Union Executive consists of the President, the Vice-President and the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.
The President is the head of the state and the highest executive authority in the country. He or she is the citizen of India who is elected by an electoral college comprising of MPs and MLAs from both the houses of the centre and state assemblies as well as Union Territories.
He exercises executive, legislative, judiciary, financial, diplomatic, military, emergency and discretionary powers. The Vice-President is his deputy, working under him and exercising limited powers. Executive powers of the President involve appointments of various posts in the Union Government.
Legislative powers involve addressing and summoning joint sittings in the parliament, passing bills and ordinances and dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Money bills can originate in the parliament only at the recommendation of the President. Foreign policies and agreements are signed on his behalf.
He can impose emergency without any prior change in the constitution. He is also the supreme commander of all the three armed forces of India. He also exercises discretionary powers in the parliament to prevent dispute in any form. Additionally, he enjoys Veto Powers too.
While the President does hold all these powers, it is the Prime Minister who exercises them. The President is the nominal executive head, whereas the Prime Minister is the real executive head. The Prime Minister leads the council of Ministers who are collectively responsible to take care of internal as well as external interests of the nation.
The council, alongside the opposition discuss and frame policies in the Parliament. The two houses in the parliament play crucial role in passing acts and laws. While Lok Sabha can be dissolved anytime by the President, Rajya Sabha has immunity against it. Yet it is the Lok Sabha that enjoys more power than Rajya Sabha.
The lower house is directly elected by the citizens of our nation which gives it a higher number of MPs as compared to Rajya Sabha. Furthermore, Money and financial bills exclusively originate in the Lok Sabha, which makes its policy making horizons larger than the upper house.
On the state level, the structure of governance is on the similar lines as that of the Union government. The Nominal Executive of the state is the Governor, who is appointed for a five year term by the President on advice of the Council of Ministers at the centre.
He exercises his powers to appoint the state council of ministers on the Chief Minister’s advice. He also has legislative powers similar to the president but limited to the state legislature. Additionally, he makes other appointments and can exercise President’s rule during crisis.
But the Chief Minister is the De facto head of the state and is the one who actually exercises the powers. The CM needs to be a member of either of the houses of the state legislature, i.e. he has to become a Member of the state legislature.
The legislative assemblies are both bicameral and unicameral across the states in India. Bicameral examples include Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka, where there are two houses namely- The legislative council (Vidhan Parishad) and the legislative assembly (Vidhan Sabha).
Here we find that the legislative council is in semblance with the Rajya Sabha, being a non-dissolvable upper house where members (MLCs) are elected indirectly. The legislative council has limited powers as compared to the legislative assembly, since there are lesser number of members as well as they can be formed and abolished on the whim of the central government.
Relation between union and state governments
While both the governments at their level of jurisdiction exercise powers similar to each other, it is important to understand the fields that each government can get involved in to make decisions and enforce them. As per the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution, 210 subjects of national and regional interests were identified and distributed amongst the state and the union.
Being a federal nation, administration is primarily under the supervision of the state. The agencies of administrations hire individuals through separate commissions- the state public service commissions hire administrative employees for the state government, while the union public service commission does the same for union government.
Yet we see no overlapping in the fields of services. The state deals with the subjects as listed in the state list of the 7th schedule of the Indian Constitution, whereas the Centre limits its interest to the union list. The concurrent list is a separate list which consists all the subjects that the Union as well as state can look into.
The successful implementations of the schemes of the Union government require cooperation with the state. It is the state which is responsible for the programmes to take effect. The existing multi-party system has contributed to the decentralisation as in the current scenario; many states are being governed by regional political parties as compared to national parties.
Hence, mode of the administration is under their wing. This gives a heavy electoral edge to the regional parties and forces the national parties to rethink their strategies and make much more personalised schemes to suit the specific regions.
Enacting schemes and programmes that are against the regional parties might not sit well with them and can form a big gap between the union and the state.
Yet if there is a political tug-of-war between the Union and the state, the former is bound to get the advantage. The division of powers highly favours the centre. There are more subjects under the union list than the state list. Additionally, the overriding power that the Centre exercises on the concurrent list, makes them more powerful than the state.
Furthermore, the states are not indestructible. There borders, area and names can be altered by the centre if necessary. This slightly differs from the original ideology of federalism, giving it the famous ‘unitary bias’.
It is also observed that no state holds its separate constitution and all follow the same constitution as the union- the constitution of India. Jammu and Kashmir is an exceptional case because of its special status as granted by article 370 which was enacted due to the circumstances under which J&K was formed.
Finally, the power to impose emergency rests with the union. Articles 352, 356 and 360 grant the centre the full authority over the states, converting the flexible and federal government into a unitary one.
Despite this tilt of power towards the Union, the state still holds an upper hand in some of the issues like in case of subjects of concurrent list, the state law shall prevail over the Union law if the same had been reserved for the consideration of the President and his consent had been received before the representation of the Central law on the same subject.
This clearly gives some flexibility to the States. For a nation like India, with the diverse cultures and ethnicities that reside throughout its geographical spread, decentralisation is definitely beneficial as it makes the state more independent to take decisions for the welfare of its citizens.
Major functions of the Union and the State
The functions and responsibilities of the Union can be summarised into six major classes. First one concerns the formulation, execution, evaluation and revision of public policy in various spheres which the party in power seeks to progress and practice. Secondly, they are responsible for coordination among various ministries and other organs of the government which might indulge in conflicts and wastefulness.
The third duty is to prepare and monitor the legislative agenda which translated the policies of the government in action through statutory enactments. Fourth responsibility is the executive control over administration through appointments, rule-making powers and handling of crises and disasters, natural as well as political.
They are also involved in financial management through fiscal control and operation of funds like Consolidated Fund and Contingency Funds of India. And lastly, they can review the work of the planning commission.
State government have a separate jurisdiction limited to the boundary of their state. They have separate departments for efficient functioning of the state like education, agriculture, transport, water supply, public health, sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries and others.
They are also responsible to ensure the internal security of the state and maintain the law and order. Hence state police forces come under the state’s jurisdiction.
The state legislature also covers the finances of the state which includes authorisation of all expenditure, taxation and borrowing by the state government. It has the power to originate money bills. It has control over taxes on entertainment and wealth, and sales tax.
Issues and Solutions between the Union and the State
The structure of Indian governance is not a perfect model. In the seventy two years of its existence so far, we have able to pin point some of the problems that prove to be a red signal in the relationship between the Union and the state. The role and discretionary powers of the governor is one of them.
The governor is appointed as a representative of the president by the latter for five years. While the Supreme Court has established that the governor’s office is independent of the union government, it has not been practically implemented.
A simple observation of the history of governors can lead us to the conclusion that the governors are appointed based on their political inclination and service.
Due to this, the impartial natures of the governor is duly affected leading to tensions with the ruling party in the state, especially with the appointment of the chief minister, making or dissolving the legislative assemblies or impose the president’s rule.
Another problem pertains to the reservation of the bills for consideration of the President. Article 200 grants that certain types of bills passed by the State legislature may be reserved by the Governor for the consideration of the President.
The President may either give his acceptance or may direct the Governor to send it back for reconsideration by the State legislature along with his comments. Once again, it has been observed that some bills, even after doing a second round at the legislature, is not given the president’s assent.
The opposition reigned States have from time to time raised a tone and shout against the misuse of these provisions. This has specially been in case where the Governor has reserved a bill against the advice of the State Ministry. Such problems can only be curbed by mandating the appointment of governors from non-political background to make decision making free of any political pressure.
One more setback to the state is the financial weakness as compared to the Union government. The main sources of revenue for the state government arise from taxes, duties and sales of services and commodities. The remainder of it comes from borrowings from other governments as well as the centre and royalties from forest, mines and other economically important natural resources.
With the revised GST in place, the autonomy of states is expected to reduce by 17% of their revenue. Many states will end up with decision making powers limited to 35% of their revenue. But at the same time, lot of states will see boost in revenue as the union has guaranteed a 14% annual growth on taxes subsumed by GST for a period of five years.
Additionally, the 15th finance commission has based 2011 census for the devolution of central taxes to states for 2020-25. This could reduce the share of some states that have made efforts for population control. However, such reductions could be mitigated through incentives for reducing population growth.
Finally, the farmer’s distress has led to declaration of farm loan waivers by eight states, amounting to Rs 1,77,241 crore. Borrowings of such states can increase due to these waivers. Further, the sugar sector is under stress with dues of sugarcane farmers pending with many mills; if states prepare a rescue package, it will increase fiscal pressure on states.
The devolution of powers and finances is an assured solution to mitigate the power struggle in the states between the Union and the state. In the present development situation, the local self-governing institutions in rural India have a crucial role in the implementation of development programmes.
The 73rd Amendment Act of the Indian Constitution has extensively handed over a set of legitimate powers to these institutions. Therefore, the powers and functions categorised for these institutions under the purview of the Indian Constitution have clearly pronounced the significance of these institutions.
Devolution of power can also empower states to play a bigger role with foreign policy formation by actively pursuing global economic opportunities, resource management, security issues and environmental issues. The devolution of power from the centre to state need not translate to a lesser role for the centre.
The centre will also become effective in conducting neighbourhood diplomacy if it can coordinate with peripheral states, which share borders with other countries, for example, India’s relation with Bangladesh. The current central government has suggested the Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA), which could potentially help the central government implement a bilateral investment treaty with any foreign country.
CSIA creates a platform for states to engage in the management of foreign direct investment flowing into the country. In addition, with states focusing on improving their economic performance, it allows the centre to focus on other issues like acting in accordance to international law and set environmental goals while the states can help bring globalisation to India through its trade deals and by attracting FDI.
To summarize, the Structure of Indian constitution deals with Union and State executive distinctly but the provisions follow a common pattern for the Union and the States. The system of distribution of administrative powers between union and states followed in the Constitution of India in various administrative fields.
The Union Government is reliant on the States to give effect to its programmes. The system of distribution of administrative powers has two objectives. It enables the union government with powers to control over administration of the state and at the same time it espouses several advice’s for intergovernmental cooperation and coordination.