Powers of the Union Government
Article. I of the Constitution of India says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” Those, who gave us our Constitution, felt that in India, constituents have not entered into any agreement to create the Federation and so, the supremacy of the Union is an established fact. Moreover, after centuries of foreign rule, national leaders decided to make a strong and united India. So, while drafting the Constitution, they made such provisions as to make the central government more powerful than all the state governments. India has often been described as federal in form but unitary in spirit, it is a quasifederal State.
Like American Constitution, we also have several federal features in our Constitution and governments. Powers between the centre and the states have been distributed and three Lists have been prepared. The Parliament can legislate on subjects in the Union List while state assemblies make laws on State List subjects in there is also a Concurrent List for whose items, both have jurisdictions. Residuary powers vest with the Union.
India has a written and rigid Constitution. The procedure for amending the Constitution has been properly defending some provisions can be amended by a simple majority of the Parliament while others need approval from at least half of the states. In cases of provisions dealing with basic features of the Constitution, the states have an important role to play.
The federal structure of country is reinforced by the presence of an independent Supreme Court. This court has been vested with powers to deal with disputes involving states themselves or disputes of the union with the states. The Supreme Court acts as a watchdog of the Constitution and any law violating the Constitution can be declared ultra vires by it. The provision of separate public services, public service commissions, executive and legislative organisations for the states and the centre also reinforce federalism.
However, it is clear to one and all that the federal structure in India is not an indestructible component. The union government is more powerful and has an over-riding authority over the states. No state has a right to secede from the union and the Indian Parliament has the powers to abolish any state to change its boundaries or even merge it with other states. The division of U.P., Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and the creation of new states (Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) are the prominent examples in this context. Further, all the citizens have a single citizenship of India and not dual citizenships of the union and the state in which they reside.
In the distribution of subjects among the centre and the states, the important ones have been given to the former—Defence, External Affairs, War, International Agreements, Communications, Railways, Postal, etc. In the Concurrent List, if the laws made by the union and any state are in conflict, the former’s writ prevails. Moreover, the union government can change the distribution of subjects. The Rajya Sabha has been given less powers and representation as compared to Lok Sabha which is the House of People.
The set up of judicial organisations in India is also unitary. The Supreme Court, as the apex judicial organ of the state, has the right to hear appeals against decisions of the State High Courts and also exercises control over them. Even in the sphere of public services. All India Services like IAS and IPS are those that are controlled by the union’s supremacy over the states. He acts as the eyes and ears of the union and holds office according to the pleasure of the President.
The executive and legislative authority of the states have been made subservient to the union government. The states have no power to propose amendments to the Constitution. The union has the power to issue directives to the states, which are binding on them. The emergency provisions further strengthen the unitary character of our constitution. The state government can be dismissed under Article 356. Article 370 governs the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The framework of centre-state relationships is based on bonhomie and cooperation. If worked reasonably well from 1950 to 1967 when we had dynamic leaders—almost one-party rule all over the country and the spirit of give and take. But after the deaths of Mr J.L. Nehru and Mr L.B. Shastri and the victory of opposition parties in some states since 1967, the confrontation began. The centre-state relations got political overtones. The usage of Article 356 to punish states became a commoner. The major grievances of the states were regarding the role of governor, sharing of taxes, the usage of paramilitary forces, major role of the centre in approving industries and fear of toppling the opposition government in the states.
The union government appointed the Sarkaria Commission in 1983 to look into all the controversial matters so that these could be settled amicably. The commission, in its report. said there was no need to amend the Constitution to give more powers to states because it, was possible to allow relaxations in the present set up also. The commission however, agreed with the viewpoint of the states that the centre had been usurping their prerogatives, poaching on their operational areas and violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution by expanding the Concurrent List.
The Commission examined in detail, various aspects of centre-state relations and recommended reforms. It called for a restraint on the part of the centre in the issues of usurping the powers of the states, appointing politicians as governors, ordering discretionary dismissals of ‘the state governments, changing the scope of Finance Commissinon after discussion with states and persuading Planning Commission adhere to recommendations of the states and their legal requirements.
The state governments are closer to the people’s aspirations and requirements. Moreover, they have to undertake social tasks and development work at the grassroot levels. They are deeply associated with the daily lives of their people. They need adequate resources and autonomy to make plans, programmes and policies accordingly. The appointment of Sarkaria Commision was a bold step and there is a need to accept and implement it. The history of bitter rivalry between the states and the centre should be forgotten. In the era of globalisation, the interests and energies of the centre and the states should merge so that India becomes a strong and our polity becomes mature in the new century.