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Main Objective of Distribution of Powers Between Centre and States

  • Last Updated : 26 Dec, 2021

While drafting the Government of India Act in 1935, there was a growing demand for constitutional reforms in India as well as the inclusion of more Indians in the Indian Administration. This act was an outcome of collective studies from the Simon Commission Report, recommendations of the Round-Table Conference, White Paper of 1933, and report of Joint Select Committee and lead to the formation of All-India Federation which consisted of British India Provinces and the Princely States. The British Indian Provinces were bound to join the federation however there was no compulsion on the Princely States over the same. This exception for the Princely States resulted in the failure of the All-India Federation as the majority of Princely States refused to join in.

The Government of India Act, 1935 defined India as a Federation of States and ended the system of dyarchy which was introduced by the Government of India Act, 1919.  

The constitutional provisions in India on the subject of the distribution of Legislative Powers between the Union/Centre & States are defined in Article 246 under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India. In the constitution of India, Chapter V – Deals with the Union, Chapter VI – Deals with the States, and Chapter XI – Deals with the relation between the Union and the States. When put together, the Constitutional provisions divide the territory between the Union and the States, and at some places, there is an overlap which leads to the concept of 3 lists.

1. UNION LIST (or) LIST I (100 Subjects; originally 97): Legislative powers are solely vested in the Parliament/Union/Central Government.

2. STATE LIST (or) LIST II (61 Subjects; originally 66): Only the States are entitled to make Laws on these subjects. The Constitution of India provides that the Parliament shall not encroach on the Law-Making Power of the State Legislature in respect to the matters related to the State List by the virtue of Federalism.

3. CONCURRENT LIST (or) LIST III (52 Subjects; originally 47): The Concurrent List is the most distinctive feature of the Indian Constitution. It includes the power to be considered by both the Central & State governments. There are over 52 subjects enumerated in the concurrent list that can be legislated upon by both the Union and State Legislatures, as both possess the concurrent power of legislation.

As far as the federal structure of India is concerned, the primary definition in the Indian context must be very clear. Be there as it may, it can be argued that with respect to the subjects that fall within the purview/jurisdiction of the State, the State is supreme; the fact remains that – the Union retains several supervisory & residuary powers with respect to those subjects as well.

Major Conflicts Between The Centre & States

The Constitution of India recognizes the States as a “Separate Identity” of a region which raises the expectations of the States in terms of demands from the Centre so that they can play a major role in the better governance of its region vested with special powers. On the other hand, the Constitution bestowed more legislative & executive powers to the Centre over the States which in time leads to certain conflicts between the two. Some of the major reasons for conflicts are:

  1. Demands of Autonomy (Complete Autonomy, Financial Autonomy, Administrative Autonomy, Cultural & Linguistic Autonomy).
  2. Role of Governor & Imposition of Presidents Rule.
  3. Demands for a separate state.
  4. Non-Compliance of Central Laws passed by the Parliament.

As the nature of India’s federal structure is such, where the Centre holds superiority in terms of powers, the States tend to demand for more autonomy from time to time where every state has its own definition of autonomy. The states expect important powers (Financial, Legislative, Border control, etc.) to be assigned under their control which may lead to disbalance in the constitutionally assigned powers and the quasi-federalism would be more State-centric instead of Union centric.  

  • States like West Bengal (under CPI-M, TMC), Punjab (Akali Dal) & Tamil Nadu (DMK), etc. have made demands for different autonomies from time to time.
  • Article 356 (State Emergency) – To be imposed in case of failure of Constitutional machinery in States. Governor, in his report, informs the President about the “failure of constitutional machinery” in the State. Based on that report, if satisfied, the President can impose President’s Rule in that State.
  • Article 365 – President’s rule can be imposed in a State in case of “failure of compliance” with directions given by the Union. The President’s proclamation to the emergency can be extended from 2 months to 6 months to 3 years.

If there is a Law enacted by a State Legislature on a subject which comes under the Concurrent List and the Parliament also chooses to enact a Law on the same subject, there might be a situation where the State Law is coming in conflict with the Union Law, in such a case, the Rule of Repugnancy (according to Article 254) gets applied in which the Central Law prevails over the State Law to the extent of the conflict.

The federal system starts to derail when the States deny complying with the Laws passed by the Central Government which entirely falls under the jurisdiction of the Union. (For example: Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, GST regulation act, 2017). The Parliament enacts laws for the welfare of the people and for the betterment of the nation. But when the States get aggressive towards the Central Laws, it leaves a dark stain on the machinery of federal democracy.

It is the sole responsibility of the States to work in coordination with the Union by executing the passed Laws by all means possible. The fundamental concept is that – every State should protect the idea of integral India which is why India is called a Union of States and not a Federation of States. Hence, a significant portion of such powers are Centralized in nature within the domain of the Parliament.

Constitutional Validity of Article 131

Article 131 is the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. It provides that – if there is any dispute between two or more than two states, even if there is a dispute between the Union and one or more states. With regard to any question of law on a legal issue, the States can approach the Supreme Court of India. However, all other legal suits & petitions concerning the State can be filed in the concerned High Courts.  

Article 131 is the special jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to entertain Civil disputes on fulfillment of certain conditions:

1. The provisions of Article 131 are subject to other provisions of the constitution. In case there is any remedy already provided in the constitution, then Article 131 will not be available. For example: If there is a water dispute between two states, Article 262 will come into force under which Parliament can make a law on the same to resolve the dispute.

2. The dispute must relate to a question of fact or of law, relating to the Legal Rights of the parties.

Government is a State entity. If any petition is to be filed for violation of fundamental right, the right-remedy is available either to a citizen or to a non-citizen under Article 226 and Article 32. In such a situation the State can say that the Legal Right has been affected. Otherwise, under Article 256, the States are bound to implement the law passed by the Parliament.

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