Constitution of India is quasi federal in nature.

Constitution of India:

Federal of Unitary?

Debate about federal or unitary Constitution:

When the Constitution of India which came into force on January 26, 1950, Mr. Wheare [author of Federal Government, 4th Edition, pages 26-27.], said “Constitution of republic of India, has federal features though it does not in fact claim that it establishes a Federal Union………It seems clear that after allowing for the federal features of the Indian Union, it can only be concluded that the Constitution is ‘ quasi-federal.’

Supreme Court of India agrees that Constitution of India is quasi federal:

India is not a federal State in the traditional sense of the term. There can be no doubt as to the fact, and this is of utmost significance for purposes at hand, that in the context of India, the principle of federalism is not territory related. This is evident from the fact that India is not a true federation formed by agreement between various States and territorially it is open to the Central Government under Article 3 of the Constitution, not only to change the boundaries, but even to extinguish a State…… Further, when it comes to exercising powers, they are weighed heavily in favour of the center, so much so that various descriptions have been used to describe India such as a pseudo-federation or quasi- federation in an amphibian form, etc……………… The Constitution provides for the bicameral legislature at the center. The House of the People is elected directly by the people. The Council of States is elected by the Members of the Legislative assemblies of the States. It is the electorate in every State who are in the best position to decide who will represent the interests of the State, whether as members of the lower house or the upper house…………… It is no part of Federal principle that the representatives of the States must belong to that State. There is no such principle discernible as an essential attribute of Federalism, even in the various examples of upper chamber in other countries.”
Source Kuldip Nayar v. Union of India, (2006) 7 SCC 1.
“Strictly speaking, our Constitution is not of a federal character where separate, independent and sovereign State could be said to have joined to form a nation as in the United States of America or as may be the position in some other countries of the world. It is because of that reason that sometimes it has been characterized as quasi-federal in nature…………..”
Per Untwalia, J. (for Singhal J., Jaswant Singh J. and himself) in State of Karnataka v. Union of India. (1977) 4 SCC 608.
The fact that under the scheme of our Constitution, greater power is conferred upon the center vis-`-vis the States does not mean that States are mere appendages of the center. Within the sphere allotted to them, States are supreme. The center cannot tamper with their powers. More particularly, the Courts should not adopt an approach, an interpretation, which has the effect of or tends to have the effect of whittling down the powers reserved to the States….must put the Court on guard against any conscious whittling down of the powers of the States. Let it be said that the federalism in the Indian Constitution is not a matter of administrative convenience, but one of principle the outcome of our own historical process and a recognition of the ground realities. …enough to note that our Constitution has certainly a bias towards center vis-a-vis the States. It is equally necessary to emphasize that Courts should be careful not to upset the delicately crafted constitutional scheme by a process of interpretation.”

The Union and the States are co-equal in the Indian Federal structure. Our framers created a unique federal structure which cannot be abridged in a sentence or two. The nature of our federalism can only be studied having a thorough understanding of all the provisions of the Constitution. Confirmation that the Union and States are co-equals in the Indian federal structure can be found in the speeches of Hon’ble P.S. Deshmukh, Shri T. T. Krishnamachari and Hon’ble Dr. B. R. Ambedkar before the Constituent Assembly. Common philosophy which runs through our Constitution is that both Center and States have been vested with the substantial powers which are necessary to preserve our unique federation with clear demarcation of power. Calling India as quasi-federal might not be advisable as our features are unique and quite different from other Countries like United States of America etc. Courts in India should strive to preserve this unique balance which our framers envisaged, any interference into this balancing act would be detrimental for grand vision proscribed by our makers. Amphibious nature of our federalism has been even noted by the Sarkaria Commission Report on Center-State relationship. Co-operative federalism envisaged under our Constitution is a result of pick and choose policy which our framers abstracted from the wisdom of working experience of other Constitutions’

Jindal Stainless Steel v. State of Haryana,  AIR 2016 SC 5617 (FB)

The principle of federalism as present in India cannot be explained in a sentence or two; rather a detailed study of the each and every provision of the Constitution would inevitably point that India has divided sovereignty in the form of Center on one hand and States on the other. Each power house is independent in its own terms. The constitutional scheme invariably leads to the conclusion that at times these institutions meet and interact at various levels to achieve the cherished constitutional goal of co-operative federalism.

10. It is to be noted that our Constitutional set-up mandates that Center is not powerless which is apparent from various Articles of the Constitution. Further, it is not proper on the part of the States to ignore the plight of the common man in enforcing such important legislations, more so when such legislation is a welfare legislation.

Swaraj Abhiyan vs Union Of India, decided on 21 July, 2017 by Supreme Court.

Similar observations about quasi-federal nature of the Constitution are found in various decisions of the Supreme Court of India, some of which are:

  1. State of West Bengal v. Union of India [1964] 1 SCR 371
  2. State of Rajasthan v. Union of India [1978] 1 SCR 1;
  3. ITC Ltd. v. Agricultural Produce Market Committee [2002] 1 SCR 441;
  4. State of West Bengal v. Kesoram Industries Ltd. [2004] 266 ITR 721(SC) 
  5. Bhim Singh v. Union of India
  6. Automobile Transport (Rajasthan) Ltd. v. State of Rajasthan [1963]1SCR491
  7.  (State of West Bengal v. Union of India [1964] 1 SCR 371) .