Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution

Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution

Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states, ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of states.’ So, there are numerous Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution. Our Constitution framers used the word ‘Union’ instead of ‘Federation.’ The significance of using the word ‘Union’ is explained by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar-

  • The Indian Federation is not the result of an agreement between the units.
  • The component units have no freedom to secede from the Union so created.

The turmoil due to partition led to a strong unitary inclination in the Constitution. Moreover, the Supreme Court of India, in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh v. MMK Jamat, 2008 case held that the term ‘union’ was used “as a symbolic of the determination of the Assembly to maintain the unity of the country.”

Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution
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Hence, the Constitution of India provides for a quasi-federal form of Government, i.e. a strong Union Government and subordinate State Governments. The Constitution also provides for a federal structure of Government, by clearly demarcating the legislative powers between the Central and State governments in the seventh schedule (union, state, and concurrent list, with residuary powers lying in the hands of the centre). But even in this schedule, the final authority over the subjects mentioned in the concurrent list lies in the hands of the Central Government, moreover, the power to legislate over the residuary matters also lies in the hands of the Centre. So, it is clear that the Indian Constitution does not provide for a perfectly federal structure of government, rather it is inclined towards a ‘unitary’ structure of government. So, in this article, we’d be discussing the Unitary features of the Indian Constitution.

Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution

Single Constitution

Usually, in countries following a perfectly federal structure, the states have their own constitution or have the right to frame one. This leads to a dual constitution within a single country. For example, in America, every state has its own written constitution, providing legal blueprints for its legal and political organizations.

Contrary to this, the Indian Constitution does not provide any such right to the states. All the provisions regarding the legal and political organization of the states are mentioned in the Indian Constitution, and every state is bound to follow it. Both the Centre and the States have to follow the same Constitution. However, there was an exception in this regard, as the state of Jammu and Kashmir had its own constitution. But this exception has been abrogated with the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.

So, a Single Constitution for all the states is the first and foremost Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution.

Strong Central Government

As stated earlier, there is indeed a division of powers between the States and the Centre under the seventh schedule, but this division of power favours the Central Government over the State Governments. The provisions favouring the Central Government includes-

  • There are more subjects in the Union List as compared to the State List. (Union list- 99 subjects; State List- 61 subjects).
  • More important subjects are included in the Union List.
  • The Central Government has overriding authority over the subjects mentioned in the Concurrent List, i.e. if there’s a conflict between the laws made on the subjects of the concurrent between the Central and State Legislature, then the law framed by the Centre would prevail.
  • The residuary powers are vested in the hands of the Centre, whereas in America, the residuary powers are vested in the hands of the states.

So, these Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution makes the Centre comparatively stronger than the States.

Single Citizenship
Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution
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The provision of single citizenship for everyone in the country is also one of the major unitary features of the Indian Constitution. In federal countries like the USA, Australia and Switzerland, there is a provision of dual citizenship, under which the people have two citizenships, the national citizenship and state citizenship.

Contrary to this, the Indian Constitution provided for single citizenship and no separate State Citizenship. This means that all the citizens of India, irrespective of the States they are born in, enjoy the same rights all over the country.

Emergency Provisions

The Constitution of India allows for the conversion of the federal structure of government into a unitary one even without any formal amendment in the constitution or ratification by the states, through the emergency provisions.

The emergency provisions are provided in Part XVIII of the Constitution. Through Part XVIII, the Constitution allows the Central Government to supersede the State Government(s), and rule the country or one or more states in a unitary fashion. Under the provision, the President proclaims the state of emergency on the advice of the Cabinet of Ministers. The President has powers to declare three types of emergency- National Emergency, State Emergency and Financial Emergency. The grounds for imposing such emergency are- threat to the nation from internal or external sources,  failure of the constitutional machinery of the state and situations of financial crisis. 

Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution
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Well, these provisions are very well misused by the Central Government in the past to dissolve the State Legislature, whose majority is secured by the opposition party, in an arbitrary manner. However, these incidences are reduced, but the possibility of a next emergency cannot be ruled out.

Integrated Judiciary

In the USA, as there are two Constitutions, there is a double system of courts including the Federal Judiciary and State Judiciary. Under this double system of courts, the federal laws are enforced by the Federal Judiciary and the state laws are enforced by the State Judiciary. This is an example of a perfect federal structure.

Image by- Citizen Matters

Contrary to this, the Indian Constitution provides for an Integrated Judicial system. Under this, the Supreme Court is the supreme and apex judicial authority for the whole country, enforcing both central and state laws. The State High Courts are subordinate to the Supreme Court. This established a unitary structure in the Indian Judiciary.

States are not indestructible

The states in India have no territorial integrity, which means that all the decisions regarding the area, boundaries or name of any of the states can be taken unilaterally by the Indian Parliament. And taking decisions regarding them doesn’t even require a special majority, as legislations regarding such issues can be passed with a simple majority.

So, the Indian Constitution is “an indestructible Union of destructible states.” On the other hand, the American Federation is “an indestructible Union of indestructible states.”

All-India Services
Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution
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In India, there are separate public services for both the Centre and States. However, in addition to State and Central public services, there are all-India services- IAS (Indian Administrative Service), IPS (Indian Police Service) and IFS (Indian Foreign Service). These all-India services are common to both the Centre and States. The members of these services are recruited and trained by the Centre, and the Centre possess ultimate control over them. So, this is one of the important unitary features of the Indian Constitution, which provides for a unitary structure in the Indian administration.

In contrast to this, in the American Federation, there are separate public services for both the Federal and State Governments and no provision for any all-American services.

Flexibility in the process of Constitutional Amendment

In India, the majority of the Constitution can be amended unilaterally by the Parliament, either by a simple or special majority, with no provision of approval or ratification by the State Legislatures. Moreover, the power to initiate a Constitutional Amendment lies only in the hands of the Centre. In other federations, the process of constitutional amendment is not so flexible and require active participation and approval of the constituent states. In the USA, the states also have the power to propose a constitutional amendment.

Authority of the Parliament over State List

The Parliament of India has the power to legislate on subjects included in the State List. Such legislation can take place only if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to that effect in the national interest. So, the Parliament has an extended power to legislate over the subjects of State List.

Appointment of the Governors

The Governor of the state, who is the head of the state, is appointed by the President. The Governor of the state acts as an agent of the Centre and remains in office during the pleasure of the President. The Centre exercises control over the state through the Governor.

On the other hand, in the American Federation, the head of the state is elected, rather than being appointed.

Veto Power over the State Bills

The Governor of the State has the power to reserve certain types of bills passed by the State Legislative Assembly for the consideration of the President. Moreover, the President has the power to withhold his assent for such bills in both the first and second instance. In this way, the President can exercise an absolute veto over the bills passed by State Legislature.

In absolute Federal countries such as Australia and the USA, there is no such provision for reservation of bills passed by the State Legislature.

An Integrated Election System
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The Election Commission of India conduct elections for both the State and Central Legislature. And the Election Commission is constituted solely by the President, and there is no participation of the states in this matter.

In the USA, there are separate election systems for Federal and State elections.

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