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Asymmetric Features of Indian Federalism

  • Context (TH): Special status demand from Bihar and the recent SC verdict on Art 370 have again highlighted the nature of asymmetric federalism existing in India.
  • “Asymmetric federalism” is based on unequal powers and relationships in political, administrative, and fiscal arrangements between the units constituting a federation.
  • Asymmetry in the arrangements can be viewed in both vertical (between centre and states) and horizontal (among the states) senses.
  • It need not necessarily be the outcome of constitutional arrangements but can also result from conventions in a federation.

Asymmetric Features of Indian Federalism

  • Asymmetric features of Indian federalism can be understood under the following heads:
    1. Vertical asymmetry
    2. Horizontal asymmetry
    3. Fiscal/Financial asymmetry

1. Vertical Asymmetry (Between Centre and States)

  • Article 3 of the IC: The Centre can unilaterally alter the state names and boundaries.
  • Article 352 & 356: Provisions related to imposition of National Emergency and President’s rule.
  • Article 248: Residuary powers of legislation rests with the parliament.
  • More power vests with the Centre:
    • IC guarantees more powers with the Union List.
    • On the Concurrent List subjects, the parliament can make laws that can override the laws made by state legislatures.
    • Parliament can also make laws regarding certain subjects in the State List.
  • Emergency powers: The centre is provided with emergency powers. When an emergency is imposed, the centre has increased control over states.
  • Integrated judiciary: The judiciary in India is integrated. There is no separate judiciary at the centre and the state levels.
  • Single citizenship: In India, only single citizenship is available to citizens. They cannot be citizens of the state as well.
  • Governor’s appointment: The governor of a state acts as the centre’s representative in the state.
  • All India Services: Through the All India Services, such as the IAS, IPS, etc., the centre interferes with the executive powers of the states.
  • Integrated election machinery: The Election Commission of India is responsible for conducting free and fair elections at both the center and the state levels in India.
  • Veto over state bills: The governor of a state can reserve certain kinds of bills for the president’s consideration.
  • Integrated audit machinery: The country’s president appoints the CAG, who audits accounts of both the centre and the states.

2. Horizontal Asymmetry (Between States/UTs)

  • Classification of states: In 1950, IC contained a four-fold classification of the states of the Indian Union — Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D States.
  • Unequal representation of states in the Rajya Sabha: The representation of the states in the upper house is based on the states’ populations.
    • For example, Uttar Pradesh has 31 seats, and Goa has 1 in the Rajya Sabha.
  • Part-A states comprised nine erstwhile governor’s provinces of British India.
  • Part-B states consisted of nine erstwhile princely states with legislatures.
  • Part-C states consisted of the erstwhile chief commissioner’s province of British India and some of the erstwhile princely states.
  • Part-D state comprised of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands only.
  • In an ideal federal system, all the states should have equal representation.
  • Part VIII of IC: Part VIII of the Indian Constitution has provisions related to the Union territories (UTs) whose federal arrangements are different from states.
  • Art 371A-371J of IC: Special position, powers, and protection enjoyed by north-eastern states.
  • Schedule 5: The Fifth Schedule of IC deals with the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes residing in any State other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  • Schedule 6: The Sixth Schedule of IC provides for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. These create autonomous districts and autonomous regions.
  1. Asymmetry within UTs
    • Puducherry and Delhi have legislatures, while the other UTs do not have legislatures or a ministerial council.
    • Puducherry has legislative powers on any matter mentioned in the State List or the Concurrent List. Delhi has three further exceptions: police, land, and public order are under GOI.
    • Puducherry is ‘non-contiguous’ despite being a single administrative unit.
  2. Art 371 of IC
    • The governor of Maharashtra can establish separate development boards for Vidarbha & Marathwada.
    • The governor of Gujarat has a similar responsibility towards Saurashtra, Kutch, and the rest of Gujarat.
  3. Article 370 (Now amended)
    • J&K was allowed to have its own Constitution and its definition of ‘permanent residents’.
    • It had the right to bar outsiders from holding property.
    • Indian laws had to be specifically permitted by its Assembly before India could operate there.
    • J&K was allowed to have its own Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes.
  • Puducherry’s territory is not limited to one extent of land.
  • Besides Puducherry and its adjoining areas, it has enclaves located within other States: Karaikal (within Tamil Nadu), Yanam (within Andhra Pradesh) and Mahe (within Kerala).

3. Fiscal Asymmetry

  • Vertical asymmetry: As per the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission, the share of states in the central taxes for the 2021-26 period is recommended to be 41%.
  • Devolution among states (Horizontal asymmetry): Criteria like income distance, demographic performance, forest and ecology, etc., are used for devolution among the states.
  • Centrally sponsored schemes (CSS): For special category status states, the Centre pays 90% of the funds required in a CSS as against 60% in the case of normal category states.

Need for Asymmetric Federalism

  • Plurality of Indian society: Asymmetrical federalism is necessary for a multicultural and diverse country such as India.
  • Accommodation and integration: Asymmetrical federalism allows for self-rule within the framework of shared rule, and it follows the principle of weighted and differentiated equality.
  • Protection of minorities: By giving more power and autonomy to regions where certain minority groups are concentrated, asymmetrical federalism ensures that these groups are not marginalised.
  • State-specific issues: Asymmetrical federalism ensures that the state-specific issues are given the attention and resources they need.
  • Strengthening federalism: Strengthens federalism by ensuring decentralisation of power and decision-making as per requirements of the federal units.
  • India’s founding fathers recognized the need for a salad bowl approach to governance, which recognizes the distinctive cultural differences in the country and permits self-rule within the scheme of a shared rule.

Salad Bowl & Melting Pot Approach

  • A salad bowl or tossed salad is a metaphor for the way a multicultural society can integrate different cultures while maintaining their separate identities, contrasting with a melting pot, which emphasises the combination of the parts into a single whole.
  • The melting pot theory holds that, like metals melted together at great heat, the melting together of several cultures will produce a new compound with great strength and other combined advantages.

Federalism Vs Unitary Form of Government

  • A unitary system is governed constitutionally as one single unit with one constitutionally created legislature.
  • In the federal constitution, there is a division of powers between the federal and the state governments.

Federal System of India

Why is India called “Quasi Federal”?

  • Quasi-federal refers to a system of government where the distribution of powers between the Center and the state is not equal.
  • India is a federation with a unitary bias and is referred to as a quasi-federal state because of strong central machinery.

Types of Federation

Coming together federation

  • It is a federation in which all the independent states come together to form a large federation unit with equal power distribution.
  • All the states are under the central government and follow its regulations.
  • Independent states unite to increase security, consolidate their sovereignty and retain their identity.
  • Examples of the coming together are the USA, Switzerland and Australia.

Holding together federation

  • It is a federation where the country’s powers are divided between the central government and constituent states.
  • The central government has greater authority than the states.
  • It has the right to ensure the sovereignty of the country.
  • Examples of holding together federations are India, Spain, Belgium, etc.
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