Nature of Indian Constitution: Federal or Unitary or Quasi-federal

The Indian constitution is neither purely federal nor purely unitary but is a combination of both. In this article, and attempt has been made to reflect the basic nature of  of Indian constitution.

Is India a federal or unitary state?

Federal nature Indian constitution:

Although the word ‘federation’ is no where used in the Indian constitution all the structural features of a federal government were incorporated.

1. Dual system of Government: The Indian constitution provides for dual system of government consisting of a federal or union government and a number of state governments, and distributes powers between both the governments.

2.  Supremacy of the constitution: Further, the constitution is supreme and both the governments desire their powers from it. This legal supremacy of the constitution is maintained by the Supreme Court which is vested with the power to interpret the constitution and declare any act of the union or state governments which violates the provisions of the constitution as null and void.

All these characteristics make Indian constitution as basically a federal constitution.

Unitary nature of Indian constitution:

On the other hand the Indian constitution also incorporates many features of a unitary state. The unitary features of Indian constitution is given below:

  1. It provides for single citizenship an integrated judiciary, dominance of bureaucracy, uniformity at the top levels, and above all gives greater powers to the union Government.
  2. The Indian constitution sets up a very powerful union Government. A review of the division of powers in the Indian constitution clearly shows strong bias in favor of the union Government and several limitations on the autonomy of state Governments. For example, during the proclamation of a national emergency the union government can legislate on the subjects in the state list and can control the executive powers of the state government.
  3. It is not only during an emergency that the Indian constitution becomes unitary in character. Even in its normal working, the union Parliament can reorganize the states or alter the boundaries by a simple majority vote, even without the consent of the legislature of the state so affected.
  4. In case there is a conflict between a union law and a state law, the union law will prevail.
  5. The state governors are appointed by the President.
  6. State governments don’t have separate constitution of their own. They derive their powers from the same constitution, i.e., the Constitution of India.
  7.  There is a single judicial system in India. The highest judicial forum is the Supreme Court. The high courts and other lower courts are sub-ordinate to Supreme Court.

In view of these limitations on the autonomy of the states, some constitutional experts have questioned of the Indian constitution as a federal constitution at all in the proper sense of term.

Is India a Quasi-federal state?

Professor K.C. Wheare, who regards the American constitution as the model of a true federation has described the Indian constitution as ‘quasi federal’, that is ‘a unitary state with subsidiary federal features rather than a federal state with subsidiary unitary features’. This is not wholly true.


In India, the Centre-States relations constitute the core elements of the federalism. The Central Government and State Government cooperate for the well-being and safety of the citizens of India. The work together in the field of environmental protection, terror control, family control and socio-economic planning.

The Indian constitution aim at reconciling the national unity while giving the power to maintain state to the State governments. It is true that the union has been assigned larger powers than the state governments, but this is a question of degree and not quality, since all the essential features of a federation are present in the Indian constitution.

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