Revision Notes for Class 10 Political Science – Chapter 2 Federalism

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Vertical division of power among different levels of government is one of the major forms of power sharing in modern democracies.


It is a system of government in which the power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.

Difference between Unitary and Federal Form of Government

Unitary Form of GovernmentFederal Form of Government
Either there is only one level of government or the subunits are subordinate to the central government.There are multiple levels of government.
The central government can pass on orders to the provincial or the local government.State government has powers of its own for which it is not answerable to the central government.

Features of Federalism

  • Usually, a federation has two levels of government:
    • Government for the entire country: It is usually responsible for a few subjects of common national interest.
    • Governments at the level of Provinces or States: It looks after much of the day-to-day administration of their state.
  • Different tiers of government govern the same citizens, but each tier has its own jurisdiction in specific matters of legislation, taxation, and administration.
  • The jurisdictions of the respective levels are specified in the Constitution. So, the existence and authority of each tier of government is constitutionally guaranteed.
  • The fundamental provisions of the Constitution cannot be unilaterally changed by one level of government. Such changes require the consent of both the levels of government.
  • Courts have the power to interpret the constitution and the powers of different levels of government.
    The highest court acts as an umpire if disputes arise between different levels of government in the exercise of their respective powers.
  • Sources of Revenue for each level of government are clearly specified to ensure its financial autonomy.
  • Dual Objectives of Federalism:
    • To safeguard and promote unity of the country.
    • To Accommodate the regional diversity.

Balance of Power in Federalism

It varies from one federation to another. This variation depends mainly on the historical context in which
the federation was formed. Two kinds of routes through which federations have been formed:

  • Coming together Federation:
    • It involves Independent States coming together on their own to form a bigger unit, so that by pooling sovereignty and retaining identity they can increase their security. For example- the USA, Switzerland, and Australia.
    • All the constituent States usually have equal power and are strong vis-à-vis the federal government.
  • Holding together Federation:
    • A large country decides to divide its power between the constituent States and the National Government. For example- India, Spain, and Belgium.
    • The central government tends to be more powerful vis-à-vis the States.
      • Sometimes different constituent units of the federation have unequal powers.
      • Some units are granted special powers.

Federalism in India

  • The Constitution declared India as a Union of States. Although it did not use the word federation, the Indian Union is based on the principles of federalism.
  • The Constitution originally provided for a two-tier system of government, the Central Government representing the Union of India and the State governments. Later, a third tier of federalism was added in the form of Panchayats and Municipalities.
  • Separate Jurisdiction: The Constitution clearly provided a threefold distribution of legislative powers between the Union Government and the State Governments. It contains three lists:
    • Union List: It includes subjects of National importance such as defence of the country, foreign affairs, banking, communications, and currency.
      • Subjects need a uniform policy on these matters throughout the country.
      • The Union Government alone can make laws relating to the subjects mentioned in the Union List.
    • State List: It contains subjects of State and local importance such as police, trade, commerce, agriculture, and irrigation.
    • Concurrent List: Both the Union as well as the State Governments can make laws on the subjects mentioned in this list.
      • If their laws conflict with each other, the law made by the Union Government will prevail.
      • Examples: Forest, trade unions, marriage, adoption, and succession.
    • Residuary subjects are legislated by the Union Government.
  • Unequal Power to States: Some States like Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram enjoy a special status under certain provisions of the Constitution (Article 371) due to their peculiar social and historical circumstances. These special powers are especially enjoyed in relation to the protection of land rights and culture of the indigenous peoples.
  • Little power to Union Territories: These areas are too small to become an independent State and could not be merged with any of the existing States. For example, Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, or Delhi.
    • They do not have the same powers as the States.
    • The Central Government has special powers in running these areas.
  • Procedure of Constitutional Changes: The sharing of power between the Union Government and the State governments constitutes the basic to the structure of the Constitution.
    • It is not easy to make changes to this power sharing arrangement.
    • Any change to it must be first passed by both the Houses of Parliament with at least two-thirds majority.
    • Then, it must be ratified by the legislatures of at least half of the total States.
  • Role of Judiciary: It plays an important role in overseeing the implementation of the Constitutional provisions and procedures.

Practice of Federalism in India

The real success of federalism in India can be attributed to its nature of democratic politics. This ensured that the spirit of federalism, respect for diversity and desire for living together became shared ideals in our country.

  • Linguistic States:
    • Creation of Linguistic States: It was the first major test for democratic politics in India.
    • After Independence, the boundaries of several old States of India were changed to create new States to ensure that people who spoke the same language lived in the same State.
    • Some States were also created to recognise differences based on culture, ethnicity, or geography such as Nagaland, Uttarakhand etc.
    • The experience has shown that the formation of linguistic States has actually made the country more united. It has also made administration easier.
  • Language Policy:
    • The Constitution did not give the status of National language to any one language.
    • Hindi was identified as the official language, but Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 40 per cent of Indians.
    • Besides Hindi, there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution.
    • A candidate in an examination conducted for the Central Government positions may opt to take the examination in any of these languages.
    • States too have their own official languages. Much of the government work takes place in the official language of the concerned State.
    • Cautious attitude in spreading the use of Hindi:
      • According to the Constitution, the use of English for official purposes was to stop in 1965.
        o But many non-Hindi speaking States demanded that the use of English continue.
        o Promotion of Hindi continues to be the official policy of the Government of India.
        o Promotion does not mean that the Central Government can impose Hindi on States where people speak a different language.
  • Centre-State Relations:
    • For a long time, the same party ruled both at the Centre and in most of the States. So, the State governments did not exercise their rights as autonomous federal units.
    • As and when the ruling party at the State level was different, the parties that ruled at the Centre tried to undermine the power of the States.
    • After 1990, there was rise of regional political parties in many States of the country. This was also the beginning of the era of coalition governments at the centre.
    • It led to a new culture of power sharing and respect for the autonomy of State Governments.
    • It was supported by a major judgement of the Supreme Court that made it difficult for the Central Government to dismiss state governments in an arbitrary manner.

Linguistic Diversity of India

  • The 2011 Census of India held recorded more than 1300 distinct languages which people mentioned as their mother tongues.
    • These languages were grouped together under some major languages.
    • Languages like Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Bundelkhandi, Chhattisgarhi, Rajasthani etc. were grouped together under ‘Hindi’.
  • The Census found 121 major languages and of these 22 languages are now included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and are therefore called ‘Scheduled Languages’. Others are called ‘non-Scheduled Languages’.
  • Hindi is the mother tongue of only about 44 per cent Indians. If all those who knew Hindi are added as their second or third language, the total number was still less than 50 per cent in 2011.
  • As for English, only 0.02 per cent Indians recorded it as their mother tongue.

Scheduled Languages of India Table

When power is taken away from Central and State governments and given to local government, it is called Decentralisation.

Need of Decentralization

  • There are large number of problems and issues which are best settled at the local level as people have better knowledge of problems in their localities.
  • Democratic participation: At the local level it is possible for the people to directly participate in decision making.
  • A vast country like India cannot be run only through two-tiers. States in India are as large as independent countries of Europe.
  • Federal power sharing in India needed another tier of government, below that of the State governments which resulted a third tier of government.
  • The need for decentralisation was recognised in our Constitution.

Weakness of Decentralisation before 1992

  • Local governments were directly under the control of state governments.
  • No regular elections to local governments.
  • Local governments did not have any powers or resources of their own.

Major step towards Decentralisation in 1992

The Constitution was amended to make the third tier of democracy more powerful and effective.

  • It is constitutionally mandatory to hold regular elections to local government bodies.
  • Seats are reserved in the elected bodies and the executive heads of these institutions for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
  • At least one-third of all positions are reserved for women.
  • An independent institution called the State Election Commission has been created in each State to conduct panchayat and municipal elections.
  • The State governments are required to share some powers and revenue with local government bodies. The nature of sharing varies from State to State.

Rural Local Government (Panchayati Raj)

  • Gram Panchayat:
    • It is there in each village, or a group of villages in some States.
    • This is a Council consisting of several ward members, often called Panch, and a President or Sarpanch.
    • They are directly elected by all the adult population living in that ward or village.
    • It is the decision-making body for the entire village.
    • It works under the overall supervision of the Gram Sabha which have all the voters in the village are its members.
    • It has to meet at least twice or thrice in a year to approve the annual budget of the gram panchayat and to review the performance of the gram panchayat.
  • Block level:
    • A few gram panchayats are grouped together to form what is usually called a Panchayat Samiti or Block or Mandal.
    • Its members are elected by all the Panchyat members in that area.
  • District level:
    • All the Panchayat samitis or Mandals in a district together constitute the Zilla (district) Parishad.
    • Most members of the Zilla parishad are elected.
    • Members of the Lok Sabha and MLAs of that district and some other officials of other district level bodies are also its members.
    • Chairperson of Zilla parishad is the Political Head of the Zilla parishad.

Urban Local Government

  • Municipalities are set up in Towns.
  • Big cities are constituted into Municipal Corporations.
  • Both are controlled by elected bodies consisting of people’s representatives.
  • Municipal Chairperson is the Political Head of the municipality while in a Municipal Corporation such an officer is called the Mayor.

Major issues with Local Governments

  • Though elections are held regularly, Gram Sabhas are not held regularly.
  • Most state governments have not transferred significant powers to the local governments.
  • State governments has also not given adequate resources to them.

Case study of Brazil about combining Decentralization with Participative Democracy

  • A city called Porto Alegre in Brazil has set up a parallel organisation operating alongside the Municipal Council, enabling local inhabitants to take real decisions for their city.
  • The city is divided into many sectors and each sector has a meeting, like that of the Gram Sabha, in which anyone living in that area can participate.
  • There are some meetings to discuss issues that affect the entire city. Any citizen of the city can participate in those meetings.

Interesting points

  • About 25 of the world’s 193 countries have federal political systems whose citizens make up 40 per cent of the world’s population.
  • India has about 36 lakh elected representatives in the Panchayats and Municipalities.

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