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Unitary Features of the Indian Constitution

27-SEP-2016 12:12

    Unitary government is known as a centralized government. In such government all powers held by the government belong to a single, central agency. The central government creates local units of government for its own convenience. A unitary system is governed constitutionally as one single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. All power is top down. A unitary state is a sovereign state governed as one single unit in which the central government has the supreme power.

    Besides the federal features, the Indian Constitution also possesses the following unitary or Non-federal features:

    1. Strong Centre

    The division of powers is in favour of the Centre and highly inequitable from the federal angle. Firstly, the Union List contains more subjects than the State List. Secondly, the more important subjects have been included in the Union List. Thirdly, the Centre has overriding authority over the Concurrent List. Finally, the residuary powers have also been left with the Centre, while in the USA, they are vested in the states. Thus, the Constitution has made the Centre very strong.

    2. States Not Indestructible

    Unlike in other federations, the states in India have no right to territorial integrity. The Parliament can by unilateral action change the area, boundaries or name of any state. Moreover, it requires only a simple majority and not a special majority. Hence, the Indian Federation is “an indestructible Union of destructible states”. The American Federation, on the other hand, is described as “an indestructible Union of indestructible states”.

    3. Single Constitution:-

    Usually, in a federation, the states have the right to frame their own Constitution separate from that of the Centre. In India, on the contrary, no such power is given to the states. The Constitution of India embodies not only the Constitution of the Centre but also those of the states. Both the Centre and the states must operate within this single-frame. The only exception in this regard is the case of Jammu and Kashmir which has its own (state) Constitution.

    4. Flexibility of the Constitution:-

    The process of constitutional amendment is less rigid than what is found in other federations. The bulk of the Constitution can be amended by the unilateral action of the Parliament, either by simple majority or by special majority. Further, the power to initiate an amendment to the Constitution lies only with the Centre. In US, the states can also propose an amendment to the Constitution.

    5. No Equality of State Representation:-

    The states are given representation in the Rajya Sabha on the basis of population. Hence, the membership varies from 1 to 31. In US, on the other hand, the principle of equality of representation of states in the Upper House is fully recognised. Thus, the American Senate has 100 members, two from each state. This principle is regarded as a safeguard for smaller states.

    6. Emergency Provisions:-

    The Constitution stipulates three types of emergencies—national, state and financial. During an emergency, the Central government becomes all powerful and the states go into the total control of the Centre. It converts the federal structure into a unitary one without a formal amendment of the Constitution. This kind of transformation is not found in any other federation.

    7. Single Citizenship:-

    In spite of a dual polity, the Constitution of India, like that of Canada, adopted the system of single citizenship. There is only Indian Citizenship and no separate state citizenship. All citizens irrespective of the state in which they are born or reside enjoy the same rights all over the country. The other federal states like US, Switzerland and Australia have dual citizenship, that is, national citizenship as well as state citizenship.

    8. Integrated Judiciary:-

    The Indian Constitution has established an integrated judicial system with the Supreme Court at the top and the state high courts below it. This single system of courts enforces both the Central laws as well as the state laws. In US, on the other hand, there is a double system of courts whereby the federal laws are enforced by the federal judiciary and the state laws by the state judiciary.

    9. All-India Services:-

    In US, the Federal government and the state governments have their separate public services. In India also, the Centre and the states have their separate public services. But, in addition, there are all-India services (IAS, IPS, and IFS) which are common to both the Centre and the states. The members of these services are recruited and trained by the Centre which also possess ultimate control over them. Thus, these services violate the principle of federalism under the Constitution.

    10. Integrated Audit Machinery:-

    The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India audit the accounts of not only the Central government but also those of the states. But, his appointment and removal is done by the president without consulting the states. Hence, this office restricts the financial autonomy of the states. The American Comptroller-General, on the contrary, has no role with respect to the accounts of the states.

    11. Parliament’s Authority Over State List:-

    Even in the limited sphere of authority allotted to them, the states do not have exclusive control. The Parliament is empowered to legislate on any subject of the State List if Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to that effect in the national interest. This means that the legislative competence of the Parliament can be extended without amending the Constitution. Notably, this can be done when  there is no emergency of any kind.

    12. Appointment of Governor:-

    The governor, who is the head of the state, is appointed by the President. He holds office during the pleasure of the President. He also acts as an agent of the Centre. Through him, the Centre exercises control over the states. The American Constitution, on the contrary, provided for an elected head in the states. In this respect, India adopted the Canadian system.

    13. Integrated Election Machinery:-

    The Election Commission conducts elections not only to the Central legislature but also to the state legislatures. But, this body is constituted by the President and the states have no say in this matter. The position is same with regard to the removal of its members as well. On the other hand, US has separate machineries for the conduct of elections at the federal and state levels.

    14. Veto Over State Bills:-

    The governor is empowered to reserve certain types of bills passed by the state legislature for the consideration of the President. The President can withhold his assent to such bills not only in the first instance but also in the second instance. Thus, the President enjoys absolute veto (and not suspensive veto) over state bills. But in US and Australia, the states are autonomous within their fields and there is no provision for any such reservation.

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    DISCLAIMER: JPL and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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