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Is Federalism used only for ‘branding’ in India?

1. Introduction:

We all know that the Indian Constitution terms itself to be ‘Ferderalistic’ along with a few explicitly mentioned unitary features like the ones adopted during emergencies. It is then a misnomer to call India as a Federal or a “quasi federal” nation. The former is an undefined concept in our Constitution, yet it is bagged under the head ‘basic structure’, which in no way can be amended using the amendment provision[1]

2. Favoritism a backlog: 

Stains of favoritism are seen when the executive head of the State inclines towards the President of India while giving his assent to state originated bills. Governors are appointed and are not elected. Such Governors mostly belong to the category of political bureaucrats who are party centered. This in turn makes them devoid of working for public cause at all times. The call to nominate renowned academicians, social activists, Noble prize winners, people with in-depth subject matter understanding as the state’s executive head, have fallen only on deaf ears. Dishonesty and duplicity has seen a tremendous welcome with corrupt practices.  The judgment pronounced in S R Bommai v. Union of India[2] in 1994 puts a check on the Governors from exercising arbitrary power. 

3. Fall of rapport between the Centre and states:

Article 256 obligates the state to comply with the parliamentary laws and the directions of the Centre, in cases where the Centre feels such necessity. Again, under Article 249 and 250 the Centre is empowered to process matters explicitly mentioned under the State list if a proclamation of emergency is in operation or considering the interest of the nation in toto. Many more provisions in the Indian Constitution makes the Centre super-powered in significant matters where the state’s intervention or inter-state councils operations are indispensable. The same incommunicado tradition is put in play during this bizarre crisis period too. 

4. Covid-19 and missing federalism: 

4.1. Arrears of active consultation sessions:

This Covid-19 pandemic has clearly broadcasted how single handed the Centre takes decisions for the entire country with the State heads acting just as mere consulting puppets.

Section 11 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 states that:

A “National Plan” can be formulated to encounter the emergence of disaster for the whole of the country.

Section 11(2) calls for the consultation of:

1. The State Governments and 

2 .Expert bodies and organizations in the field of disaster management which is absent in our case.

4.2. Outcome of implementing same principle in varied states:

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This pandemic is new to the entire human species. Our research scientists were not prepared for facing this challenging situation. Though we have crossed the initial days of the catastrophe, we are yet to completely analyze the virus’s spreading pattern. There exists variance in the doubling rate and the number of deaths accounted in every state. This is due to the dissimilarity in the lifestyle of people, population density in relation to the size of the state, literacy rate, age factor etc. of every state. In Kerala, the literacy rate is high and the buildings are not constructed in a jam-packed trend. While, Mumbai is a chock-full city with a vast slum area. So installing the same set of guidelines and lockdowns in all the differing states would result in vain. Cause, requirements and consequences must be probed through discussions by the Centre with every state cabinet to arrive at a concluding list of do’s and don’ts which would help in curbing the spread in the respective states.

5. Blunders in Centre’s order:

5.1. Migrants- The sufferers:

The initial lockdown imposed in India was a unilateral decision by the Centre which left many migrant laborers and people travelling on official and personal agendas stranded in non-native land. Movement of migrant laborers became a burning issue as migrants forced themselves to walk a stretch of even 3000 and odd kilometres to reach their hometowns. Nobody was spared including pregnant women, tender kids, teenagers, mid and old aged people who desperately wanted to reach their homes but unfortunately lost their lives in the tiring journey. So the Centre before shutting down the entire nation, should have conceived a solution for the floating population to achieve amicus remedy. This could have been achieved by conducting inter-state discussions. Many human lives were given prey at the cost of the centre’s unilateral administration.

5.2. Helpless vehicles on road:

Again, the nationwide restraint left heavy vehicles and trucks shipwrecked in high terrains and low roads, without any scope for movement of goods. Goods categorized as ‘essentials’ were allowed to be transported, while a certain list of goods which had obtuse links with the essential commodities was boycotted from movement. For example, the agriculture sector came under the head ‘essentials’. While harvesting machines and ploughing machines fail to fall under the ‘essential’ list and there was no possibility to reach them to locations where its use was highly significant. This was because of it being classified as ‘non-essentials’. Lack of connecting links in a chain resulted in such kind of hardship and many other remote inconveniences. This was later sorted out by requests made by the farmers.[3]

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After overcoming the state of crisis, we experienced a surplus of good situation. The State was authorized to have only minimal inter-state transportation which resulted in overabundance of goods. Inability to foresee such a cringe situation and incapability to make warehouse available for the storage of perishable goods, made things move out of our hands. Not all crops are grown in all the states. Unless smooth flow of goods is appreciated with required augmenting infrastructures, India will not have to choose options of importing commodities.

5.3. Story of a farmer drenched in dismay:

A true incident where a farmer in Coimbatore city, Tamil Nadu, burnt his entire three acre farm land bearing ‘poovan’ variety bananas portrays a distressed phase. His reason for taking this extreme decision was zero transport facility between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He then decided to sell at least the left out fibres from the trees, which was predominantly used for stinging garlands. But that also resulted in vain as the flower merchants were hit very hard which made them hesitant to take the fibre even for free. The farmer, our lives savior incurred a loss of 3 lakhs due to the Centre’s solitary way of ruling. This true incident of one farmer is the untold story of many farmers throughout India. This gives us a strong reason to not to be surprised by the huge number of suicides by poor farmers.

5.4. States dangling in the hands of Centre:

The State government of TamilNadu sent pleas to the Centre requesting to minimize flight services to the State.[4] The Centre negatively responded to this, so that the Vande Bharat Mission could go in a full swing. Again the Centre failed to meet the state felt need to bring the hazardous situation under control. 

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandates companies to contribute a certain amount from their turnover to contribute for societal needs. During the pandemic, this allocation directly goes to the PM-CARES FUND, thus restraining donations to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.[5] This trembles the state’s financial stability. Repeated claims are put forth by the State to get the Centre’s affirmation for the proposed monetary requirement based on the budget drawn to set up medical infrastructures. This is demotivating for the officials in the states on the following grounds:

  1. It is a time consuming process,
  2. No decision making power is vested in the hands of state to meet the contingencies,
  3. Re-planning the budget if the Centre fails to acknowledge the full proposition made by the state. 
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6. Federalism- The mantra:

As citizens who face the impact of decisions taken by the government, we must propagate for an unbiased relation between the Centre and the States. The Centre without exhibiting its predominance in ruling and legislating laws, must catalogue all grave inconsistencies in each State by conducting a thorough paper and field work. Decentralization of powers was not included in the Indian framework without a cause. So hierarchical management must be widely incorporated in the daily being of our Country. Autonomous working power of the three tier system in every state must be effected. Federalism must become the slogan and a driving force of our mother India. Together and united we stand as one huge herd; we can relish the true spirit of our holy Constitution which was imbibed by our thoughtful law makers.

[1] Constitution of India, Article 368.

[2] S R Bommai v. Union of India, 1994 S.C.C. (3) 1 (India).

[3] Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee, Containing COVID-19 impacts on Indian agriculture, Prevention Web (16 Apr, 2020),

[4] Mohamed Imranullah S., T.N. Requested fewer Vande Bharat Mission Flights, The Hindu (June 30, 2020, 00:16 IST),

[5] Shishir Sinha, Contributions to PM CARES Fund will be considered as CSR: Centre, The Hindu Business Line (May 27, 2020),

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Vidhya R
Student - SASTRA Deemed to be University