Q. Examine whether the Indian Constitution is federal or not.


Note: this post is a part of our important question answer series on Constitutional Law. You can read other questions by clicking here.




The constitution does not mention the word “Federal” anywhere. However, Article 1 of Indian constitution describes India as a ‘’Union of States. Basically, this means; India is the indestructible union of destructible states.

Our constitution comprises the features of both; federal as well as unitary state, we’ll discuss them properly.

You can read about introduction of Federalism, here.


Federal Features of Indian Constitution

I.                     Two sets of Government

There are 2 sets of government in India and that is union government and state governments. Central government looks after the whole country and state government mainly works for the states.

II.                   Division of Powers

Powers between central government and state governments have been divided by Constitution of India. The seventh schedule of the Indian constitution provides how the division of powers is made between states and central government. Both central and state governments have separate power and responsibilities.

The 7th schedule of Indian constitution consists of union list, state list, and concurrent list.

A.      Union list: It contains all the matters on which only central government can make laws.

B.      State list: It contains all the matters on which state government can make laws.

C.      Concurrent list: It contains all the matters on which both central and state government can make laws.

III.                 Written Constitution

India has the one of the largest constitutions in the world which consist of 395 articles 22 parts and 12 schedules. Every article of Indian constitution is clearly written down and has been discussed in full detail.

IV.                Supremacy of the Constitution

The Constitution of India is regarded as supreme law of land. No law can be made or passed against the constitution of India. The Constitution of India is above all citizens and organizations of the country.

V.                  Independence of judiciary

the functioning of the courts are free from legislative and executive’s control. The decision of the Supreme Court is binding upon all courts and it has the power to interpret the articles of the constitution.

VI.                Bicameral-legislation

In India, the legislature is bicameral. It has two houses and that are Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The upper house of the parliament which represents the states is Rajya Sabha and the lower house of the parliament which represents the people in general is Lok Sabha.


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Non-Federal Features of Indian Constitution

I.                     Single Constitution

There are no separate constitutions for the states in India and it is applicable to both the union as a whole and the states. In a true federal system there are separate constitutions for the state and union.

II.                   The constitution is not strictly rigid

Another non-federal feature of Indian constitution is that it can be amended by the Indian parliament. Parliament on many subject matters does not need the approval of the state legislature to amend the constitution. However, in true federal government both state and central government take part in the amendment of the constitution with respect to all matters. Therefore, those constitutions are rigid and not easy to amend.

III.                 Single Citizenship

In India citizens only have single citizenship of the whole country. No citizenship of the states will be awarded here.

IV.                Disproportionate representation:

In India the upper house (Rajya Sabha) and lower house (Lok Sabha) do not have equal representation in states. The state which is more populous have more representatives in the Rajya Sabha than the state which is less populous. But, in a true federal government the upper house of the legislature has equal representation from the constituting states.

V.                  Unified judiciary

The Indian judicial system is unified or integrated and supreme court of India is regarded as the highest court of justice in the country. High courts and all other subordinate courts are under the supervision of the supreme court.

VI.                Proclamation of emergency

President of India has been given emergency powers by the constitution of India. Once emergency is declared by the president the central government become dominant and the state governments lose their liberty and this is against the principles of a federal government.


Judicial prospective

In Keshvanand Bharti Vs. state of Kerala and others, it was declared that constitution comprises some of it basic features, which can’t be amended.

In S.R. Bommai v Union of India, the court stated that while imposing president’s rule in a state, president should exercise his powers only after his proclamation is approved by both houses of parliament. The power of president to dismiss a state government is not absolute. The court further opine federalism as the one of the basic structure of our Constitution.

State of West Bengal v Union of India, in this case, the Supreme Court held that the Indian constitution does not promote a principle of absolute federalism and states are not sovereign to frame their constitutions.



Dual-polity, supremacy of Constitution, Written and rigid Constitution, bicameral legislature in Centre and independent judiciary are the basic features of the Federalism, and in India, we have adopted all of them. But at the same time, strong Centre, refrain from using word “Federal” in whole Constitution, Parliament’s authority over state list, single citizenship, flexibility in amending the Constitution, disproportionate representation of states in Council of States, provisions related to all India services and integrated Judiciary; made India a unitary governance system.

Authors like Dicey, characterized our Constitutional system as Quasi-federal, but this view also not accepted universally.

Hence, we can conclude that Generally our Constitution is federal, but in exceptional circumstances: like in times of emergency, it becomes unitary.


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