To subject the people of a particular State/region to the governance of the Union, that too, with respect to matters which can be best legislated at the State level goes against the very basic tenet of a democracy.Tweet
Democracy and federalism are basic features of the Constitution. The term ‘federal’ is used to indicate the division of powers between the Union or Central Government and the State Governments. While there are certain ‘unitary’ characteristics present in the constitutional structure in terms of which the Union Government has overriding powers in some situations, the existence of federal elements in the form of governments envisaged by the Constitution is a cornerstone of the polity.
This set-up has been described as quasi-federal, asymmetric federalism or cooperative federalism. This Court need not engage in a comprehensive discussion of the nature of federalism postulated by the Indian Constitution. The judgments of this Court in Bommai, Kuldip Nayar v. Union of India, State (NCT of Delhi) v. Union of India, and Swaraj Abhiyan (V) v. Union of India extensively discuss the principles of federalism embodied in the Constitution.
The States neither derive their powers from the Union Government nor do they depend upon the Union Government to exercise their powers under the structure of the Constitution. Part V of the Constitution inter alia provides for the structure, functions and powers of the Union Government. Part VI inter alia provides for the structure, functions and powers of the States. The Constituent Assembly Debates reveal that the federal nature of our Constitution was considered to be one of its significant features.
Dr. B R Ambedkar observed:
“… dual polity under the proposed Constitution will consist of the Union at the Centre and the States at the periphery each endowed with sovereign powers to be exercised in the field assigned to them respectively by the Constitution. …
the Indian Constitution proposed in the Draft Constitution is not a league of States nor are the States administrative units or agencies of the Union Government.”
In response to a remark complaining that the Constitution favoured too strong a Centre, Dr. B R Ambedkar stated in no uncertain terms that the States were not dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority:
“A serious complaint is made on the ground that there is too much of centralisation and that the States have been reduced to municipalities. It is clear that this view is not only an exaggeration, but is also founded on a misunderstanding of what exactly the Constitution contrives to do. As to the relation between the Centre and the States, it is necessary to bear in mind the fundamental principle on which it rests.
The basic principle of federalism is that the legislative and executive authority is partitioned between the Centre and the States not by any law to be made by the Centre but by the Constitution itself. This is what Constitution does. The States under our Constitution are in no way dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority. The Centre and the States are coequal in this matter. It is difficult to see how such a Constitution can be called centralism.
The division of legislative and executive competence between the Union and the federating States and the independence conferred on the federating States in their own sphere furthers representative democracy. The electorate elects their representatives to the State Legislature. The State Government (through the Council of Ministers) is accountable to the Legislative Assembly, which in turn is accountable to the citizenry.
In this manner, the existence of the States breathes life into democracy by empowering citizens to participate in governance. This conception of democracy is fortified by Article 1(1), which states:
“1. Name and territory of the Union. –
(1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. …”
Article 1(1) indicates that the States are essential and indispensable to the constitutional structure of the country. The Union cannot exist without the existence of the States.
In State (NCT of Delhi) v. Union of India, a Constitution Bench of Supreme Court described the importance of States in the federal structure in the following terms:
“131. The interest of the States inherent in a federal form of Government gains more importance in a democratic form of Government as it is absolutely necessary in a democracy that the will of the people is given effect to. To subject the people of a particular State/region to the governance of the Union, that too, with respect to matters which can be best legislated at the State level goes against the very basic tenet of a democracy.”
The existence of States is therefore essential to the constitutional project of democracy and federalism.
Re: article 370 of the constitution, 2023
 (2006) 7 SCC 1
 (2023) 9 SCC 1
 (2018) 12 SCC 170
 (2018) 8 SCC 501