Nature of the Indian Constitution : Federal or Unitary

Nature of Indian Constitution

Is the Constitution of India Federal?

Generally,  the constitution is either federal or unitary in nature. In a unitary constitution the powers of the government are concentrated in one government viz. central government. But in a federal constitution the power is shared equally between the center and the state Governments. And both are independent in their own spheres.

If we talk about Indian constitution,

There is a difference of opinion among the Constitutional jurists about the nature of the Indian constitution. One view is that  our constitution is quasi federal and contains both unitary and federal features while  the view of framers of the Indian constitution is that Indian constitution is a  federal constitution.

To know the nature of Indian Constitution there is need to examine the essential characteristics of the federal and unitary constitutions.

Essential Features in favour that Indian Constitution is federal

Distribution of powers

The most essential feature of the federal setup is the division of power between the central and state levels. The Seventh Schedule of the indian Constitution contains three lists of subjects which show division of power between the two sets of government.The constitution establishes a system of double Government with the central Government  at one level and the state Government at the other( dual polity).There is a division of powers between the Centrl and the State Government.Each level of Government is Supreme in its own sphere.

Each federal state has a written and inflexible constitution. Establishing a federal state is complicated and it is impossible to run a country without written rules. India has the longest structure in the world. And the process of reform is very difficult when we talk about the rigidity of the strict constitution.

A written Constitution

Each federal state has a written constitution. Establishing a federal state is complicated and it is impossible to run a country without written rules India has the written leigntiest Constitution in the world.

Rigidity of Constitution

Naturally, a written constitution has its rigidity.A Constitution which is the supreme law of the land must also be rigid. It is very difficult & complicated to process any amendment in a rigid Constitution. The Constitution of India is written and is supreme. The procedure of amendment cannot be altered without the consent of the majority of the States.Thus it is rigid also.

Supremacy of Constitution.-

The federal state gets  its existence from the constitution. The constitution is considered as the supreme law of the land and No any law can be made out of the perifery of the constitution. The organs of the state i.e. the executive, the legislature and the judiciary perform their respective duties in accordance with the Constitution.In this way Indian Constitution is also a Supreme law.

Independence of Judiciary

In a federal setup the power is divided between the center and the states, so an independent and neutral body is needed to maintain the division of power. This independent body is the court or judiciary. The Supreme Court of India has rights to decide disputes between the Union and the States,or the States inter se

Features Against The Federation of Indian Constitution

Appointment & Power of Governor

Governors are only the Constitutional head of the states although act on the advice of his ministers. They are appointed by the President ( Art. 155) and accountable to the President of India. So it can be stated that they are not free in their area.

Power of Parliament to make laws

Under Article 249, if Parliament passes the bill by a 2/3 majority of the Rajya Sabha and is in the national interest, Parliament may legislate on matters listed in the State List.

Parliament’s power to formnew States and alter boundaries of existing States.-

The Parliament of India can create a new state, reduce the existing state,It may increase or diminish the area of any State and it may alter the boundaries or name of any States (Art. 3) Thus the existence of the State depends upon the sweetwill of the Union Government.

Emergency provisions

‘When the emergency is proclaimed under Art. 352, (due to war or external aggression or armed rebellion) a significant change in the dividing force between the state and the center occurs. The state executive is directly controlled by the central government. When the emergency is proclaimed under Art. 356, (due to failure of constitutional machinery in States) then President can dismiss the State ministry and dissolve the Legislature and assume all the functions of the State. Thus the normal distribution of powers between the Centre and States, which is the basic element of a federal constitution, is completely suspended.’(1)


In short, “it can be concluded that the Indian Constitution is neither purely federal nor purely unitary but is a combination of both can be said quasi- Federal Constitution also. It is a union of composite State of a novel type. It enshrines the principle that in-spite of federalism, the national interest ought to be paramount. Thus, the Indian Constitution is mainly federal with unique safeguards for enforcing national unity and growth.”(2)

Nature of Indian Constitution

Legal study material


  1. Dr. J. N. Pandey, ‘Constitutional Law of India’ Central Law Agency 2020
  2. Ibid

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