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10th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses


  1. Who wants federalism
  2. Thousand days of nutrition, and a billion dreams



It is true that the Centre disproportionately controls resources in India; but very few states have shown a zeal to increase their own financial headroom by utilising whatever powers they might have on taxation.


GS Paper 2: Functions & responsibilities of the Union and the States; issues and challenges of federal structure; Devolution of powers and finances to local levels; challenges therein.

Mains Questions:

  1. Though the federal principle is dominant in our Constitution and that principle is one of its basic features, but it is equally true that federalism under the Indian Constitution leans in favour of a strong Centre, a feature that militates against the concept of strong federalism. Discuss. 15 Marks
  2. Our misshapen federalism is not about Centre vs states, but co-produced by political culture in both. Discuss. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Federal vs Unitary forms of governments
  • What is Asymmetric Federalism?
  • Asymmetric Federalism in practice in India
  • Reasons of asymmetric federalism in India
  • Driving force of federalism in India
  • Issues related to asymmetric federalism in India
  • Way Forward

Federal vs Unitary forms of governments

Nations are described as ‘federal’ or ‘unitary’, depending on the way in which governance is organised. In a unitary set-up, the Centre has plenary powers of administration and legislation, with its constituent units having little autonomy. In a federal arrangement, the constituent units are identified on the basis of region or ethnicity, and conferred varying forms of autonomy or some level of administrative and legislative powers.

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What is Asymmetric Federalism?

  • In a federal arrangement, the constituent units are identified on the basis of region or ethnicity, and conferred varying forms of autonomy or some level of administrative and legislative powers.
  • “Asymmetric federalism” is understood to mean federalism based on unequal powers and relationships in political, administrative and fiscal arrangements spheres between the units constituting a federation.

Asymmetric Federalism in practice in India

  • Special provisions to some states: Special provisions’ applicable to States are mainly in the form of empowering the Governors to discharge some special responsibilities. E.g. Articles 371 to 371J
  • Union Territories: These are directly administered by Centre. Also, there are Union Territories with a legislature, and Union Territories without a legislature.
  • Tribal areas and scheduled areas under 5th and 6th schedule.
  • Economic asymmetry: E.g. Finance Commission Grants, providing funds to local bodies, state disaster relief funds and compensates for any revenue loss to states after devolution of taxes.

Reasons of asymmetric federalism in India

  • Economic reasons: Motivation for special status may be purely for expanding economic opportunities and securing freedom from exploitation by larger and more powerful members of the federation. E.g. The erstwhile distinction of special category and non-special category status states.
  • Political factors and preserving group identities: 5th and 6th schedules provide for special governance measures in regions inhabited by ‘Scheduled Tribes’ and ‘tribal areas’ in the country. They aim to protect the Scheduled Tribes in the country by enabling them to develop autonomy and preserve their land, economy, and community.
  • Cultural factors: There are various clauses in Articles 371 to 371J which accord special powers to various states. These special provisions include respect for customary laws, religious and social practices, and restrictions on the migration non-residents to the State. E.g. Article 371G contains special provisions to preserve the religious and social practices of Mizos in Mizoram and their customary law and procedure.
  • Historical: Asymmetric arrangement is also shaped by how British unified the country under their rule and later the way in which the territories were integrated in the Indian Union. E.g. erstwhile Article 370 for Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Administrative and other factors: Union territories were created because they were too small to become independent states or they could not be joined with their neighbouring countries on the account of cultural differences.

Driving force of federalism in India

As BR Ambedkar had put it, “India’s Draft Constitution can be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances.” The imperatives of security, state building, and economic development are always allowed to trump federal pieties. Following Four things sustain federalism:

  1. The first was a genuine concern about whether a centralised state could accommodate India’s linguistic and cultural diversity. The States Reorganisation Act and the compromises on the issue of languages was a victory for federalism. It allowed India to use federalism to accommodate linguistic diversity.
  2. The second underpinning of federalism is actual distribution of political power. The rise of coalition governments, economic liberalisation, regional parties, seemed to provide propitious ground for political federalism. Political federalism is quite compatible with financial, and administrative centralisation.
  3. The third thing that sustains federalism is the political and institutional culture. Because of the increasing presidentialisation of national politics, a single-party dominance with powerful messaging power, and change in forms of communication, the attribution of policy successes or failures might change, diminishing the stature of chief ministers considerably.
  4. The fourth thing that sustained federalism was what Louise Tillin has brilliantly analysed as “asymmetrical federalism” — special exemptions given to various states. But asymmetrical federalism has always been subject to three pressures. For Kashmir, asymmetrical federalism came to be seen as the source, not the resolution, of the security threat. Even in the North-east, local conflicts within the scheme of asymmetrical federalism and a discourse of security allowed the Centre to step in.

Issues related to asymmetric federalism in India

  • Arbitrariness: Special arrangements instituted to meet short term political expediency or administrative discretion can cause degradation of institutions. Such arrangements can result in arbitrary conferring of special favours and in the long run can contribute to greater disharmony and instability in a federation.
  • Shaped by political dynamics: In a centralized federation, the central government has considerable scope to discriminate among the units. The potential for discrimination will be particularly strong when the government at the center is weak and states wield significant control over the center. E.g. coalition government with strong regional political party.
  • Source of tensions: Use of such devices increases the possibilities of new forms of tension emerging between regions which are not addressed through asymmetrical devices. For example, the use of asymmetrical principles in the north-eastern states has led into cascading claims of autonomy raised by groups which fall outside the purview of state recognised regions.
  • Difficult to rollback: E.g. Article 370 was simply a temporary provision designed to expedite the peaceful relation between India and the state before the resolution of the military conflicts. However, it continued for 7 decades, when it was abrogated finally.

Way forward

India’s experience shows that, asymmetrical federalism that is transparent and rule based is a prerequisite for the protection of culturally diverse groups like India. Transparent and rule-based asymmetry is associated with democratic consolidation in multinational federations. It may simply be a means of accommodating diverse group interests within a unified framework.



 In 2017, a staggering 68% of 1.04 million deaths of children under five years in India was attributable to malnutrition, reckoned a Lancet study last year.


GS Paper 2: Issues related to poverty and Hunger

Mains Questions:

  1. The single greatest threat that blocks the promise of India at a foundational level is malnutrition. Discuss 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Status of Malnutrition in India.
  • Causes of Malnutrition in India
  • Consequences of malnutrition upon children
  • Measures: Importance of Poshan Abhiyan
  • Way Forward

Status of Malnutrition in India

  • India is home to 46.6 million stunted children, a third of world’s total as per Global Nutrition Report 2018.
  • Nearly half of all under-5 child mortality in India is attributable to undernutrition.
  • Trend in Malnutrition: Despite decreasing stunting by one fifth during last decade, almost one in three Indian children under five years i.e. 31.4% of children will still remain stunted by the 2022.
  • Inter and Intra State Variations in Malnutrition is found in country with highest levels of stunting and underweight are being found in Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • Prevalence of Multiple Types of Malnutrition among Children: Multiple burden of malnutrition is the coexistence of any two or all three measures of malnutrition: stunting, wasting and underweight.
  • Women and Malnutrition: Children born to women with low BMI and low education level are more likely to be stunted, wasted, and underweight compared to children born to women with normal or high BMI.
  • Anaemia Prevalence: Iron deficiency anaemia remains a major public health concern in India where half of women 15- 49 years of age are anaemic, regardless of age, residence or pregnancy status.
National Nutrition Month: The Crisis Of Malnutrition In India | Swasth India

Causes of Malnutrition in India

  • Poverty: It hinders the accessibility of adequate food.
  • Lack of Awareness: about nutritional needs of infants and young children.
  • Social strains on Women: Early marriages of girls leads to teenage pregnancies resulting in low birth weight of the new-borns, poor breastfeeding practices and poor complementary feeding practices.
  • Male domination: In most Indian families, women even take food after the male members where they get less nutritious food.
  • Lack of health infrastructure leads to poor access to health.
  • Lack of availability of safe drinking water hinders proper digestion and assimilation of food and also cause water and food borne diseases.
  • Poor sanitation and environmental conditions lead to spread of many diseases that sap children’s energy and stunts their growth.
  • Other causes: illiteracy in women and large household size.

Consequences of malnutrition upon children

  • Child Mortality: Malnourished children tend to fall short of their real potential — physically as well as mentally. That is because malnutrition leaves their bodies weaker and more susceptible to illnesses. In 2017, a staggering 68% of 1.04 million deaths of children under five years in India was attributable to malnutrition, reckoned a Lancet study.
  • Hinder Physical Growth:  About half of all children under five years in the country were found to be stunted (too short) or wasted (too thin) for their height, estimated the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey, carried out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with support of UNICEF.
  • Diminishing Academic Performance: Children who survive malnutrition do not do as well as they could. Without necessary nutrients, their brains do not develop to the fullest. No wonder then, they end up performing poorly at school than they otherwise would.
  • During Pandemic:
    • COVID-19 is pushing millions into poverty, reducing incomes of many more and disproportionately affecting the economically disadvantaged, who are also most vulnerable to malnutrition and food insecurities.
    • Pandemic-prompted lockdowns disrupted essential services — such as supplementary feeding under anganwadis centres, mid-day meals, immunisation, and micro-nutrient supplementation which can exacerbate malnutrition.

Measures: Importance of Poshan Abhiyan

Poshan Abhiyan  is a multi-ministerial convergence mission with the vision to ensure attainment of malnutrition free India by 2022.

  • Synergized approach: Different Ministries/Departments at the Centre and States/UTs used to deal with malnutrition in a stand-alone manner. POSHAN will provide the required convergence through National Council for Nutrition and the Executive Committee for POSHAN Abhiyaan at the central level, Convergence Action Plan at State, District & Block level and through Very High-Speed Network at village level.
  • Use of technology: The Abhiyaan empowers the frontline functionaries i.e. Anganwadi workers and Lady Supervisors by providing them with smartphones eliminating the registers currently used by them. The ICDS Common application Software especially developed for this purpose enables data capture, ensures assigned service delivery and prompts for interventions wherever required. This enables real time-monitoring at all levels.
  • Incentivization at various levels: It involves team-based incentives also for Anganwadi workers, ASHA and ANM for achieving targets together along with incentives for the front-line workers like Anganwadi workers for better service delivery, and for early achiever states and UTs.
  • Better People participation: It aims at making elimination of malnutrition a Jan Aandolan by inducing behavioral change across masses, through promotion of understanding of the inter-generational and multidimensional nature of the problem of malnutrition. It also involves social audit mechanism to track the health progress of children.
  • Research and evidence-based interventions: Abhiyan ensures nutrition interventions are guided and informed by latest research and evidence through institutional support by the National Nutrition Resource Centre (NNRC) and the Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC).
  • Targeted approach: It has set itself a steep target of reducing stunting by 2 per cent, anaemia by 3 per cent and low birth weight by 2 per cent every year.

Way Forward

It takes time for nutrition interventions to yield dividends, but once those accrue, they can bring transformative generational shifts. Filling in the nutrition gaps will guarantee a level-playing field for all children and strengthen the foundations for the making of a future super-power.

November 2023