Context:

The Tamil Nadu government’s decision to shun the usage of the term ‘Central government’ in its official communications and replace it with ‘Union government’ is a major step towards regaining the consciousness of our Constitution.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Basic structure of the Constitution, Federal Structure), GS-I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Unitary System and Federal System
  2. India’s system of Federalism with Unitary Bias
  3. Missing words: “Centre” or “Central Government”

Understanding Unitary System and Federal System

Federalism (Example: U.S.A.)

  • Federalism is a system of government in which powers have been divided between the center and its constituent parts such as states or provinces.
  • In a federation system, there are two seats of power that are autonomous in their own spheres.
  • A federal system is different from a unitary system in that sovereignty is constitutionally split between two territorial levels so that each level can act independently of each other in some areas.
  • State Government has powers of its own for which it is not answerable to the central government.

Unitary System (Example: Britain)

  • In a Unitary Form of Government there is only one level of government or the sub-units are subordinate to the Central Government.
  • The Central Government is supreme, and the administrative divisions exercise only powers that the central government has delegated to them.
  • The powers of the sub-ordinate governments like ‘State Government’ may be broadened and narrowed by the central government.

India’s system of Federalism with Unitary Bias

  • India is a federal system with a tilt towards unitary form of government.
  • It is sometimes considered a quasi-federal system as it has features of both a federal and a unitary system.
  • Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states, ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of States’.
  • The word federation is not mentioned in the constitution.
  • The Drafting Committee chose the word “Union” instead of “Federation” due to various reasons:
    1. The Union of India is not the outcome of an agreement among the old provinces (like in the American Federation).
    2. It is not up to the States to secede from the union or alter their boundaries on their own free will.
  • The Indian Federation is a Union because it is indestructible. Ambedkar justified the usage of ‘Union of States’ saying that the Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, it was not the result of an agreement and that therefore, no State has the right to secede from it. “The federation is a Union because it is indestructible,” Ambedkar said.
  • Though the country and the people can be divided into different States for convenience of administration, the country is one integral whole, its people living under a single imperium derived from a single source.

Missing words: “Centre” or “Central Government”

  • The Constituent Assembly did not use the term ‘Centre’ or ‘Central government’ in all of its 395 Articles in 22 Parts and eight Schedules in the original Constitution.
  • Even though we have no reference to the ‘Central government’ in the Constitution, the General Clauses Act, 1897 gives a definition for it. The ‘Central government’ for all practical purposes is the President after the commencement of the Constitution.

History of choosing the term

  • In 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru introduced the aims and objects of the Assembly by resolving that India shall be a Union of territories willing to join the “Independent Sovereign Republic”.
  • Many members of the Constituent Assembly were of the opinion that the principles of the British Cabinet Mission Plan (1946) be adopted, which contemplated a Central government with very limited powers whereas the provinces had substantial autonomy; however, the Partition and the violence of 1947 in Kashmir forced the Constituent Assembly to revise its approach and it resolved in favour of a strong Centre.

The Intention behind not used “Centre”

  • The members of the Constituent Assembly were very cautious of not using the word ‘Centre’ or ‘Central government’ in the Constitution as they intended to keep away the tendency of centralising of powers in one unit.
  • The ‘Union government’ or the ‘Government of India’ has a unifying effect as the message sought to be given is that the government is of all.
  • Even though the federal nature of the Constitution is its basic feature and cannot be altered, what remains to be seen is whether the actors wielding power intend to protect the federal feature of our Constitution.

-Source: The Hindu

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