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Types of Government

On the basis of relationship between the centre and the units the State structure, the governments may be classified into two:

  1. Unitary and
  2. Federal.
Unitary Government Federal Government
All the powers of government are vested in the central government The powers of government are divided between the centre and the units.
All powers are concentrated in one central authority Both the central and state governments enjoy power within their domain.
It has a supreme central legislature. The constitution here is supreme, and lays down the powers of the two sets of government.
Central legislature and state legislatures enjoy coordinate powers. There are separate legislatures at the central and state levels.
The constitution is not the outcome of an agreement and can be changed by its own supreme authority. Constitution is the outcome of an agreement, and hence it can only be amended by a special procedure.
There might not be an independent judiciary There is an independent judiciary to resolve conflicts between the centre and the states
Unitary system of law prevails. Citizens have to obey two sets of laws.

Unitary Government

Concentration of Powers

A unitary government is one in which all the powers of administration are vested in a single centre. The same is omnipotent. A unitary state may be divided into small units for the sake of administrative convenience. Those units do not have any constitutional status of their own. The constitution does not confer any powers on the units. It is the central government which delegates certain powers to the units on its own accord. The units are subordinate agents of centre. The powers enjoyed by them are the gifts of the centre. These powers can be taken back at any moment. The units are not autonomous and independent.

Single Government

In a unitary state, there is a single set of governmental apparatus. There is a single supreme legislature, single executive body and one supreme judiciary. Eng¬land, for example, is a unitary state.

Written or unwritten Constitution

A unitary govern¬ment may or may not have a writ¬ten constitution. As for example, England and France are unitary states. France has a written constitution but England has none

Rigid or Flexible Constitution

A unitary state may or may not have a rigid constitution. For example, the constitution of England is flexible but that of France is slightly rigid.

No Special Judiciary

There is no need of having a special judiciary with wide powers of judicial veto in a unitary government. The highest court of U.K., for example, cannot sit in judgment over the law passed by Parliament.

Federal Government

Division of Powers

In a federal government the powers of administration are divided between the centre and the units. The powers may be distributed in two different ways. Either the constitution states what powers the fed¬eral authority shall have, and leaves the remainder to the federating units, or it states what powers the federating units shall possess and leaves the remainder to the federal authority. The remainder is generally known as residuary powers.

The first method is found in America and the second in Canada. The federal government in U.S.A., for example, is weak in relation to the states whereas the federal government in Canada is more powerful. In a federation both the federal and state governments are independent and autonomous in the spheres of their powers. One is not subordinate to the other. Both derive their powers from the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. The powers enjoyed by the units are original. They are not delegated by the centre.

Separate Government

In a federal form of government both the centre and the units have their separate set of governmental apparatus. America is a federation of states. States have therefore separate legislatures and Separate executives.

Written Constitution

A federal government must have a written constitution. A federation is a political partnership of various states. There must be a written agreement in the form of a written constitution.

Rigid Constitution

The constitution of a federation should be more or less rigid. It is regarded as a sacred agreement. The spirit should not be easily violated. A flexible constitution allows a scope to the central government to curtail the autonomy of the federating states.

Special Judiciary

In a federation, there are possibilities of constitutional disputes arising between the centre and the units or between one unit and another. All these disputes are to be adjudicated in the light of the constitution. A special judiciary with wide powers must be established. It should act as the custodian and guardian of the constitution. It should be vested with powers of declaring any law, national or local, ultra vires if it is at variance with the Articles of the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law.

Unitary State

Unitary State is that state in which all the powers are vested with one central government and the local governments exist and operate only in a way as is desired by the central government. It involves the creation of a single integrated system of government vested with all the powers which it can exercise by itself or through the delegation of some of these powers to the local governments.

The local governments work as administrative units of the central government. Their powers and role depend upon the wishes of the central government. The Centre Government has the power to change, territorial or other features of the system of local governments. Britain, France, Japan, Italy, China and several other countries are unitary states. Since a unitary state is characterised by a single central government, it is popularly conceptualized as a unitary government. On the basis of these definitions, we can define a Unitary state as the one in which all powers are possessed by a single central government which creates and delegates some of its powers to the local governments working in local areas or provinces of the state.

Features of a Unitary State

We can identify the following features of a Unitary Government:

A Single Central all-powerful Government

In a unitary state, all the powers are vested with one single central government whose authority is supreme over all the parts of the state. It alone legislates for the entire state. Local Governments can make rules under powers specifically delegated to them by the central government.

Local Governments exist at the will of the Central Government

In a unitary state, the local governments are created and given powers by the central government. These work as administrative units or as departments of the central government. They operate as the central government directs. Their boundaries and powers can be changed at will by the central government.

Constitution can be Written or Unwritten

Since there is no division of powers and all the powers belong to the central government, there is no special need for a written constitution. The constitution can be written or unwritten in accordance with the wishes of the people.

Flexibility of the Constitution and Administration

The central government alone has the power to amend the constitution and in this sense the constitution of a unitary state is always flexible.

Single Uniform Administration

The existence of an all-powerful central government exercising power over all the people and places leads to the existence of a single, stable and strong administration for the whole state. The administration is simple in organisation and direct in approach towards all local and national issues. It has neither the complexities arising out of double citizenship and dual administration as characterise a federation. It is a system of government run by a single executive, single legislature and single judicial system.


A Federation is always characterised by the following essential features:

Division of Powers

Division of powers between the central government on the one hand and the state/unit governments on the other is an absolutely essential condition of a federation. In it one part of the authority and power of the state is vested with the central government and the rest is vested with the state governments. Each works within a definite and defined sphere of functions.

There can be different ways in which the division of powers between the centre and states is effected by different federal constitutions. As for example, the US Constitution specifies the powers of the federal government and vests the rest with the state governments, while the Constitution of India defines separately the powers of the union (federal government), powers of the states and concurrent powers which are available in common to both the union and the states, and vests the residuary powers with the union. As such the mode of division of powers can be different but it has to be essentially affected in every federal state. It is the sign post of a federation.

Written Constitution

Since in a federal constitution there is to be affected a division of powers, it becomes essential to effect it in writing in order to make it definite and binding upon both the centre and the states. As such a written constitution is a must for a federation. The constitution is a the deliberate and conscious act of political construction. It must be a written and enacted constitution only then can it affect the division of powers in a clear and efficient way.

Rigid Constitution

A federal constitution has also to be a rigid constitution because it is to be kept immune from unilateral amendment efforts on part of The Centre Government or states. Only the central government and the state governments together can have the power to amend the constitution. Further, in order to maintain stability of the federal organisation, there is prescribed a special method of making the amendments in the constitution.

Supremacy of the Constitution

In a federation the constitution is the supreme law of land. Both the central government and the state governments derive their powers from the constitution. They always work within their own spheres as demarcated by the constitution. No one can violate the provisions of the constitution.

Special Role of the Judiciary

For protecting the supremacy of the constitution, a judiciary is essential for performing the role of an arbiter of disputes between the centre and states or among the state governments in respect of their areas of action and power. The working of a federation always involves the possibility of rise of disputes of jurisdiction between the centre and state governments and here there must be present an umpire, a superior organisation capable of settling these disputes. An independent judiciary armed with the power of interpreting the constitution and of regular such central and state laws as are found to be against the letter and spirit of the constitution, is an essential condition of a federation.

Dual Administration

A federation is characterised by dual administration— one, uniform administration of the central government for all the people of the federation and the other state administrations which are run by the governments of federating units and which differ from state to state or region to region. Each citizen has to obey two sets of law—the central laws and the laws of the state of which he is the resident.

Dual Citizenship

In an ideal federation, each individual gets a double citizenship—one common uniform citizenship of the whole state (Federation) and the second of the province or state of which he is the resident. In the United States, each individual enjoys both the citizenship of the United States as well as of the state of which he is the native resident.

Bicameral Legislature

In a federation, the legislature of the federal government is made a bicameral legislature. In one house the people of the federation are given representation while in the other house the units of the federation are given representation on the basis of equality.

In the United States, the people of the country have been given representation in the House of Representatives and the fifty states of the US federation have been given equal representation, two seats to each state, whether big or small, in the upper house i.e. the Senate. The same is the case in Switzerland.

Equality of all Federating States

One of the key underlying principle of the federation is to treat all states/units of the federation equal, without any consideration for the differences in their size, population and resources. It is because of this requirement that all states are given equal seats in one of the two houses of the central legislature and each enjoys equal rights and autonomy.

Demerits of Federation

Division of Powers can be a Source of Weakness

The division of powers between the centre and states can be a source of big weakness for both. The central government, without the full support of the state governments, often finds it difficult to implement its policies, programmes and decisions. The state governments very often find themselves burdened with the central interferences and the lack of the helping hand of the central government. The division of power proves to be a big hindrance in the way of meeting external and internal emergencies. Federal government is often found to be a weak government during emergencies.

Source of Centre-State Tensions & Conflict

The division of powers between centre and states keeps their relations strained due to the rise of conflicts, disputes and dead-locks regarding their respective spheres of activity. Often there are bitter contests regarding the jurisdiction of the two governments. The issue of centre-state relations always consumes their attentions. The task of maintaining the equilibrium or the balance as specified by the constitution is always difficult and problematic.

Division destroys Responsibility

Division of powers also leads to division of responsibility. It leads to destruction of responsibility. For their lapses, each government tries to blame the other. Mutual mud-slinging is a common feature of the operation of a federation.

Rigid System

The federal system is usually a rigid system because the process of amendment of the constitution is a difficult one. It is not possible for the federation to easily solve many such problems as the need of constitutional amendment for their resolutions cannot be easily met. The rigid method of amendment hinders the evolution of the constitution and its ability to meet challenges that come into its way.

Expensive System

It is a very expensive system. Within the federation several sets of legislatures, executives and judiciaries are at work. Those are a source of big strain on the finances of the state. Duplication in law and administration makes the system highly expensive.

Leads to the birth of Regionalism

The principle of ‘unity in diversity’ or ‘union with autonomy’ in actual practice is always a source of regionalism and parochialism in the political life of the federation. The particular interests pursued by the federal units are often in conflict with the general and national interests being pursued by the central government. Divergence of interests among the federal units and between these and the national interests many a times produces sharp conflict or at least unhealthy competition among the units, and between them and the centre.

Encourages Localism

Further, regional loyalties, racial, linguistic and religious differences almost always remain uppermost in the minds of the people and the forces of secessions and disintegration are almost always and continuously at work in a federation, particularly during the early years of its emergence as a federal state.

But federation is suitable most for the big states. The states with diversities in respect of race, religion, language and culture factors require this system. It is indeed a useful device for reconciling national unity with the maintenance of rights of small states.

Importance of Federation

The importance of Federation are as follows:

Federation alone is suitable for Big States

It is the most suitable system for all big states. In fact, almost all big states of our times, with few exceptions like China, have adopted federalism. It alone provides strength to the idea of the World State. A world state, if and when it gets attained, can be only a World Federation. The sovereign independent states of the world can, at the most, be expected to join into a world federation and not in a World State.

Can help small States to Unite and become Strong

The federal system constitutes the only hope for the small states of the world to combine to secure the gains of union and yet maintain their individual autonomous entities. It alone offers hope to small nationalities claiming the right of self- determination and seeking independence. These can fruitfully secure their objectives by agreeing to form federal unions.

Combines Strength with Autonomy

Moreover, federation constitutes the best possible means to secure strength and autonomy for the small states. By uniting into a federation they can secure their security against possible external threats to them, their economic development through collective efforts, and their individual entities enjoying internal freedom of action as parts of the federation.

Based on Division of Work

Federation involves a division of work between the national government and the governments of the federal units. The national government concentrates upon the task of satisfying the collective national needs and goals of development, the governments working at the state level concentrate upon the satisfaction of local needs. The national government and state governments together combine their efforts to fruitfully exploit all resources and secure rapid and big economic industrial, and technological development through the optimum utilisation of these resources.

More Democratic

A federal system is indeed a truly democratic system. It divides powers between the central government and the state governments and as such ensures democratic process by securing decentralisation of powers. Each government works within its limited and definitely defined sphere of powers as demarcated by the constitution. As such their powers remain limited and restrained. Neither can become despotic or even behave arbitrarily and despotically. Division of powers between the centre and the states is a source of unity in diversity, strength with autonomy, and full local-central participation and efficiency.

Favours Unity in Diversity

With the principle of unity in diversity as its backbone, the federation makes it possible for the states like India, with social, cultural, linguistic, religious and regional diversities to maintain themselves as states. It makes it possible for the state with such diversities to successfully balance the centripetal and centrifugal forces and maintain its unity and integrity as a nation-state. Thus, the federation constitutes the best means for harmonising these diversities with national unity. The self-government at the regional/local levels help the diverse interests to get satisfied without, in any way, restraining the unity and integrity of the nation as a whole.

Natural Form of State

Laski describes federation as a natural form of organising the state. He holds, since the society is federal, constituted by groups of individuals, for it federation alone can be the most suitable form.

Provides Political Educations

Above all, Federation constitutes the best school of political education. The working of several governments within it ensures greater participation of the people in the political process. Being based upon the democratic principles—decentralisation, equal and free participation of all the people, limited government and unity in diversity —the federation acts as an excellent school of political education. Thus there are several merits of a Federation.

Indian Constitution

One of the most important aspects of Indian Constitution is the Federal nature of the Constitution. It is described as quasi-federal or federal with a strong unitary or federal in structure but unitary in spirit or federal in normal times but with possibilities of being converted into a purely unitary one during the Emergency. It is extremely difficult to put our Constitution in any strict mould of a federal or unitary type. It cannot be considered as Unitary because

  1. It provides for distribution of executive and legislative powers between the Union and the States and
  2. Provisions affecting the powers of the States or Union-State the centre cannot amend relations without ratification by the States.

It cannot be considered strictly federal because the residuary powers vest in the Union. As Dr.Ambedkar’s rightly pointed out, rigidity and legalism were the two serious weaknesses of federalism, the Indian constitutions is unique in that it created a dual polity with a single Indian citizenship which could be both unitary and federal according to requirements of time and circumstances. The British introduced all-India services, unified transport and communication system, uniform educational sys¬tem through the medium of English and the universal law under modern jurisprudence which helped in unifying the country.

The development of the federal structure in India started with the Indian Council of 1909 Act (the Morley-Minto Reforms) where the central and the provincial councils were given more powers. A report (Montagu-Chelmsford Report) submitted by the Indian Constitution Reform Committee in 1918 became the basis of the Government of India Act of 1919 which was the beginning of the federal system in India. The Act provided provision for a system of dual government (central and provincial), relaxation of central control over the Provinces through a set of Devolution Rules, provision to prepare budget and levy taxes and include elected members in the Upper and Lower Houses.

According to V. P. Menon (1956) the genesis of the present federalism in India lies in the Simon Report of May, 1930, which supported the concept of federalism. Between 1930 and 1933 three Round Table Conferences were held in which the federal structure of India was discussed. At the conclusion of the First Round Table Conference in 1930 the British Government officially accepted the principle that the form of the new government of India was to be an all India federation embracing British India and the princely states. The recommendations of the Joint Select Committee became the Government of India Act of 1935. Under the Act, the Centre had powers to pass laws on 59 classes of subjects set forth in the Central List, provincial governments had authority to legislate upon 54 classes of subject as set forth in the Provincial List, and both federal and provincial governments were permitted to pass laws on 36 classes of subjects set forth in the Concurrent List.

The Act set forth the major outline of the federal system of government as finally evolved by the Constituent Assembly which framed the present Constitution of the Republic of India in 1950. The framers of the Constitution realized that a real political danger to subnationalism might develop in India because of the variety of linguistic, cultural, religious, regional, economic and ideological differences that existed in the country. To unite the Indian nation in the presence of fissiparous tendencies a strong central authority was considered necessary. The Constituent Assembly endorsed the principle of federalism as the structure of new India. The Constitution of India is the longest Constitution in the world.

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