Union and State Legislature of India | Legislative Powers of Union and State Governments

Article 1 of the Indian constitution declares India to be a “Union of States.” India thus establishes a federation. A federation is a composite polity. There are two sets of co-ordinate authorities, each autonomous and independent of control by the other. The two sets combined constitute the total polity.

In terms of Article 246 of the Indian constitution, there is a threefold distribution of legislative powers between Union and the State Governments.  The VIIth Schedule of the constitution contains 3 lists.

  1. The Union List gives exclusive legislative powers on 99 items of all India character such as defence, foreign affairs, currency and coinage etc.
  2. The State list similarly gives exclusive legislative powers to the states on 61 items, now expanded to 65 items. Such subjects are essentially subjects of local interest.
  3. The concurrent list empowers both the union and the states to legislate on 52 items. The subjects in this list are such that both national government and the governments of the states are interested in them. Education, Civil and Criminal procedure code, marriage and divorce, bankruptcy and insolvency etc. are some prominent items in this list.

Both the union and the state governments are competent to legislate on subjects in the concurrent list. In case of conflict between a central law and a state law on a subject in this list; normally, the union law should prevail. If however a state law reserved for the Presidents assent receives, his assent, it will prevail over the union law. The power to legislate on a matter not enumerated in any of the 3 lists is vested in the union Parliament by Art. 248. Thus in India residuary powers belong to the union government.

Thus the distribution of legislative powers by the constitution is heavily tilted towards the centre. Over and above this, the constitution visualizes 5 extraordinary situations, when the Union Parliament will be competent to legislate on matters in the state list.

  •  Firstly, under Art 249, the Parliament may legislate on any subject in the state list, if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution by not less than a 2/3 majority that it is necessary to do so in the national interest.
  • Secondly, under Art 250, the Union Parliament may legislate on state subjects when a Proclamation of National emergency is in operation under Art. 352.
  • Thirdly, under Art 252, the Parliament may legislate on state subjects on request by the legislatures of two or more states.
  • Fourthly, under Art 253, the Parliament is competent to legislate on subjects in the state list for the implementation of international treaties, a agreements or convention with foreign states.
  • Finally, when a breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state occurs and there is a consequent President’s rule in state under Art. 356, the powers of the State Legislature are exercised by the Parliament.

India is a quasi federal state rather than a truly federal state. In his opinion, the Indian constitution is a unitary constitution with subsidiary federal features, rather than a federal constitution with subsidiary unitary features.

The unitary or the centralizing tendency in India is very strong. In all federations in the world today, the centralizing tendency is very marked. But in India, this tendency is so strong, that the state governments constantly live in fear of central intervention. There is hardly any meaningful area of state autonomy.

There are historic reasons why the founding fathers made India an over centralized union. With its vast size and manifold diversities, the fissiferrous tendencies are inherent in India. To hold such a diverse polity under one-fold, it was deemed necessary that the central government should be armed with enough powers to check divisive tendencies.

Yet, the states are not made subordinate units of the centre. In normal times, they have been granted enough autonomy to act as independent centers of authority. Prof. D.N. Banerji was right in his observation that India is a federation in peace times and a unitary state in time of emergency.