The Call to Usher in a New Age of True Federal Governance

6 min readFeb 7, 2024

Anis Fathima

Every day, Tamil Nadu faces a new challenge. Tamil Nadu, in particular, has long struggled with problems related to Mullai Periyar, Katchatheevu and sharing Cauvery water. It is now confronting many additional issues, such as the NEET test and Sterlite. Are we contemplating solution to these problems?

While debating the aforementioned issues, all political parties consistently use the phrase “state autonomy.” They believe that by resolving these issues, they will obtain state autonomy. That is also true. Autonomy has taken on the character of’ State rights,’ which has been the backbone of federal systems.’ State autonomy’ does not mean independence or sovereignty of the states, but rather non-interference of the center in the prescribed domain of the states.

The aforementioned issues that Tamil Nadu may encounter stem from the repression of the state’s rights and lack of genuine federalism. Not only in Tamil Nadu, but in many Indian states, the battle for state rights has been ongoing for the past 75 years in various stages. Most crucially, the current tendency of centralization runs counter to the fundamental precepts of federalism, putting states’ rights at risk.

To find solutions to these above-mentioned issues, we must first comprehend India’s structure. India is a democracy, as is well known. The majority of democratic countries have a constitution. The constitution is a set of fundamental principles that govern the administration of a country or state. It can be either unitary or federal. Our Constitution is federal in nature. Federalism refers to the distribution of powers between the federal government and the states, each of which is autonomous in its own right.

Article 246 and the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India deal with the Centre-State relationship. The Seventh Schedule is a colonial-era relic derived from the Government of India Act, 1935. Article 246 of the Constitution mentions three lists in the Seventh Schedule: Union, State, and Concurrent lists. The Constitution defines the sectors that can be exclusively legislated by the Centre, those that can be exclusively legislated by the States, and those that can be concurrently enacted by both the Centre and the States. If a legislation approved by a state legislature clashes with a statute of Parliament on the concurrent list, Parliament law takes precedence. As a result, the Indian Constitutional framework prioritizes legislation approved by Parliament over those passed by the states.

The distribution of powers serves as the foundation of the state under a federal system. Conflicts between the two administrations are unavoidable and all-too-common. One of the most serious grievances of the states against the union administration was that it was intruding on their autonomy even in matters covered by the State Legislative List, and that the Indian union had effectively become a unitary state. Through its amending authority, the Centre encroached on the autonomy of the states. For example, the 3rd, 6th, 7th, and 42nd Amendment Acts brought a variety of state issues under the jurisdiction of the center. This has given the center even more financial, industrial, administrative, and legislative influence. They claimed that the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act shifted five items from the state list to the concurrent list, paving the door for power consolidation. Similarly, the federal spirit was systematically eroded by the center. Through its amending authority, the Centre encroached on the autonomy of the states. For example, the 3rd, 6th, 7th, and 42nd Amendment Acts brought a variety of state issues under the jurisdiction of the center. This has given the center even more financial, industrial, administrative, and legislative influence. The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act moved five entries from the state list to the concurrent list, paving the stage for power consolidation. The federal spirit was gradually eroded by the center.

Governance prior to independence was very centralized. Why should we still adhere to the same rules today?

Former Odisha chief minister B. Das made a good point during the Constituent Assembly deliberations. “There are, Sir, 91 items in List I alone. There are of course some honorable members who have given notice of amendments in regard to particular items. But if there is a general discussion concerning the principles involved in the Union, concurrent and state lists, it will considerably clarify the position and will help us to understand the lists much better.”

Rajendra Prasad, who presided over the discussion, overruled this. As a result, the discussion of specific goods and the terminology used to describe them became the focus of the dispute. Principles of governance were not addressed, and the centralization incorporated in the GOIA 1935 persisted in the Seventh Schedule in 1950.

According to the 1971 report of the Rajamannar Committee (created by the Tamilnadu government), formally known as the Centre-State Relations Inquiry Committee, “The Committee is of the opinion that it is desirable to constitute a High Power Commission, consisting of eminent lawyers and jurists and elderly statesmen with administrative experience to examine the entries of Lists I and III in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and suggest redistribution of the entries.”

Most individuals will agree that India’s administrative and governance structure requires further decentralization. In order to preserve the country’s federal structure, it is imperative that people in the Union Government take a wide perspective of states’ rights and re-evaluate their opinions. We have reached a critical juncture at which we must re-examine the seventh schedule.

We must re-examine India’s federal philosophy, and when we do, we discover one fact: the need for state autonomy. Let me illustrate why state autonomy can be a solution. Revenue resources are divided between the center and federating units in any federation such that the units have adequate financial autonomy. However, in India, state resources are far from adequate. The union list includes all key sources of revenue, and the states’ position is so weak that they exist on the doles of the center. Grants are made to states, but political or party strings may be attached. Because of their limited resources and taxing options, the states are reliant on the union. Though the union has limited direct power over the financial resources allotted to the states under the constitution, the union is always in a position to exert indirect pressure on the states. As a result, the centre’s overall strategy may do a lot to nourish or starve states. Because it controls the purse strings, the union can always persuade states to follow its instructions.,

Above all, the manner the central leadership handles the states while making grants frequently elicits a reaction from the states. They consider it as the most significant restriction on their rights. This will lead to a State Autonomy solution.

A proper federal government must first be established on Indian land before attempting structural change through legislation. Forming a government with all state parties under one national party is comparable to handcuffing the demand for state autonomy and rights. As a result, all of India’s state parties should form a government. All states’ minimal criteria can be met if a regime is formed based on their minimum standards. There is also room for state autonomy to be considered. This is not conceivable, however, when a national party dominates India.

In conclusion, the solution to the issues that not only Tamil Nadu but all of India’s states are facing is a structural reform in federalism. I think that in order to bring about a structural reform, a regime change is first necessary. Legislators create, alter, revise, and abolish legislation. India’s life-blood is the rule of law. Let us get ready to usher in a new age of true federal governance.

(Ms. Anis Fathima S. , B.Sc. graduate in Computer Science is passionate for social change. Currently pursuing a law degree, she combines her technical expertise with legal knowledge to address contemporary issues. She is very much involved in political activism, working towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.)