“Administrative Relationship between Union & State Under the Constitution of India”

“Administrative Relationship between Union & State Under the Constitution of India.”

Author: Astitva Sharma, a student at Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla. {HPNLU}.


The administrative relationship between the Union and the states under the Indian Constitution of 1950 is an interplay between the principles of federalism and administrative dispensation, reflecting the drafters’ vision of a pluralistic nation. The context for this constitutional framework lies in India’s struggle for independence, which was marked by the need to replace colonial rule with a system that respected the nation’s diversity while maintaining unity.

The Indian Constitution, adopted on January 26, 1950, became the foundation of the newly independent nation, after many years of the drafting done by the ‘Constituent Assembly’. Trained under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and other luminaries, he sought to establish a democratic, sovereign, socialist, and secular republic. The historical context of British colonial rule requires a document that addresses the immediate challenges of self-governance and lays the foundations for a just and inclusive society. The Constitution is the product of the collective intelligence of diverse voices representing different regions, communities, and ideologies. It has drawn inspiration from global constitutional practices while adapting to India’s unique socio-cultural fabric. The writer envisioned a governance structure that respected the rule of law, protected fundamental rights, and distributed power carefully between the Union and the states to avoid concentration of power.

Distribution of Powers;

Legislative Powers;

Union List: Exclusive jurisdiction of the Union. List of Union delineating subjects which only the central government can legislate. These exclusive powers allow the Union to deal with issues of national importance and strategic importance. Examples include defense, diplomacy, atomic energy, and currency. This exclusive domain ensures a unified approach to important aspects that require a focused and coherent national policy.

State List: Exclusive jurisdiction of the States. State List includes subjects on which only state governments can legislate. This exclusive authority allows states to develop laws related to local issues and regional priorities. Issues such as policing, public health, agriculture, and land fall under the jurisdiction of each state, facilitating a decentralized governance structure that meets the unique needs and preferences of each region.

Concurrent List: Powers shared between the Union and the State. The Concurrent List contains subjects on which the Union and the State may legislate. However, in case of conflict,  central law will prevail. This universal jurisdiction reflects the cooperative federalism inherent in India’s system of governance. Examples of Concurrent List subjects include criminal law, marriage and divorce, bankruptcy and insolvency, and education. The concurrent nature of these subjects allows for a harmonious balance between national standards and regional variations, encouraging collaboration between the different levels of government. 

‘The meticulous division of legislative powers among the Union and the States serves as a cornerstone of India’s federal structure. It not only prevents encroachment on each other’s domains but also ensures a nuanced and responsive governance model that addresses the diverse needs of the nation. This distribution fosters a spirit of cooperation, striking a delicate equilibrium between centralization and decentralization in the legislative realm.’

Administrative Powers;

Residual Powers: Devolved to the Union. The Constitution grants remaining powers to the Union, ensuring that matters are not expressly assigned to the Union at whatever level of government defaults to the Union. This gives the Union the power to legislate on issues that may arise and develop over time, thus avoiding any legislative vacuum. Residual powers act as a constitutional safety net, allowing the central government to respond to emerging challenges and maintain the overall integrity and coherence of the legal framework.

Intergovernmental relations: Coordination mechanism between the Union and the states. Recognizing the need for cooperation and coordination, the Constitution provides for intergovernmental relations to facilitate communication and cooperation between the Union and the states. Mechanisms such as the Federal Council,  established under Article 263, serve as platforms for consultation and consensus-building on issues of national importance.

These forums aim to promote a spirit of mutual understanding, ensuring that policy decisions are consistent with the diverse perspectives and priorities of the Union and the State. The allocation of administrative powers, including those remaining to the Union and intergovernmental relations mechanisms, plays an important role in maintaining a dynamic and responsive governance structure. Residual powers allow the central government to adapt to changing circumstances, while intergovernmental relations mechanisms promote cooperative federalism, allowing for effective resolution of problems through dialogue and consensus building. 

‘This dual approach ensures both the flexibility needed for administrative adaptability and the  spirit of cooperation needed for a strong federal system.’

Administrative mechanism; 

Union Executive; 

President: Head of the Union. The President of India, as head ceremonial head of state, plays an important role in the administrative framework of the Union. Although the President’s powers are largely symbolic, they are important in areas such as appointing the Prime Minister, dissolving the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the People), and approving bills before they become law. The President acts as a unifying figure, representing the integrity and sovereignty of the nation.

Council of Ministers: Executive power at the Union level. The Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, constitutes the executive power at the Union level. Established by ministers responsible for different portfolios, the agency develops policy, enforces laws, and monitors the activities of different ministries. The Prime Minister, appointed by the President, plays a central role in guiding the government and ensuring the coherent functioning of the executive branch.

Central Administrative Services: Bureaucratic Structure. The bureaucracy at the Union level includes central administrative services such as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). These services form the backbone of the bureaucracy and play a vital role in policy implementation and management. The officials of these agencies are responsible for the effective enforcement of laws, administration of government policies, and the general operation of the Union government.

‘The Union’s executive body, consisting of the Presidency, the Council of Ministers, and the central administrative authorities, is designed to provide leadership, implement policies, and ensure the smooth functioning of the central government. This hierarchical structure establishes a clear chain of command, with each component contributing to the effective management and governance  of the Union, reflecting the principles of accountability and effectiveness of the framework of  constitutional hardship.’

 State executive:

Governor: Head of state. The governor, appointed by the president, serves as the constitutional head of a state state. Although his role is largely ceremonial, the governor plays an important role in running the state. Responsibilities include appointing the prime minister, convening and summoning the state legislature, and approving state bills. The role of the governor is essential in maintaining the constitutional balance between the Federation and the states.

Council of Ministers: Executive power at the state level. Like the Union, each state has a Council of Ministers, headed by the Chief Minister, which forms the executive authority at the state level state. This agency is responsible for policy development, management, and administration of state affairs. The Chief  Minister, who is the leader of the majority party in the State Legislative Assembly, leads the Council of Ministers in formulating and implementing policies at the state level.

State administrative services: State-level bureaucratic structures. State administrative services, including state civil service, state police, and diplomatic missions of the state, form a bureaucratic structure at the state level. These agencies are responsible for implementing state policies, administering laws, and overall administration in the respective states. Officials in these agencies work closely with elected officials to ensure state government operates effectively. The state executive, comprising the Governor, Council of Ministers, and state administrative agencies, is essential for the effective management and administration of each state in India’s federal structure.

‘This decentralized administrative structure helps meet local needs and ensures that state-level policies are appropriate to the unique economic and sociocultural characteristics of the state.’

Dispute Resolution Mechanisms; 

Disputes between the Union and the States are an inherent aspect of a federal structure, and the Constitution of India provides a comprehensive framework for their resolution. The primary mechanisms for resolving such disputes include the judiciary, with the Supreme Court at the apex, and specialized bodies such as tribunals and commissions.


Supreme Court: Union-State Dispute Resolution. The Supreme Court of India, as the highest judicial authority, plays a central role in dispute resolution between the Union and the states. The Constitution grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over disputes of a federal nature, allowing parties to go directly to the high court.  Article 131 confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Supreme Court to hear cases relating to the interpretation of the Constitution, disputes between the Union and the states, and disputes between the states. The Supreme Court serves as the final arbiter, providing authoritative interpretations of constitutional provisions and ensuring uniformity in the application of the law across the country. Landmark cases, such as the Keshavananda Bharati case, set precedents in federalism and the distribution of powers, shaping the contours of administrative relations between the Union and the states.

High Court: Judicial review at the state level. While the Supreme Court handles disputes of national importance, the High Court serves as the main judicial authority at the state level. Each state has a Supreme Court, which is empowered to decide matters involving the interpretation of state laws, conflicts between state entities, and disputes between states and private parties. The Supreme Court serves as the guardian of the Constitution at the state level, providing important oversight over the exercise of state power and ensuring that state actions comply with constitutional principles in France.

‘These specialized bodies provide a focused and efficient mechanism for dispute resolution, catering to the diverse nature of conflicts that may arise in a federal structure. While the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court and High Courts, serves as the ultimate authority in constitutional matters, tribunals and commissions contribute by offering expertise in specific domains, expediting the resolution process and enhancing the overall effectiveness of the administrative dispute resolution framework.’

Emergency Provisions;

The Constitution of India incorporates provisions for emergencies, acknowledging that extraordinary situations may arise, threatening the security, integrity, or governance of the nation. These emergency provisions grant the Union certain powers to deal with critical circumstances, ensuring a balance between central authority and the autonomy of states.

Presidential Rule: Federal Intervention in the Administration** Proclamation of President’s Rule, also known as imposition of Governor’s Rule, is an important emergency provision described in Article 356 of the Constitution. Under this clause, if the President, after receiving a report from the Governor or otherwise, is satisfied that the administration of a state cannot be carried on by the provisions of the constitution, he may assume the functions of the state government. This essentially meant suspending state governments and imposing direct Union rule.  The presidential rule is an extreme measure and is used sparingly. It means federal intervention in the affairs of a state, effectively replacing the state’s constitutional machinery with direct presidential administration through a Federally appointed governor. The main goal is to restore normalcy and constitutional governance to the state.

Suspension of state government: Extreme measures in specific cases. Although presidential rule is a form of emergency provision, there are cases where The situation requires even more extreme measures.  Article 352 of the Constitution empowers the President to declare a state of emergency throughout the country or in certain States or Union Territories. This can be declared in the case of war, external aggression, or armed rebellion, allowing the Union to take extraordinary measures to deal with the emergency. During a state of emergency, the President can suspend the constitutional provisions related to the federal distribution of powers, allowing the Union to assume more centralized control. This includes the power to suspend the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, except those related to life and personal liberty. 

‘The inclusion of these provisions underscores the Constitution’s commitment to protect India’s sovereignty, unity and security  in times of crisis.’

Landmark Judicial Decisions: Shaping the Federal Structure;

India’s judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, has played a pivotal role in interpreting and shaping the federal structure outlined in the Constitution. Several landmark decisions have set precedents and clarified the contours of administrative relations between the Union and the States.

Keshavananda Bharati Case (1973): Basic Structure Doctrine.

The Keshavananda Bharati case is a watershed moment in constitutional jurisprudence. While the case primarily dealt with property rights, the Supreme Court introduced the concept of the “Basic Structure Doctrine.” This doctrine asserts that certain features of the Constitution are inviolable and cannot be amended. It serves as a safeguard against excessive centralization, reinforcing the federal character of the Constitution.

S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994): Judicial Review of President’s Rule.

The S.R. Bommai case established crucial principles regarding the imposition of the President’s Rule under Article 356. The Supreme Court held that the President’s satisfaction with imposing the President’s Rule is subject to judicial review. This decision imposed limitations on the arbitrary use of Article 356, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the federal balance and preserving the democratic fabric of the nation.

Berubari Union Case (1960): Federalism and Territorial Adjustments.

The Berubari Union case dealt with the territorial adjustment between India and Pakistan. While not a dispute between the Union and the States, it set the precedent that Parliament’s power to alter the boundaries of a state should be exercised with the state’s consent. This decision underlines the principle of federalism even in matters of territorial adjustments.


Administrative relations between the Union and the States, as stipulated in the Indian Constitution, is the foundation of the country’s governance structure. This complex balance of power, carefully distributed between central agencies and state governments, reflects the founders’ vision of a united yet diverse India. The allocation of legislative and administrative powers, combined with dispute resolution and cooperation mechanisms, form the foundation of the country’s federal structure. Case studies of important amendments and judicial decisions illustrate the dynamic nature of administrative relations, reflecting the responsiveness of the constitutional framework to current challenges. The bureaucracy at both the Federal and State levels, including the executive branch and bureaucratic structures, plays an important role in implementing policy, ensuring law, order, and responsiveness to people’s needs. The principles of cooperative federalism and fiscal federalism further enhance the effectiveness and inclusiveness of governance.

‘The success of India’s system of governance depends on its ability to strike a harmonious balance between central government and regional autonomy, ensuring that administrative relationships remain a dynamic force and effective  for the prosperity of the nation and the diversity of its people.’

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