In the contemporary world, marked by industrial technology as a foundation for effective power, uniformities on a broad geographic scale are necessary to viability in the effective use of modem techniques of production and distribution.
Smaller units of government lack requisite power, geographic span of control, and knowledge of resources to cope with inescapable issues related to economic stability and development, and are unable to assume satisfaction of basic needs and broadening wants, not to be neglected in the age of the common man.
Moreover, the world today is as much scared of depressions, as it is scared of war, and this aspect of the problem emphasises the recognition of the need for the reallocation of powers in a new balance, not excluding strong local organs of government.
A. H. Birch has aptly said that a federal government is not limited to its own sphere when it passes a good deal of legislation in relation to welfare, and state governments are not in practice independent of the federal government when they derive a considerable proportion of their revenues from federal payments.
This is precisely the position in the United States, Canada, Australia and Switzerland and it is equally applicable in India too. The execution of welfare projects cannot succeed in isolated moulds, particularly when a State is constitutionally committed to a welfare ideal. The Constitutions of the United States and India are both committed in their Preambles to promote general welfare and to establish justice.
The welfare content of the State can only be secured through the joint and cooperative efforts of the national and state governments. In India the cooperation is sought in different ways and the best example in this respect is the Zonal Councils.
According to Morris-Jones, Zonal Councils have proved “a most useful device in the development of cooperative federalism.” These Councils help to facilitate cooperation between the Centre and the states, and the states themselves.
As regards the United States Carl Friedrich says, “there has grown up a wide area of effective cooperation between the states and the federal government which is mutually advantageous and not necessarily destructive of the broader constitutional division of powers.
The federal government stands in need of the more intimate contacts with local problems in such fields as social security, while on the other hand the local authorities in the poorer sections of the country may require the financial aid of the national government.
The forms which such cooperation between the federal and state governments may take are many. Grants-in-aid, federal tax credits, cooperative use of personnel, as well as agreements and formal compacts have been employed.
“In recent years there has been an increasing amount of dovetailing of legislation, examples of which include making federal laws contingent on state activities, suggesting model statues, and protecting through federal legislation one state against the unfair competition of another.”
Economic planning on a unified basis has, indeed, the effect of centralizing power, but this is consistent with those tendencies of cooperative federalism which have operated in the federal systems of the United States, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.
In India, the preparation, defining the stages in the execution of the plan, allocation of resources and fulfillment of targets are decided by mutual consultation and understanding.
“The plan”, according to V.T. Krishnamachari, “is a joint national enterprise in which the Centre and the States are partners, united in a common purpose and working with agreed policies in different fields of national development.”
The dominant spirit of federalism is, therefore, not competitive, but cooperative exercise of authority by different governments. The traditional theory of federalism is a political anachronism and the concept of ‘dual sovereignty’ is untenable now, Birch defines federalism as a system of government “in which there is a division of powers between one general and several regional authorities, each of which, in its own sphere, is coordinate with others, and each of which acts directly on the people through its own administrative agencies.”
He eliminates from his definition the, term “independent” within “its own sphere,” although he retains the “coordinate” character of government at both levels. But M.J.C. Vile does not agree with Birch. He says that the coordinate status of the federal and regional governments is as difficult to sustain as that of their independence in the spheres assigned to them.
Their status of equality, he asserts, “may be defensible in legal terms, but it is very difficult to interpret in terms of power and influence.” The leadership of the central government is unchallengeable and all federal unions have moved alike in the same direction.
It does not, however, mean that the federal government should become so dominant that it should always dictate its decisions. What distinguishes a unitary system from a federal polity is that no level of government in a federation is wholly or continuously subordinate to the other. Federalism, with its division of powers between the central and regional authorities is, as Carl ‘Friedrich says, “a main stay of constitutional government.”
But neither of the two is wholly dependent or independent of another. The functions of the State cannot be divided into water-tight compartments. Nor can they be construed as static. The purpose of the State can only be secured through the joint and cooperative efforts of both national and regional governments.
Both act independently within the spheres assigned to them, but when the vital interests of the State intervene the decisions of the national government, as the bearer of national security and prosperity of the realm, should prevail, though they may concern matters outside its jurisdiction.
Vile, accordingly, defines federalism as “a system of government in which central and regional authorities are linked in a mutually interdependent political relationship; in this system a balance is maintained such that neither level of government becomes dominant to the extent that it can dictate the decision of the other, but each can influence, bargain and persuade the other.
Usually, but necessarily, this system will be related to a constitutional structure establishing an independent legal existence for both central and regional governments, and providing that neither shall be legally subordinate to the others.
The functions of government will be distributed between these levels (exclusively, competitively or cooperatively), initially perhaps by a constitutional document, but thereafter by a political process, involving where appropriate, the judiciary; in this process, the political independence of the two levels of government is of the first importance in order to prevent one level from absorbing all effective decision-making power.”
What really matters in a federation is whether the centre and the States ordinarily enjoy autonomy within the spheres assigned to them. Such a constitutional division of powers, is, no doubt, a restraint which both the sets of government exercise upon each other, but it “should not, blind us to the fact,” observes Carl Friedrich, “that all governmental units share in the common task of accomplishing the ‘will of the people’.”
He rejects the argument advanced by Miss Jane P. Clark that “an emphasis on separateness or rivalry tends to forward the least desirable developments in American government today” and says that this remark “belittles the constitutional importance of divided powers.”
Federalism constitutes a device for preserving constitutionalism. Not all the accretion of power to the central government represents a net loss to the regional governments. The latter have been steadily gaining power, from two sources; from the development of new governmental functions, and by the transfer of functions from the local areas.
The same forces that have made for centralization within the nation have also promoted the transfer of local power to the regional governments. This apart, the self-consciousness and self- assertiveness of regional governments deter even a strong centre from intervening without a convincing cause which it may be able to plead at the bar of public opinion.
In a democratic set-up the actions of government are ever under scrutiny. No government forgets that tomorrow is the day of election. If the central government ventures to trespass the limits ordinarily assigned to it, it shall have to pay the penalty at the next election.
The conclusion is obvious. Consistently with the interests of the modem world there are certain subjects hitherto assigned to regional governments, such as, agriculture, industry, commerce, finance, education, sanitation or transport that cannot be exclusively placed under regional management.
The doctrine of state-rights cannot be pushed far in an age which is outgrowing national independence itself. So far as the major activities of the State are concerned, there is an imperative need of centralised normative legislation, leaving supplementary legislation and administration to federal units.
They can have a free hand in minor affairs. In fact, there can be no minor affair in the context of planning and welfare activities.
Yet, on the whole the range of co-operative activities is becoming so vast and the need of local adaptation, administrative decentralisation and all round- consultation so urgent that federal units may be expected to retain a large share in the transaction of public affairs. While they may lose in height, they are sure to gain in breadth.
According to Richard H. Leach, a United States expert on federalism: ‘in operation federalism requires a willingness, both to cooperate across government lines, and to exercise restraint and forbearance in the interests of the entire nation.”
Of late, a new concept of creative federalism has emerged in the United States. The advocates of creative federalism put emphasis on getting the job done without regard to who is in the pivotal role, the centre or the units of a federal polity.
India has yet to learn the lessons of cooperative federalism and if she can imbibe the spirit of creative federalism, it will certainly be a movement for the regeneration of the country.
India today is in the tight grip of separatist trends, if not always for secession, at least of particularism, that is, recognition of the need for separate and special treatment to a particular region or state.
At no stage after Independence the situation was so grim as it is today. Soaked in deep regionalism and diversity of various varieties the spirit of nationalism has not enthused the people with the consciousness of unity.