The Indian Constitution includes within it a very elaborate and detailed scheme of distribution of powers, functions and responsibilities between the Union and the States Governments. In order to come up with a proper framework for distribution, the constitution framers took into consideration the developments and schemes undertaken in the area of Centre-State allocation of powers in other federal nations. Keeping various social and political factors in mind, the constitution framers apportioned functions between the Centre and the States in a way so as to suit the peculiar circumstances and exigencies of the country.
It is the primary intention of the Indian Constitution to provide sufficient powers to the Centre both in extent and nature so as to maintain and protect the unity and integrity of India. In order to achieve this purpose, the Constitution includes a three-fold distribution of legislative powers between the Central and State Governments; this is provided in the three Lists in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
It is the aim of the Indian Constitution to primarily create three functional areas:
- an area exclusively for the Centre to legislate upon;
- an area exclusively for the States to legislate upon; and
- a common or concurrent area in which both, the Centre and the States, may operate simultaneously. However, overall primacy is given to the Centre.
The respective powers of the State and the Centre are laid down in Article 246 of the Constitution.
1. Article 246(1) confers on Parliament an ‘exclusive power’ to make laws with respect to any of the matters in List I in the Seventh Schedule (the Union List). The entries in this list are such that require a uniform law for the entire nation. The States cannot make any law on the matters enumerated in this list.
2. Article 246(3) confers an exclusive power on the States to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated in List II of the same Schedule (State List). This list includes matters which are best handled by local or provincial governments. The Centre is debarred from legislating on any subject-matter enumerated in this list.
3. In addition to the two above-mentioned lists, the Indian Constitution includes a third list that lays down a wide and detailed concurrent field for the Centre and the States. Article 246(2) confers such power of legislation on both the Centre and the States regarding the subject-matters enumerated in List III of the Seventh Schedule (Concurrent List).
One important aspect that needs to be considered is that the various clauses of Article 246 have been constructed in a specific manner in order to secure the principle of Union supremacy. There is no doubt about the fact that the legislative power conferred on the Centre under Articles 246(1) and 246(2) predominate over the power conferred on the State Legislature under Article 246(3).
It must be kept in mind that the entries in the three legislative Lists are nothing but legislative heads or fields of legislation; they do nothing but establish the area over which the respective legislatures are allowed to operate. Moreover, it is well-established that the interpretation given to the language of the entries Should be as wide and as inclusive as possible. However, in a few cases, multiple entries in different lists or sometimes even in the same list may overlap each other or may appear to be in direct conflict with each other. In such case, it becomes the duty of the Court to enable maximum possible reconciliation of the entries and make sure that a harmonious construction is adopted.
This article is authored by Swagat Sanyal, student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Gujarat National Law University