Centre State Relations and Power Separation

The meaning of the theory of separation of powers is ‘The theory that the functions of the government should be performed by different bodies of persons, that each department should be limited to their area of action without encroaching upon other, that it should be independent within that sphere is called the theory of separation of powers. Simply said the theory of separation of powers is the theory that advocates that the three functions of government should be performed by three separate organs, powers need to be decentralized and dispersed.

The three organs of government namely the legislature, executive and the judiciary, perform the three essential functions of rule – making, rule-application, and rule-adjudication. Undoubtedly these are interrelated and interdependent functions and yet it is deemed essential that these should be performed by three different organs. It is necessary for preventing the government from becoming arbitrary and despotic as well for securing the rights and freedoms of the people.

The theory of separation of powers holds that the three organs of government must be kept separate and independent from one another because any combination of these into a separation of powers are essential instruments for the health of the government and the people alike the liberty of the people can be protected better when there is no centralization of the three governmental powers in the hands of one or two organs.

Distribution of powers functionally

This is necessary for two obvious reasons:

Benefits of specialization may be secured.

Responsibility may be more definitely located.

Evidently some considerable power must be vested in those who are expected to do the restraining.

Based upon this principle of distribution, all the powers of government have long been conceived as falling within one or another of three great glasses, according as have to do with :-

The enactment of making laws

The interpretation of these laws

Their enforcement

In the modern context

After its systematic enunciation by Montesquieu [1] , the theory of separation of powers began influencing the thinking of the people, political scientists and constitutional experts. The declaration of rights adopted after the French revolution clearly stated that, “every society in which separation of powers is not determined has no constitution."

The real big support to this theory came from the founding fathers of the American constitution accepted its importance in full as the essential for safe guarding and persevering liberty and rights. They incorporated the separation of powers in the US constitution. This theory particularly after its adoption by the US constitution has been positively influencing the thinking of political scientists and constitutional makers of almost all the states. It stands universally accepted as an ideal condition for the healthy, impartial & free working of the judiciary.

The government has certain functions to perform in order to serve the purpose of the state. If functions are taken as powers, then the idea of service entirely disappears and the organs of government become invested with power. Wherever there is power there is force. A government having its foundation on power becomes an engine of force.

The activities of government group themselves into three divisions these divisions are not a matter of theory but it is a practical fact associated with the character of the functions themselves. It is one thing to legislate another to administer and a third to legislate another to administer and a third to judge. By assigning each of these functions to different branches of government composed of separate personnel and following their own mode of action separation is obtained. Such a statement

Basis of theory

The theory of separation of powers is based on the principle that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ [2] Concentration of powers in a single hand is most dangerous and leads to despotism. It prevents the government from acting arbitrarily, it is essential to distribute its powers into three separate organs in such a way that each organ should be limited to its own sphere of action.

Centre-State relations

The question of centre-state relations have been viewed since the general elections of 1967 almost entirely in terms of politics. Actually, it should be considered primarily from the economic point of view, namely, the rapid development of the national economy. The county’s pace of development has suffered a significant setback in the early 70s. This has been because of political instabilities in some states and the lack of understanding between many centre and state governments.

While the problem of centre-state relations did not acquire serious importance before 1967 because of congress governments both at the centre and states, since the general elections in 1967 it has become a major issue. In a country of India’s size and linguistic and regional diversity, it was not to be expected that the political complexions of the state governments would be uniform. It was a lucky historical accident that the Congress had two decades of virtually monopolistic hold over the entire country. It is unlikely to recur.

The habit of anti-Congress parties that come to power in the States has been to regard themselves as engaged in a continuing war with the congress, both in the states and the Centre. This is hardly conducive to the evolution of proper relations between the centre and the state. It is particularly unfortunate that the United Front [3] governments in Kerala and Bengal had preferred ‘confrontation’ to cooperation in their relations with the centre.

The constitutional amendments the U.F had precisely in view are unknown. But, if the democratic professions of the communist in Bengal and Kerala and elsewhere are to be taken at their face value, they must realize that a democratically elected state ministry has the responsibilities as well as powers under the constitution. They have to understand the true position of the state’s in the structure of our constitution and act in conformity with it if frequent crises are to be avoided.

Mr. E. M. S. Namboodiripad [4] had pleaded for more financial and other powers to the state. With nearly two decades of experience of working of the quasi-federal set-up embodied in our constitution, the time was ripe for undertaking a review of the distribution of powers between the centre and the states. It should be understood that the centre has basic responsibilities for defense and the integrated development of the economy. India’s constitutional makers had before them the experience of the United States and other Federal countries when they drafted the articles relating the centre state relations. It required the Great Depression of the 30s to make the American people realize that a modern, complex technological society can not be administered without a great deal of power in the central (or federal) authority. In India’s case, the need was even more completing because of the inherent destructive forces at work. There were also the formidable economic problems that had to be solved.

History shows how wise our constitutional-makers favored a quasi-federal system which had endowed the centre with over riding powers while conferring on the state governments powers which were relevant to their immediate obligations to the people they served.

An oft-repeated complaint is that while the states have growing responsibilities with regard to education, medical relief and other social services, their resources have been inelastic and in adequate. While this may have been true at the time the constitution was launched, it certainly isn’t true today. Thanks to the recommendations on the four finance commissions and the evolution of Centre-State financial relations in the context of the 5 year plans, the States’ constitutional handicaps relating to finance have been considerably eased. Apart from receiving increasing share in central taxes- income tax and excise duties- the states have received enormous assistance from the Centre through Loans and grants. Over half the expenditure, revenue and capital, of the states is financed by funds made available by the centre in one way or the other. The result of this dependence on the centre may not always be healthy. It has certainly bred a certain amount of financial irresponsibility among the states and has encouraged in them a tendency to make the centre the Whipping Boy for all their lapses. If a re arrangement of financial resources will make the states responsible for raising funds, it will not be a bad thing.

But whatever re-adjustments maybe made in the centre state relations, in the financial or other spheres, there is no need to alter the basic structure embodied in the constitution. In the present state of the evolution of our democracy, with regional and centrifugal forces operating in the states, it would be dangerous to weaken the authority of the Parliament or the Central government in relation to the states. For instance, the center’s stand regarding the appointment and recall of Governors is justified because of the dual role which governors must play under our constitution. In relation to a state ministry, the governor’s position is that of a constitutional head similar to the crown in Brittan. But in relation to the centre, the governor has a crucial role as the eyes and ears of the Union government n the state. To expect the Governor to abdicate this function would be to defeat one of the crucial purposes for which the governor exists, In the discharge of his dual function, embarrassing situations may arise and suitable conventions have to be evolved to maintain the dignity and utility of the governor. Both the centre and the state government concerned should help to make the governor function in a non – partisan spirit in the discharge of his function. For this purpose, it would be better if as a rule governors are chosen from outside party ranks.

The primary factor that should govern the centre state relations is the avoidance of conflict as far as possible and the utilization of the machinery provided by the constitution for resolving differences that may arise either between the states or between the centre and the states.

The various instruments available for mutual consultation and settlements of centre state differences are as follows.

The zonal councils;

The national development council;

The Chief Ministers’ conference;

The Inter-State council envisaged in Art 263 [5] ;

The adjudicating machinery laid down in Art 262 [6] for settling river disputes.

If proper and timely uses of these agencies are made, there should be only a few occasions for crisis in Centre-State relations. While the centre has the duty to adopt a broad, imaginative and sympathetic approach to the needs and aspirations of the states, without regard to political considerations, the latter have a responsibility to co-operate with the centre and accept its leadership on major questions of natural policies.


The preamble to our constitution declares that the objective of the Indian Democratic Republic is “to secure all its citizens: justice –social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity; and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the nation". The entire political structure embodied in the constitution is designed to achieve this magnificent aims. It should be realized that the basic entities mentioned in the Preamble are “the individual" and “the nation". In between them, we have the hierarchy of political authorities from the parliament to the penchants which must function in conformity with the provisions of the constitution for realizing the objectives set forth in the Preamble. It is the duty of the Central and State legislatures and the governments to function in such a way that they assure the “dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation". Cooperation, not confrontation is the watchword for everyone in authority.