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  • Writer's pictureAyush Kumar

Federalism and Fundamental Rights: An Analysis of Part III of The Constitution

Authored by Kaza Mounika Lakshmi Sruti (Intern), a 2nd-year law student at ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad.

Federalism And Fundamental Rights: An Analysis of Part III of The Constitution
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On November 26, 1949, the Indian Constitution was adopted, and on January 26, 1950, it came into force. The Indian Constitution is the lengthiest constitution containing 395 Articles, 12 Schedules, and 22 Parts. In the intricate tapestry of India's constitutional framework, two foundational principles stand as sentinels of democracy: federalism and fundamental rights. Like threads interwoven in a vibrant fabric, they not only define the structure of governance but also safeguard the essence of individual liberties. Part III of the Indian Constitution serves as the loom upon which these principles are intricately woven, delineating the canvas upon which the rights and responsibilities of citizens and states are outlined. Picture a nation pulsating with diversity, its unity forged through a delicate balance of power between the central authority and its states. This balance is not merely a matter of administrative convenience but is deeply rooted in the constitutional ethos of federalism. It envisages a symphony of governance where power is shared, not concentrated, echoing the aspirations of a nation born out of the crucible of colonial oppression. At the heart of this federal symphony lies Part III of the Constitution, a beacon of hope for millions, enshrining their most cherished freedoms and liberties. From the right to equality and freedom of speech to the right to life and personal liberty, these fundamental rights form the bedrock of Indian democracy, serving as a bulwark against tyranny and injustice.

However, the harmonious coexistence of federalism and fundamental rights is not without its challenges. The distribution of powers between the central and state governments often intersects with the exercise of individual rights, leading to complex legal and political dilemmas. In navigating this intricate terrain, the judiciary emerges as a sentinel of liberty, tasked with interpreting the Constitution and ensuring the primacy of fundamental rights while upholding the principles of federalism. 

This article aims to embark on a journey of exploration and discovery, delving deep into the nexus between federalism and fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. 

Federalism In India

According to Prof. Wheare, the federal principle means,

the method of dividing powers so that the general and the regional governments are each within a sphere, coordinate and independent.”

Article 1 of the Constitution says “Union of States” which means that India is a union and states are integral parts of the Union. In this case, the states cannot secede from the union. In an original federation, the states are free to leave the Union. In India, Federalism has combined features of Federation and Unitary government which is why India is known as a quasi-federal state. India has a bicameral national legislature, consisting of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) elected based on population, and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) chosen by the various constituent units of the republic. 

Legislative Relations

The provisions of (1) Distribution of Powers, (2) Fundamental Rights, and (3) Other Provisions of the Constitution govern the legislative powers of the Parliament and State Legislatures. 

The Indian Constitution makes the two-fold distribution of legislative powers-

Doctrine of Territorial Nexus:

According to Article 245, Parliament can make laws for the whole territory of India. According to Article 245(2) legislation passed by the Parliament cannot be deemed invalid on the ground of extra-territorial operation. (i.e. takes effect outside the territory of India). In the case of A. H. Wadia vs Income Tax Commissioner, Bombay, the Supreme Court held that “in the case of a sovereign legislature, the question of extra-territoriality of any enactment can never be raised in the court as a ground for challenging its validity.”

The State Legislature has the authority to enact legislation for the entire State or any specific region, in the state as prescribed under  Article 245(1) of the Indian Constitution. This general norm does have one exception, if there is a strong enough connection between the object and the state, a state statute allowing for extraterritorial operation will be considered legitimate. In the case of the State of Bombay vs RMDC, court ruled that there possessed a strong enough connection to the state and with individuals and thus the legislation was upheld. Additionally, it was decided that a factual dispute serves as a sufficient nexus when there is a genuine, non-illusory connection between the state and the subject matter. 

Concerning subject matter: 

Article 246 establishes three lists in the Seventh Schedule that outline the separation of competences between the Union and State governments. The central government's powers are delineated in the Union List (List I), state powers are delineated in the State List (List I1), and joint authority between both the national and state governments is included in the Concurrent List (List III).

Under India's Supremacy Clauses, federal law takes precedence over state law regarding both Union List and Concurrent List concerns. The Indian Constitution vests all residual authority in the Union Government rather than the States, as in America.

In the case of Devika Biswas vs Union of India, the Supreme Court in a PIL held that Population control and family planning is a national scheme given in List III, Entry 20-A of Schedule 7 rests squarely on the shoulders of the Union of India. It cannot be treated given List II, entry 6 and 20-A of Schedule 7, as a Public Health issue and making it a concern of the State Government.  

Doctrine of Pith and Substance: 

The term "pith and substance" describes the actual purpose of a statute or piece of legislation. This idea states that the State legislatures and the Union Parliament are superior in their domains and should not intrude upon those. Even if the legislation ends up touching on topics outside the legislature's purview, it should be regarded intra vires if it relates to a matter within the legislature's purview at the time it was passed. The full enactment, including its goal and the extent and impact of its provisions, must be taken into account in order to ascertain the genuine nature of the law.  The Bombay Prohibition Act, which prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol within the state, was challenged in the State of Bombay vs F. N. Balsara case on the grounds that it unintentionally affected the import and export of alcohol over international borders (a union matter). It was worried that the ban on the sale, purchase, consumption, and possession of alcohol would have an impact on its import. The act's constitutionality was maintained by the court because, despite the fact that it inadvertently impacted upon the Union Powers of the Legislation, its core provisions fell within the State List rather than the Union List. 

Doctrine of Colourable Legislation:

The meaning and application of the Doctrine of Colourable Legislation were clarified by the Supreme Court in the case of K.C.G. Narayan Dev v. State of Orissa. The idea that "you cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly" serves as the foundation for the entire concept. The genuine intent and character of the legislation will be considered by the court in these cases, and its aim, purpose, or design to enact laws on a subject will be taken into consideration rather than its motivation if the legislature has the authority to enact laws and their purpose is "irrelevant”.

In the State of Bihar vs Kameshwar Singh, the legislation was ruled unconstitutional based on the Doctrine of Colourable Legislation. This was because, despite appearing to establish a principle for determining compensation, the legislation actually did not establish any such principle and instead attempted to indirectly deny the petitioner any compensation. 

Repugnancy between a Central Law and State Law (Article 254)

In Article 254, it is stated that if any legislation by a State Legislature contradicts a law enacted by Parliament, which holds authority over the subject matter listed in the Concurrent List, or conflicts with an existing law, the parliamentary law, whether enacted prior or after the state legislation or the existing law, will take precedence. The state legislation will be void to the extent of this inconsistency.

Only in cases where a Central Law and a State Law regarding a topic specified in the Concurrent List are inconsistent does Article 254(1) come into play. The legitimacy of the Transport Service (Development) Act was an issue in the case of  Deep Chand vs State of UP. The court decided that the State law was invalid to the extent that it was repugnant to the Union law because both the Union law and the State law covered the same territory. 

Power of Parliament Over Legislature on State Subjects

National Interest: 

Under Article 249(1), the Parliament may legislate for the entire or any portion of India's territory about a State matter if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution with the support of a two-thirds majority because it is beneficial in the national interest of Parliament to make laws on any matter listed in the state law. 


Article 250 states that the Parliament will possess the authority to enact legislation on any subject on the State list for the entire or any portion of India's territory at the time when the Emergency is proclaimed. On the other hand, a statute of that kind will become inoperative six months after the emergency declaration ends. 

With the Consent of States:

It is permissible for Parliament to enact laws governing issues on the State List if the legislatures of two or more states pass a resolution stating that it would be desirable for the Parliament to implement legislation on those matters, as per Article 252. Through the passage of a resolution to that effect, any State may enact such legislation. 

Power to Legislate for giving effect to Treaties and International Agreements:

The Union Government may enact laws to comply with conventions and international agreements about the subjects of the State List under Article 253. Treaty implementation will require parliamentary legislation. However, laws passed to carry out treaty obligations will be constrained by the Constitution; that is, they cannot violate fundamental rights.

The breakdown of the constitutional mechanism within a state:

When the Parliament declares that the State government cannot be carried on following the provisions of the Constitution then Parliament is empowered to make laws on the state matters under article 356. 

Fundamental Rights

The Fundamental Rights are covered in the third part of the Indian Constitution. It was determined that fundamental rights were necessary to defend the people's rights and liberties against the government's infringement on their authority. All of the government's powers are subject to restrictions since they are necessary to protect both individual and public rights. , Fundamental rights are accorded against the state

Power To Amend The Fundamental Rights

The power of amending the Constitution is conferred under Article 368 of the Constitution. The bill which seeks to amend the provisions under article 368 requires a special majority by ½ states in addition to the majority of not less than ⅔  members of the House present and voting.  The Supreme Court considered whether Article 368 permits amendments to fundamental rights in the Shankari Prasad vs Union of India. In this case, the validity of the First Constitutional Amendment Act, of 1951 was contested because it was alleged to have revoked the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that Article 368 of the Constitution grants the authority to change the document, including the fundamental rights. 

When the 17th Constitutional Amendment Act's legality was contested in Sajjan Singh’s case, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling made in the Shankari Prasad case. It declared that "amendment of the constitution means an amendment of all the provisions of the constitution."

In I. C. Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs, the Hon'ble Supreme Court overruled its previous ruling in Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh's case by a majority of 6:5, holding that Parliament lacked the authority to amend Part III of the Constitution in a way that would abridge or take away fundamental rights. This challenge reopened the debate on the validity of the 17th Constitutional Amendment Act, of 1964, which had inserted certain State acts in the 9th schedule.

The Parliament enacted the 24th Amendment Act of 1971, in response to the Golaknath case. It expanded the Parliament's authority to amend by adding the phrase “to amend by way of the addition or variation or repeal any provision of this constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 368”. 

In Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, the 24th Amendment Act's constitutionality was questioned."The extent of the amending power granted under Article 368 of the constitution was the question at stake in this case. To consider this matter, a special bench consisting of 13 judges was formed. With a majority decision of 7:6, the court overruled the Golaknath verdict. In this case, the doctrine of basic structure—which consists of the fundamental elements of the Constitution—was introduced. It maintained that the authority to amend under Article 368 of the document does not extend to amending the Basic Structure of the Constitution. 

The basic features added in this case are:

  1. Rule of law

  2. Judicial review

  3. Democracy, which implies free and fair elections

It has been decided that the fundamental element of the Constitution is the Supreme Court's jurisdiction as granted by Article 32. In subsequent cases, the SC will have the authority to add the fundamental elements in the Doctrine of Basic Structure. 

Federalism and Fundamental Rights

In India, the relationship between federalism and fundamental rights is complex and significant. Fundamental rights are enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing certain rights to all individuals. However, few Fundamental rights are guaranteed only to the Citizens of India. Conversely, Federalism refers to the distribution of powers between the central government and the state governments. India follows a quasi-federal system where power is divided between the Union (central) government and the state governments but with a tilt towards the centre.

The relationship between federalism and fundamental rights in India can be understood through the following points:

Distribution of Legislative Powers: 

The Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution establishes the division of legislative authority between the central government and the state governments. Subjects that can only be legislated by the central government are listed in the Union List, those that can only be legislated by state governments are listed in the State List, and those that can be legislated by both governments are listed in the Concurrent List. However, fundamental rights are primarily within the domain of the Union government.

Uniformity in Fundamental Rights:

Fundamental rights in India are enshrined in Part III of the Constitution and are applicable uniformly across the country. They provide safeguards against the arbitrary exercise of power by the state, regardless of whether it's the central or state government. This ensures that citizens' rights are protected consistently across all levels of government.

Supremacy of Fundamental Rights:

Fundamental rights enjoy supremacy over all laws, including those made by the states. According to Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, any law that violates or contravenes basic rights is unconstitutional. This ensures that even state laws that violate fundamental rights can be challenged and struck down by the judiciary.

The Doctrine of Severability:

The Indian judiciary has developed the doctrine of severability, which allows it to uphold the constitutional validity of a statute by severing the unconstitutional parts. This doctrine ensures that legislative measures enacted by both the central and state governments can be preserved to the extent they do not violate fundamental rights.

Judicial Review:

The judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the enforcement and protection of fundamental rights. Through judicial review, the courts have the power to strike down laws and government actions that violate fundamental rights, thereby maintaining a balance between federalism and individual rights.


The relationship between federalism and fundamental rights in India is multifaceted, evolving, and essential to the country's democratic framework. Through a delicate balance of powers, constitutional provisions, judicial interpretation, and socio-political dynamics, India seeks to reconcile regional diversity with national unity while safeguarding the liberties of its citizens. While challenges persist, like conflicts between state and central laws, and socio-political dynamics like regional disparities, communal tensions, Executive overreach, etc; the constitutional commitment to federalism and fundamental rights remains a cornerstone of Indian democracy, reflecting the nation's ethos of pluralism, inclusivity, and constitutionalism. These challenges can be addressed through Inter-Governmental dialogue and legislative reforms like revising outdated laws, ensuring consistency with constitutional principles, and Strengthening judicial Independence by maintaining judicial accountability, and transparency. 

In essence, the relationship between federalism and fundamental rights in India is one of balance and mutual reinforcement, with the Constitution providing mechanisms to protect fundamental rights while respecting the federal division of powers. 

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