What are the Merits and Demerits of a Unitary State?



Some of the merits and demerits of  unitary state are as follows:


A Unitary Government has several distinct merits:

1. Strong Government:

It is a source of strong, stable, all-powerful government.

2. Single Administration:

It ensures single uniform administration for the whole of the state.

3. Simple and Less Expensive System:

The system deserves special praise for its simplicity and less expensiveness.

4. Flexibility in Administration:

The administration of a unitary state is flexible and can easily adapt itself to the changing social needs and environment because the central government can amend the constitution as and when required.

5. Suitable for small states:

A unitary government, because of its simplicity, less expensiveness and strength, is ideally suitable for small states.

6. Responsible for its work:

Since a single government runs the whole show, the responsibility of any lapse can be easily fixed. The central government cannot blame the local governments for its failures and acts of omission.

7. Can be very useful is meeting emergencies:

Finally, it is very suitable for meeting emergencies because being an all-powerful government—the central government can take all necessary decisions quickly and implement these with full force.

It is because of recognition of these merits of a unitary government that many federal constitutions (like the Constitution of India) provide for a temporary transformation of federalism into Unitarian-federalism for meeting emergencies. Gettell praises a unitary system for its uniformity and freedom from repetitions, wastefulness and extravagance that usually characterise a federal system.


Along with the above merits, a Unitary State has the following demerits:

1. Centre Government is Excessively Powerful:

First, the unitary system provides for the creation of an all-powerful central government with full centralisation of powers. It involves a possibility for central dictatorship or despotism over local areas. In the words of E.B. Schulz, "The primary objection to the unitary system is its lack of formal safeguards against centralisation of government functions."

2. Danger of Inefficiency:

The central government often behaves inefficiently because of being overburdened with all the work. It often finds itself not fully capable of meeting the pressure of work resulting from the socio-economic-cultural functions that it has to perform as an agent of the modern welfare state.

3. Ignores Local Needs:

Another valid point of criticism against the unitary government is that because of being located at the centre and faced with pressing national problems, it very often fails to satisfy local needs. The local governments, being its administrative agencies do not enjoy the much needed autonomy required for meeting the local needs locally.

4. Unsuitable for Big States:

The unitary system is suitable only for small and homogeneous states. For big states or states with racial, linguistic, cultural, religious and regional diversities, federal system alone can be suitable.

5. More Dependent on Bureaucracy:

A unitary government is more bureaucratic. The existence of a single political executive and legislature for the whole of the state makes way for the dominance of the administration by the bureaucrats. It IS the bureaucracy which really runs the central and local administration.

6. Less Chances for Popular Participation in the working of government:

Being a system governed by a single central government, a unitary state provides less opportunities for political participation of the people. Consequently, the people receive less political education and there usually exists a psychological gap between the people and the government.

7. Less of Local Autonomy and Initiative:

Finally, because of being a system based on centralisation of powers, the critics regard a unitary government as less democratic. It kills local initiative. It further discourages popular interest in public affairs.

Discussing the demerits of a unitary government, Dr. Garner opines that it "tends to repress local initiative, discourages interest in public affairs, impairs the vitality of local governments and facilitates the development of centralised bureaucracy." Similar views have been expressed by R.G. Gettell and several other political scientists.

In conclusion, we can say that a unitary government, because of its simplicity, strength and stability, represents an effective type of governmental organisation, which, can be fruitfully established and worked in small states. For large states or states characterised by socio-cultural-regional diversities, it cannot be recommended because of its centralizing nature and scope.