The State’s Reorganization Act of 1956 divided India into 5 large zones, each containing a number of states and union territories functionally tied to an advisory body known as zonal council.
These were invested with purely advisory roles of liaison between the states and the federal government in matters of such interstate disputes as border quarrels, water distribution and economic planning. But the North-Eastern council consisting of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh (set up in 1973) is invested with some special functions.
Unlike the 28 states, the seven Union Territories are directly administered by the federal government in New Delhi through an administrator appointed by the President, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep are the outlying island territories. There are former French or Portuguese holdings; Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Pondicherry plus three other smaller territories.
The states and the union territories are subdivided into over 530 local administrative units, known as districts, below which are the sub-units of tahsils, talukas or sub-divisions, each comprising several (typically 100-300) villages.
The states are accorded a large measure of internal administrative power but the overall administrative and social cohesion of the country is protected by investing the federal government with special power to cope with the centrifugal tendencies that might be set in motion. Even the rights of the states can be taken away from them temporarily by the federal administration by two-thirds majority of those voting in each of the two houses of the Union Parliament. States themselves can be created, abolished or divided by a majority vote. The division of powers between the Union and the states is clearly defined in the Constitution.
At times there arise inter-state conflicts over sharing of river water, allocation of central grants, location of steel mills and nuclear power plants and introduction of development programmes. The federal government tries to maintain the overall unity of the country by such measures as the institution of all- India services, notably the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and the various Economic services. It has also established integrated Indian defense services. The defense personnel are obliged to serve anywhere in the country and help bring an inter-regional point of view wherever serve. English has been retained as an associate language to promote national integration.
The legislature of the Union Government is bicameral the upper house of 250 members is called the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), and the lower chamber, Lok Sabha (House of the People) contains 545 members. Members of both the houses (with the exception of a few Presidential appointees and reserved seats for specific tribes/castes) are elected; for the Lok Sabha directly and for the Rajya Sabha by the elected members of the state legislatures. Many states also have bicameral legislatures.
The pyramidal hierarchical structure is presided over at the top by the President of the Union, from whom the chain of responsibility flows to the state, sub-division, district, tahsil, taluk and village Panchayat levels. States are divided into districts which are administered through the district magistrates. From the district level up, the administrative positions are held by the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) personnel, the professional, permanent and generally well-trained government servants, the successors of the famous Indian Civil Service (ICS) of the British.
The tahsils or taluks are administered by the assistants of the district officers, who manage their own affairs. Village Panchayat, consisting of elected village Pradhan and members look after the village- level administration.
This relatively centralized administrative setup was liberalized in 1952 when the Community Development Programme was instituted. New administrative divisions known as Development B locks, comprising approximately 100 villages with a typical population base of 60,000 to 70,000 were set up, each served by a block development officer, assisted by a technical staff for advice on agriculture, public health, animal husbandry and rural industries.
Another three-tier system of self-government (Panchayati Raj) within the district was adopted by most states by 1959. At the base was the Village Panchayat, at the block level as a Panchayat Samiti elected by the village Panchayats and at the district level Zila Parishad. This systm is intended to effect “decentralized planning”.
Another striking feature of the Indian administrative system is the multiplicity of political parties and independent candidates of wide-ranging political ideologies, representing the diversity of economic, social, political, religious, caste and regional interests. During the mid-term general election of 1969, as many as 75 parties were registered with the Election Commission. Majority of them were regional and sub-regional parties.