Superior Position of Centre in Legislative Relations between Union and States


The Constitution in its Part XI lays down the Legislative Relations between the Union and the States. It lays down a division of legislative powers between the two. While doing so, it does not follow the American model. In the American federation, the constitution specifies the powers of the federal government and vests the residuary powers with the States. The Constitution of India, follows the Canadian model which divides various subjects into three lists—The Dominion List, Provincial List and the Concurrent. Further, it gives the residuary powers to the Centre.

Superior Position of the Centre in Legislative Relations:

While dividing the Legislature powers between the Union and the States, the Constitution, of India shows a distinct leaning in favour of the Union.


1. Longest Union List:

The Union List with 97 subjects is the longest of the three lists. It contains subjects of national and paramount importance.

2. Primacy to Union Laws over State Laws in respect of Concurrent Subjects:

The Union Parliament and each State Legislature can enact laws over the subjects of the Concurrent List. However, in case of any conflict between a Union Law and a State Law over a particular concurrent subject, the former gets primacy over the latter.


3. Residuary Powers with the Union Parliament:

After enumerating the subjects in the Union List and after giving primacy to the Union Laws over the State Laws in respect of concurrent subjects, the Constitution, places the residuary subjects in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Union.

4. Union Parliament’s Rights over the State List:

Every State Legislature can legislate over the subjects of State List.


However, here too some exceptions exist which enable the Parliament to legislate over State Subjects in several cases:

(a) Central Legislation in National Interest:

Under Article 249 of the Constitution, the Rajya Sabha can, by passing a resolution supported by 2/3rd majority of members present and voting, declare a State subject as a subject of national importance. In this event the Parliament gets the power to legislate over such a subject for a period of one year. The Rajya Sabha can repeatedly pass such resolutions and can increase the law-making powers of the Parliament over the State subjects.

(b) Central Legislation during National Emergency:


Whenever an emergency is declared in the country under Article 352, the Union Parliament gets the power to make laws over the subjects of the State List. In such a case, the State List virtually gets transformed into a Concurrent List. During the period of emergency, the laws made by the Parliament get primacy over the laws made by a State Legislature.

(c) Central Legislation during a Constitutional Emergency:

When the President declares, a constitutional emergency in a State, the State Legislature gets either dissolved or suspended. The Union Parliament gets the power to legislate over the State subjects in respect of the concerned State. Laws made by the Parliament or by the President during the constitutional emergency continue to remain in force until these are replaced or altered or amended by the state legislature.

(d) Introduction of some State Bills with Presidential permission:


Certain types of State bills can be introduced in a State Legislature only with the prior permission of the President, for example, bills relating to trade and commerce among states.

(e) Reservation of certain State Bills for Presidential assent:

Certain types of State bills, such as those relating to the jurisdiction and position of the High Court, taking over of the management of any property in public interest and some others, can be reserved by the Governor for assent of the President of India. Even some of the bills pertaining to the Concurrent List can also be reserved by the Governor for Presidential assent.

(f) Central Legislation with the consent of two or more States:

If the legislatures of two or more States request the Union Parliament to legislate over a particular subject/subjects of the State List, the latter makes a law for them. For this purpose the concerned State Legislatures have to pass a resolution Once the Parliament has enacted such a law, other State Legislatures can adopt the same by passing resolutions to this effect.

(g) Central Legislation for giving effect to International Agreements:

The Union Parliament has the power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or an international treaty. All these features highlight the fact that the Union Parliament can exercise its legislative power over the subjects of State List under certain circumstances.

5. Superior status of the Union Laws:

The Constitution provides that in case of a conflict between a Union Law and a State Law, the former prevails over the latter. This provision gives a distinct superiority to the laws made by the Union Parliament.

6. Parliament’s power to establish or abolish a State Legislative Council:

The Constitution provides that the States can have either unicameral or bicameral legislatures. In case a State decides to have a bi-cameral legislature and for this purpose seeks to establish the upper house (the State Legislative Council), its Legislative Assembly has to pass a resolution and request the Union Parliament to enact a law for this purpose. In case a State wants to abolish the upper house of its legislature, then again the lower house of the State (Legislative Assembly) has to pass a resolution and request the Parliament to do the needful. The Parliament alone can establish or abolish the upper house of a State Legislature.

7. Parliament’s power to determine/change the Boundaries of the States:

Parliament’s power to change the boundaries of the States also has a bearing upon the legislative power of a State Legislature, as the laws of a State Legislature have jurisdiction only over the territory of the State.

8. Parliament’s power to legislate for the Union Territories:

For such Union Territories as do not have their legislatures, the Parliament has the power to pass laws in respect of all the subjects. All these points clearly bring out the superior position of the Centre in the sphere of legislative relations between the Union and the States. This feature reflects the spirit of Unitarianism which pervades the Indian federal system.

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