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The Constitution of India is the supreme law governing the country. It frames fundamental political principles, procedures, practices, rights, powers, and duties of the government. The constitutional provisions in India on the subject of distribution of legislative powers between the Union and the States are defined under several articles and schedules. The seventh schedule under Article 246 of the constitution deals with the division of powers between the union and the states. It contains three lists Union List, State List and Concurrent List. The union list details the subjects on which Parliament may make laws while the state list details those under the purview of state legislatures. The concurrent list on the other hand has subjects in which both Parliament and state legislatures have jurisdiction. However the Constitution provides federal supremacy to Parliament on concurrent list items in case of a conflict.

The constitutional provisions in India on the subject of distribution of legislative powers between the Union and the States are defined under several articles; the most important in this regard being specifically under articles 245 & 246 of the Constitution of India. The Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India defines and specifies allocation of powers and functions between Union & States. It contains three lists; i.e. 1) Union List, 2) State List and 3) Concurrent List.

Union List:

The Union List is a list of 100 (Originally 97) numbered items as provided in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. The Union Government or the Parliament of India has exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to these items. Few important items are:

  • Defence of India
  • Naval, military and air forces; any other armed forces of the Union.
  • Delimitation of cantonment areas, local self-government
  • Atomic energy and mineral resources necessary for its production.
  • Industries declared by Parliament by law to be necessary for the purpose of defence or for the prosecution of war.
  • Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation.
  • Preventive detention for reasons connected with Defence, Foreign Affairs, or the security of India; persons subjected to such detention.
  • War and peace.
  • Citizenship, naturalisation and aliens.
  • Pilgrimages to places outside India.
  • Highways declared by or under law made by Parliament to be national highways.
  • Shipping and navigation on inland waterways.
  • Currency, coinage and legal tender; foreign exchange.
  • Post Office Savings Bank.
  • Trade and commerce with foreign countries import and export across customs frontiers definition of customs frontiers.
  • Inter-State trade and commerce.
  • Establishment of standards of weight and measure.
  • Regulation of mines and mineral.
  • Regulation of labour and safety in mines and oil-fields.
  • Regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river
  • Fishing and fisheries beyond territorial waters.
  • The institutions known at the commencement of this Constitution as the National Library, the Indian Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria Memorial and the Indian War Memorial
  • The institutions known at the commencement of this Constitution as the Benares Hindu University, the Aligarh Muslim University and the Delhi University.
  • Elections to Parliament, to the Legislatures of States and to the offices of President and Vice-President; the Election Commission.
  • Salaries and allowances of members of Parliament, the Chairman and Deputy chairman of the Council of States and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of the People.
  • Constitution, organisation, jurisdiction and powers of the Supreme Court.
  • Constitution and organisation (including vacations) of the High Courts.
  • Jurisdiction and powers of all courts, except the Supreme Court.

State List:

The State List is a list of 61 (Originally 66) items in the Schedule Seven to the Constitution of India.  The respective state governments have exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to these items. Few important items are:

  • Public order but not including the use of any naval, military or air force or any other armed force of the union.
  • Police
  • Officers and servants of the High Court
  • Prisons, reformatories, Borstal institutions
  • Local government
  • Public health and sanitation; hospitals and dispensaries.
  • Pilgrimages, other than pilgrimages to places outside India.
  • Intoxicating liquors, that is to say, the production, manufacture, transport, purchase and sale of intoxicating liquors.
  • Libraries, museums and other similar institutions
  • Communications, that is to say, roads, bridges, ferries, and other means of communication not specified.
  • Agriculture
  • Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases; veterinary training and practice.
  • Fisheries
  • Regulation of mines and mineral development subject
  • Trade and commerce within the State subject
  • Elections to the Legislature of the State
  • Salaries and allowances of members of the legislature of the State, of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and, if there is a Legislative Council, of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman thereof.
  • Taxes on professions, trades, callings and employments.

Concurrent List:

There are 52 (Originally 47) items currently in the list: This includes items which are under joint domain of the Union as well as the respective States. However, given that there can be conflict when it comes to laws passed by Parliament and state legislatures on the same subject, the Constitution provides for a central law to override a state law.

  • Criminal procedure
  • Preventive detention for reasons connected with the security of a State, the maintenance of public order, or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community; persons subjected to such detention.
  • Removal from one State to another State of prisoners
  • Marriage and divorce
  • Transfer of property other than agricultural land
  • Bankruptcy and insolvency.
  • Trust and Trustees.
  • Evidence and oaths, recognition of laws, public acts and records, and judicial proceedings.
  • Civil procedure
  • Contempt of court, but not including contempt of the Supreme Court.
  • Vagrancy; nomadic and migratory tribes.
  • Lunacy and mental deficiency.
  • Prevention of cruelty to animals.
  • Adulteration of foodstuffs and other goods.
  • Drugs and poisons
  • Economic and social planning.
  • Trade unions, industrial and labour disputes.
  • Social security and social insurance; employment and unemployment.
  • Welfare of labour
  • Education
  • Legal, medical and other professions.
  • Relief and rehabilitation of persons displaced from their original place of residence
  • Charities and charitable institutions
  • Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants.
  • Price control.
  • Newspapers, books and printing presses.
  • Archaeological sites
  • Stamp duties.

Transferred Subjects:

Through the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976, Five subjects were transferred from State to Concurrent List. They are:

  • Education
  • Forests
  • Weights & Measures
  • Protection of Wild Animals and Birds
  • Administration of Justice

Debate over Centralisation of power:

  • Since 1950, the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution has seen a number of amendments. The Union List and Concurrent List have grown while subjects under the State List have gradually reduced.
  • The 42nd Amendment Act was perhaps one of the most controversial. Effected in 1976 during the Emergency by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the amendment restructured the Seventh Schedule ensuring that State List subjects like education, forest, protection of wild animals and birds, administration of justice, and weights and measurements were transferred to the Concurrent List.
  • Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister CN Annadurai was one of the first to advocate for state autonomy and federalism at the Centre. “It will be sufficient if the Centre retains only such powers as are necessary for preserving the unity and integrity of the country, leaving adequate powers to the states,” he said in 1967.
  • Taking his idea forward, the Tamil Nadu government under M Karunanidhi constituted the PV Rajamannar Committee to look into Centre-State relations. While the Committee submitted its reports in 1971, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution three years later demanding that the Centre accept the state’s views on state autonomy and the recommendations of the Rajamannar Committee. The Rajamannar Committee spurred other states to voice their opposition to the Centre’s encroachment on subjects that were historically under the state’s purview.
  • PM Indira Gandhi had constituted the Sarkaria Commission to look into Centre-State relations. However, the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission were not implemented by successive central governments.