Administrative Relationship between the Centre and States

By | July 13, 2020
Administrative Relationship

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The administrative relationship between the Centre and States forms the essence of the federal structure of the Constitution. It establishes the harmony between the Centre and the States, inhibiting any secessionist tendencies, to further foster the nation as an ‘indestructible union of destructible states’.

Introduction

The Constitution of India follows the Parliamentary System of Government and the executive is directly accountable to the legislature. Article 74 of the Constitution provides that there shall be a Prime Minister of India as the head of government. It is also provided that there shall be a President of India and a Vice-President of India under Articles 52 and 63. Unlike the Prime Minister, the President largely performs ceremonial roles.

Indian Constitution is neither purely ‘federal’ nor purely ‘unitary’. The federal form is clearly manifest in the constitutional distribution of powers between the Union and the States, not only in the legislative field but also in executive and administrative fields.

In normal times, the constitutional scheme has to ensure the autonomy of the states with regard to the spheres of activities earmarked for them in the Constitution. In the Federal System of India, the head of the Executive Union is the President of the country. The real political as well as social power, however, resides in the hands of the Prime Minister, who in turn heads the Council of Ministers.[1]

Historically, a highly centralised colonial government had slowly been transformed into a semi-feudal set-up.  In post-Independent India, the needs of planned development, national integration and maintenance of law and order resulted in a considerable degree of centralisation of powers in the hands of the Centre. Single party rule for a long period of time has also contributed to the increasing preponderance of the Centre.

Centre-State relationship, in reality, is a matter of interaction between the two levels of governments in the course of discharge of their duties to people.  In administering subjects like education, health, agriculture, etc.  the two levels of governments have to interact in the interest of efficient management of these functions.

Administrative problems assume political colour when the interactions are conditioned by considerations of power and harmony.  Further, the problem of Centre-State relations has acquired new dimensions and new importance in recent times due to several political parties being in power at the Centre and in the States.[2]

The administrative relations between the Centre and the States have been stated from Article 256 to Article 263 of the Constitution. As a rule, the Central Government exercises administrative authority over all the matters on which the Parliament has the power to make laws, whereas the State Governments exercise authority over the matters included in the State List.

I. Administrative Relations- Securing Cooperation Between the Centre and the States

Article 256 to 263 deal with the administrative relations between the Centre and the states.

  Article 256 states that,

“the executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by the parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.”

In order to ensure the smooth and proper functioning of the administrative machinery at the two levels, the Constitution embodies provisions for meeting all types of eventualities resulting from the working of the federal system and also for protecting and maintaining peace and order in the country.

The Constitution provides for a flexible, permissive and not a rigid scheme of allocation of administrative responsibilities between the Centre and the states.

The scheme of allocating the administrative responsibilities is drawn for the purposes of:

  • Administration of law
  • Achieving coordination between the Centre and states
  • The settlement of disputes between the Centre and the states inter se
  • For the purposes of Article 355[3]

India, being a federation, the Constitution establishes a dual polity with the Union at the Centre and the States at the periphery. The dual government system and the division of powers are key features of the federal system.

As there are two governments existing at the same time with different powers, as conferred by the Constitution, so there is always a possibility of situations which give rise to conflicts or disputes, that may be due to inefficient communication or lack of co-ordination. Therefore, the Constitution of India has adopted the following techniques of co-ordination between the Centre and the States[4]:

  • Inter-governmental delegation of administrative powers
  • Centre’s directions to the states
  • All-India Services
  • Inter-State Council

With respect to intergovernmental delegation of administrative powers, delegation of powers may be done either by agreement or by legislation. While the Centre may adopt both the methods, a State can delegate its administrative powers to the Centre only under an agreement with the Centre. This delegation process is applicable by the virtue of Article 258 of the Indian Constitution.

Article 258(1) provides that the President may, with the consent of the Governor of the state, entrust either conditionally or unconditionally, to that government or to its officers, functions in relation to any matter to which the executive power of the Union extends.

While delegating its functions, what conditions are to be imposed, is for the Union to decide. Usually, while entrusting its functions, the Centre reserves with itself the power to issue directions to delegate to the states the exercise of such powers. A notification issued by the President under Article 258(1) entrusting functions to a state government has been held to be a legislative act.[5]

Moreover, the delegation under clause (1) of Article 258 may be specific, i.e., to one or more states named therein, or it may be general i.e. to all the states.

Under Article 258(2), a law made by the Parliament which applies to any state may, notwithstanding that it relates to a matter with respect to which the Legislature of the State has no power to make laws, confer powers and impose duties, or authorise the conferring of powers and the imposition of duties, upon the State or officers and authorities thereof.

By virtue of Article 258(3), the powers and duties which have been conferred or imposed upon a State and its officers and authorities shall be paid for by the government of India to the State, such sum as may be agreed, or, in default of agreement, as may be determined by an arbitrator appointed by the Chief Justice of India, in respect of any extra costs of administration incurred by the State in connection with the exercise of those powers and duties.

A. Centre’s Direction to the States (Article 256 & 257)

The Executive Power of the Union also extends to giving of direction to the state under Article 256 for the latter’s compliance. This power of the Union extends to the limit of directing a state in a manner it feels essential for the purpose.

For instance, the Union can give directives to the state pertaining to the construction and maintenance of a means of communication which has been declared to be of national or military importance within that state. This power is essential to ensure the implementation of parliamentary laws throughout the country. Non-compliance of the directives might lead to a situation where the Union can invoke Article 356, for imposition of President’s rule in the state and take over the administration of the state.

Further, the Constitution imposes certain obligations on the State governments in order to ensure that a State government, by exercising its powers, does not interfere with the legislative and administrative actions of Central Government and enables the Centre to exercise its powers over the territory which is administered directly by the States.

The Constitution, thus confers Central Government powers to have administrative control over States. This is provided under Article 256.[6] Also, the Union executive power extends to the giving of such directions to the states as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for the purpose. The aim is that central laws should be executed properly in states. It is incumbent upon the State government to act in accordance with the directions given by the central government.

Article 257(1) provides that the executive power of every state shall be exercised in such a manner that it does not impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive power of the Union, and the Unions shall have the executive power to give such directions to state as may appear to be necessary.

By virtue of Article 257(2) and (3), the Centre can give directions to the states in two specific contexts:

  • In respect of construction or maintenance of means of communications of national or military importance.
  • For the protection of railways within the State.

“Communications” is a state subject. But, Article 257(2) empowers the Union to direct a state to construct and maintain means of communications which may be declared to be of national or military importance. “Railways” is a Union subject. But police, including Railways police, is a state subject.

Under Article 257(3), the Union executive can give directions to a State as to the measures to be taken for the protection of railways within the state.

Article 257(4) provides that if the states incur additional costs in carrying out the directions given by the Central Government, then it shall be paid for by the Central Government, and in case of a dispute, the matter is to be referred to the arbitrator as appointed by the Chief Justice of India.

B. All India Services

Besides Central and State Services, the Constitution under Article 312 provides for the creation of an additional “All-India services” common to both the Union and the States. The power of appointment and taking disciplinary action against the All-India Services vests only with the President of India.

The objective of having an integrated and well-knit All India Services is to manage important and crucial sectors of administration in the country. Their recruitment, training, promotion, and disciplinary matters are determined by the Central Government.

A member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on entry into the service is allotted to a state where he/she serves under a state government. Therefore, in this arrangement, a person belonging to the All India Service is responsible for the administration of affairs, both at the Central and State levels.

C. Inter-State Council

The Constitution has provided for devices to bring about intergovernmental co-operation and effective consultations between the Centre and the states so that all the important national policies are arrived at through dialogue, discussion and consensus. One such device is the setting up of the Inter-State Council, along with Zonal Councils.

The relevant provision in the Constitution is Article 263, which provides for the following duties of an Inter-State Council:

  • Inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between States
  • Investigating and discussing subjects in which some or all of the states, or the Union and one or more of the States, have a common interest
  • Making recommendations upon any subject and, in particular, recommendations for better coordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.

The Inter-State Council may be established by the President by order if it appears to the President that public interest would be served by establishing the Council. The President may also further define the nature of duties to be performed by the Council, along with its organisation and procedure.

On 28th May 1990, the President issued the Inter-State Council Order, and as per that Order, the membership of such a Council consists of the Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers of all states and the Union Territories having a Legislative Assembly, the Administrators of  Union Territories having a Legislative Assembly, and six members of the Cabinet in the Union Council of Ministers which are nominated by the Prime Minister.[7]

D. Miscellaneous Provisions

  • Article 261 states that “Full faith and credit shall be given throughout the territory of India to public acts, records and judicial proceedings of the Union and of every State”.
  • According to Article 262, the parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.
  • Article 263 empowers the President to establish an inter-State Council to inquire into and advise upon disputes between states, to investigate and discuss subjects in which some or all of the States, or the Union and one or more of the States, have a common interest.
  • As per Article 307, Parliament may by law appoint such authority as it considers appropriate for carrying out the purposes of the constitutional provisions related to the inter-state freedom of trade and commerce.

II. Centre-State Relations during Emergency[8]

During a National Emergency imposed under Article 352, the State Governments become subordinate to the Central Government. All the executive functions of the States come under the control of the Union Government.

During a State Emergency imposed under Article 356, the President can assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State and all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor or authority in the State other than the Legislature of the State.

During the operation of a Financial Emergency imposed under Article 360, the Union may give directions to any State to observe such canons of financial propriety as may be specified in the directions, and to the giving of such other directions as the President may deem necessary and adequate for the purpose.


[1] K.V. Rao, Centre-State Relations in Theory and Practice, The Indian Journal of Political Science, Volume 14 Number 4 (1953) available here.

[2] Roshan Kishore, The shifting dynamics of Centre-state relationship, Hindustan Times, January 24, 2020, available here.

[3] Article 355 of the Indian Constitution, “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the Government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

[4] S.R. Sen, Centre-State Relations in India, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 23 Number 32 (1988) available here.

[5]  Shamsher Singh and Another v. State of Punjab, 1975 SCR (1) 814.

[6] Article 256 of the Indian Constitution, “The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.”

[7] Inter-State Council Secretariat, Ministry of Home Affairs, available here

[8] H.M. Rajashekhara, The Nature of Indian Federalism: A Critique, Asian Survey, Volume 37 Number 3 (1997), Page 249 available here


  1. Constitutional Law; Notes, Case Laws And Study Material
  2. Centre-State Financial Relationship: Taxing Powers Of The Union And State
Author: Nitya Bansal

She is a B.A.LLB (H) student at National Law University Delhi. She enjoys legal research and drafting, and is currently associated with the Centre for Communication Governance as a Research Assistant.