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What is Cooperative Federalism?

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What is Cooperative Federalism?
14 Jul 2020

“Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation not intimidation”.

-        William Arthur Wood

By Federalism we mean a structure of government where the functions, powers and authority are divided between two levels of government i.e. - Central government and State Government. These two levels are separate and independent of each other in terms of exercising their powers. This system is an antithesis of Unitary System, where the country is governed by a single level of government and this sole institution holds the supreme position in the state. Cooperative Federalism is a type of Federalism, which we’ll be discussing today.


Cooperative Federalism is the branch of Federalism which envisages that all the levels of governance, which are- central, state and local bodies, should cooperate with one another in order to achieve collective goals for the benefit of the society. All these bodies put their collaborative efforts towards a common goal and strive to achieve that for the growth of country. No level of government is supreme in this Federalism; all share their place at a horizontal line.


Examples of Cooperative Federalism might be given by following situation-

  • “There is said to be Cooperative Federalism, when Central and State Governments have a healthy nexus between their functions. Neither the Central Government imposes some random provisions upon the States nor the States nor do Local Bodies work in a manner that is completely antithesis to the working of Central Government.”


  • “If the Central Government wants that railway stations shall be well maintained in each state, it might provide a financial aid to those states for the completion of this task. This aid may be given for the purchase of some equipment or to hire laboures and workers.”

How it Works in India?

Indian Constitution has been given the label of “Quasi-Federal” by Prof. K. C. Wheare. We can also call it a mixture of federal principles and unitary principles. However, there is no mention of word ‘Federalism’ in India Constitution anywhere; it is apparently seen in the functioning of governments in the country. Governance in India is done by following federal principles with a slight tilt toward unitary formulas. India has not adopted a full flesh version of Federalism; rather it has a stronger centre which is created by joining many states. Now, here is the important thing- some people see the stronger tendency of centre as opposite to Federalism, however this is something which is the steam of Federalism. A stronger centre is necessary to bound states in it and to promote a better functioning of the government. Following are some examples of Cooperative Federalism in India-

  • Article 1 of COI- The very first article of the Constitution provides that “India shall be a Union of States”. This very provision provides for the integrity among the Union and the States, as one is inseparable to another. This was the first idea of cooperation among states and the centre.
  • Seventh Schedule- The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India consists of three lists, namely- the Union list, the State list and the Concurrent list. These lists contain matters of national importance which have been divided between Central and State Government to legislate upon. This is an ideal example of coordination among the different levels of government in India.  
  • Inter State Council- Article 263 of the COI, provides for the establishment of an Inter-State Council by the President, if he believes that such council is necessary to discuss and investigate subjects which have a larger public interest. Also, this council is charged with the duty to make suggestions upon any matter for the better implementation or coordination of policies. This council promotes cooperation and coordination among states.
  • Zonal Councils- Section 15 of the State Reorganization Act, 1956 provides for the constitution of zonal councils for all the five zones in India. These councils consist of representatives from every state, union territories and the union. These councils are charged with the function of being an advisory body in any matter in which some states or the union has a common interest. They stem cooperation among the states and the union.
  • National Development Council- This council was developed as a functionary under the Planning Commission. This was set up as an agency to support the implementation of five years plan made by the Planning Commission.  This council helped in promoting cooperativeness because it had the Prime Minister, Union Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers of all states and representatives of Union Territories as its members. However, it has been dissolved after the constitution of Niti Ayog in 2014.
  • Niti Ayog- National Institute for Transformation India (NITI AYOG) has replaced the planning commission in 2014. This institution also has the representation of all states, which promotes cooperation.
  • GST Council- The Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016 introduced the concept of GST & GST Council. This council shall be making recommendations to the Union and the States on the taxes and surcharges levied by the Union, the States or the Local Bodies. Its members represent all the levels of the government. Therefore, this council ideally promotes cooperation among the Centre, States and Local Bodies.
  • Taxation Powers- Article 269A (1) of the COI provides that, the GST Council and not the Finance Commission has the powers to make recommendations about distribution of taxes in inter state trade. This provision is very important in respect of economic cooperation of states because states have a right to vote in the GST Council. Similarly, Article 270 provides that the tax collected by the Union under article 246A and under Inter-State Trade, shall be distributed among the states too.


It is true that in our country Constitution is supreme and its provisions are followed everywhere, but India has not been able to incorporate Cooperative Federalism in its complete sense. People of India have always advocated this concept but in practical life there are certain things that have proved to be a hindrance for the adoption of complete Federalism. Though states have been given due autonomy in their functions, their freedom is subject to superiority of Central Government. Hence, the upper hand of Central Government in every matter and incorporation of unitary features in our Constitution prove that we still have a long journey to accept this ideology.