Cooperative, Competitive and Confrontational Federalism

The Constitution of India, being federal in structure, divides all powers (legislative, executive and financial) between the center and states. However, there is no division of judicial power as the Constitution has established an integrated judicial system to enforce both the Central laws as well as the state laws.

Though Center and states are supreme in their respective fields, the maximum harmony and coordination between them is essential for the effective cooperation of the federal system. Hence, the constitution contains elaborate provisions to regulate the various dimensions of the relations between the Center and the states.

Cooperative and Competitive Federalism

Cooperative federalism implies States and Centre cooperating with each other to realise the developmental goals of the country. It calls for a joint focus on the national development goals by the Centre and States, and the advocacy of concerns and issues of States and Union Territories with Central Ministries. The idea of competitive federalism, on the other hand, promotes competition between Centre and States as well as among States for economic benefits. In cooperative federalism, the relationship between States and Centre is horizontal, and in competitive federalism, it is vertical between States and Centre and horizontal among states.

  • In Cooperative federalism the Centre and states share a horizontal relationship, where they “cooperate” for national development and fulfill social goals together.
    • In such federalism the resources and expertise of both center and states are shared to achieve common goal of development.
    • It enable participation of states in the formulation and implementation of welfare policies.
    • Union and the states are constitutionally obliged to cooperate with each other on the matters specified in Schedule VII of the constitution.
    • It ensures that convergence between the federating units i.e. center and states.

  • In Competitive federalism the relationship between the Central and state governments is vertical and between state governments is horizontal
    • In early years of Independence, states were dependent on central grants distributed through Finance Commission and Planning Commission.
    • This idea of Competitive federalism gained significance in India post 1990s economic reforms.
    • In a free-market economy, the endowments of states, available resource base and their comparative advantages all foster a spirit of competition. Increasing globalisation, however, increased the existing inequalities and imbalances between states.
    • In Competitive federalism States need to compete among themselves and also with the Centre for benefits.
    • States compete with each other to attract funds and investment, which facilitates efficiency in administration and enhances developmental activities. eg: Investor summits in various states.
    • The investors prefer more developed states for investing their money. Union government devolves funds to the states on the basis of usage of previously allocated funds.
    • Healthy competition strives to improve physical and social infrastructure within the state.
  • In confrontational federalism, central Govt. tries to transgress into the powers of state Govt.
    • It is a relatively new phenomenon as compared to cooperative and competitive federalism.
    • The unilateral revocation of the special status conferred on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370 of the Constitution has been criticized by many experts as against the spirit of federalism.
    • As per Constitutional experts central government’s decision of using a concurrent List to make laws on state list subjects is a form of confrontational federalism.
      • Passing of farm laws, despite agriculture being a state subject.
    • The partisan role of governor in many states has become a case of confrontational federalism. For instance, role of Governor in Tamil Nadu became controversial.

NITI Aayog has a crucial role in promotion of both cooperative and competitive federalism.

  • Cooperative Federalism:
    • meetings between the Prime Minister/Cabinet Ministers and all Chief Ministers; subgroups of Chief Ministers on subjects of national importance;
    • sharing of best practices
    • policy support and capacity development of State/UT functionaries
    • launching of the Aspirational Districts Programme for development of backward districts
    • theme-based extensive engagements in various sectors
    • framing model laws for land leasing and agriculture marketing reforms
    • area-specific interventions for the North-Eastern and Himalayan States and island development
    • NITI Aayog has been providing relevant technical advice to the Centre, States and UTs
    • NITI has also established models and programmes for the development of infrastructure and to reignite and establish private-public partnership, such as the Centre-state partnership model Development Support Services to States and Union Territories (DSSS); and the Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital (SATH) programme.
  • Competitive Federalism:
    • NITI Aayog endeavours to promote competitive federalism by facilitating improved performance of States/UTs
    • It encourages healthy competition among states through transparent rankings, in various sectors, along with a hand-holding approach
    • Some of the indices launched by NITI Aayog are
      • School Education Quality Index
      • State Health Index
      • Composite Water Management Index
      • Sustainable Development Goals Index
      • India Innovation Index
      • Export Competitiveness Index.


In SR Bommai vs Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court held federalism a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. While cooperative and competitive federalism are crucial in promotion of healthy balance between federating units, confrontational federalism hampers the democratic spirit of federalism. therefore, as far as possible confrontational federalism must be avoided.

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