Merely Substituting Term “Central Government” for “Union Government” Won’t Dilute Federalism: Delhi High Court

The argument that the term “Central Government” conveys a sense of subordination between State governments and the Union Government was dismissed by the High Court.

The Delhi High Court recently ruled that federalism is ingrained in the fundamental framework of the Indian Constitution and will not be diminished simply because the term “Central Government” rather than “Union Government” is used.

Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna, who comprised a division bench, dismissed the argument that the term “Central Government” conveys an incorrect idea of State governments’ subordination to the Union government.

“The contention of the petitioner that use of the expression ‘Central Government’ gives the wrong impression that State governments are subordinate to the Union Government, is totally unacceptable. The Federal structure of the Constitution of our country is one of the essential and basic features of the Constitution. Federalism, which is the basic structure of our Constitution, cannot be said to be diluted or violated in any manner by use of the expression ‘Central government.’ Basic structure of our Constitution is the foundation on which the governance of our country is rooted,” the Court held. 

While dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition asking for instructions to change all laws, legislation, and official communications to refer to the “Union Government” instead of the “Central Government,” the Court made this observation.

Atmaram Saraogi, an 84-year-old social activist, filed the PIL, claiming that India is a “Union of States” under the Constitution and that the idea of a “Central Government,” as it was under the British Raj, is unconstitutional.

The argument aimed to overturn the General Clauses Act’s definition of central government since it went beyond the bounds of the Constitution.

“The Union and its Territory” are used in Article 1 of the Indian Constitution, which declares that “India, that is, Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” It’s interesting to note that none of the 395 articles of the Indian Constitution, which are divided into 22 parts, or any of its eight schedules use the terms “Centre” or “Central Government,” according to the plea.

The High Court observed in a thorough ruling on December 19 that the terms “Union,” “Union of India,” “Government of India,” and “Central Government” have been used numerous times throughout the Constitution.

“Accordingly, it is manifest that the Constitution itself has used various expressions to indicate the Government which is the Government of the country viz. the Union of India, the Central Government or the Government of India. This fact becomes all the more clear by reference to Article 300 of the Constitution which categorically states that ‘Government of India’ may sue or be sued by the name of Union of India… Reading of Article 300 of the Constitution clearly demonstrates that it is the ‘Government of India’ which is being referred to as the ‘Union of India,'” the Court said.

The Court emphasized that the central government is the Government of India. The Court reasoned that since the Constitution also uses the term “Central Government,” it is permissible to refer to it as the “Government of India,” “Union of India,” or “Central Government” in the same sentence.

It further cited the General Clauses Act, 1897, which defined the term “Central Government,” concluding that the legislature’s intention was unambiguously to include the “Government of India,” which encompasses the “Union of India,” in the definition of the term.

“It may also be noted that the expression ‘Central Government’, ‘Union of India’ as well as ‘Government of India’ have been used vastly in various statutes and connote the Government of the country in interchangeable expressions. Thus, when the Constitution as well as other Statutes have applied various expressions to connote the Government of the country, this Court will not enter into the arena of legislation, which is not within the domain of this Court,” the Court added.

Therefore, the court dismissed the PIL petition.

Atmaram Saraogi v Union of India

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