Federalism basic structure of Constitution, not diluted by using ‘Central govt’ instead of ‘Union’: Delhi HC

Federalism forms part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution and it cannot be said it is diluted or violated by the use of the expression “Central government” instead of “Union government”, the Delhi High Court has said while dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to replace the term “Central government” with ‘Union’ or ‘Union government’ in all orders, notifications, and correspondences.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan said “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, and the petitioner’s statement that the use of the expression “Central Government” implies that state governments are subordinate to it is totally unacceptable.

“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 bench, also comprising Justice Mini Pushkarna, said in the order passed on the PIL.

“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 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 court added.

The court had dismissed the PIL on December 19 but a detailed order was uploaded on its website later.

Atmaram Saraogi, an 84-year-old Kolkata resident, had moved the high court earlier this year seeking a direction to the Union of India, through the Ministry of Law and Justice, to use the expression ‘Union’, ‘Union government’ or ‘Union of India’ instead of ‘Central government’, ‘Centre’ or any other similar reference.

The petitioner sought striking down the definition of “Central government” as defined under Section 3(8)(b) of the General Clauses Act, 1897 as being ultra vires the Constitution.

“Under our Constitution, India is a ‘Union of States’, and there cannot be any conceptualisation of a ‘Central government’ as existed under the British Raj. However, this archaic phraseology continues to be employed wholly contrary to our system of governance,” the plea said.

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“The present PIL has only been filed by the petitioner being 84 years of age with a genuine concern to correct this continued error of usage of terms, which has the potential to denude the relationship and ties between the Union government and the State governments, thereby shake the very edifice of our Constitution,” the plea added.

During a hearing held on December 19, the court had rejected the PIL and said it would pass a formal written order on issue.

The counsel for the petitioner had contended that the term “Central government” found no place in the Constitution of India and even a parliamentary committee favoured the usage of “Union government”. The court had then responded that the committee only made a recommendation and that in spite of being referred to as the Supreme Court, the top court was also called the “Apex court”.

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