Salient features of Indian Constitution
- Most Exhaustive Constitution:
Originally our constitution contained 395 articles divided in 22 parts and 8 schedules. The numbering still remains the same but as and when the constitution amended, new articles were added with suffix A, B, C etc. For example, when our constitution was amended for adjusting the Right to Education, a new Article 21A was inserted below Article 21. So, today our constitution has the following:
- 25 Parts
- 12 Schedules
- 448 Articles
- Till the date of writing this module, Constitution of India has been amended for 97 times.
- The above figures make our constitution the most comprehensive constitution in the world. Here we should also note that the British have no written constitution and Constitution of USA had originally only 7 articles. This 7 article Constitution of United States has been amended for 27 times up till now. The first 10 amendments are called Bill of Rights. The constitution of Canada had 147 articles; Constitution of Australia had 128 articles, when they were enacted.
- Our Constitution starts with a Preamble:
Indian Constitution has a preamble which gives an insight into the Philosophy of the Constitution. Please note that Preamble is a Part of Indian Constitution. Initially the Preamble was not considered a part of the Constitution and its amendment was not accepted. In kesavanand Bharti v/s state of Kerala 1973 case the Supreme Court ruled that it is a part of the constitution and can be amended.
- Our constitution has been drawn from different sources:
Our constitution has borrowed many things from many constitutions. It was called plagiarism by many. But, here we need to look into what Dr. BR Ambedkar, The chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Assembly said in this context:
“As to the accusation that the Draft Constitution has [re]produced a good part of the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935,”I make no apologies. There is nothing to be ashamed of in borrowing. It involves no plagiarism. Nobody holds any patent rights in the fundamental ideas of a Constitution….”
Yes, our constitution has borrowed good things from the Government of India Act 1935 and other contemporary constitutions of the world. The best provisions were selected from different sources and we should not be ashamed of that.
This was something which is agreed by most of us. Nobody holds copyright on ideas of constitution and our founding fathers chose to incorporate what they found most suitable in those days.
- Rigidity vs. Flexibility:
Our constitution is rigid as well as flexible. Here you must note that in India and also many other countries, making Law is quite flexible and easy in comparison to amending a law. The amendment of the constitution is one of the most difficult laws making process in India.
- Sovereignty of the Country:
The Preamble of the constitution declares that India is a sovereign state. It manages its internal and external affairs freely without any external forces.
- Democratic state:
India is a democratic country where governing power is derived from the people by means of elected representatives of the people. The political authority is responsible to the people. This democracy is based upon the socioeconomic justice and equality of the opportunity.
India has adopted the “British” pattern of the parliamentary democracy. But there is a big difference. While in UK, the Queen or Monarch is the hereditary head of the state, India does not have a hereditary post of Head of the State. The Head of the state in India is President and he / she is elected. Though people don’t directly take part in election of the President of India, yet Indian President is indirectly elected by the people, because he / she is elected by the elected representatives. Any Indian without discrimination to the caste / creed / religion can contest for Presidential elections and can occupy the office, provided he fulfils the eligibility conditions as prescribed by the constitution. The meaning of the Republic is that Head of the state is elected by the people. The head of the state is NOT a monarch in India.
- Socialist State:
Indian socialism is democratic socialism. The goals of the socialism are to be realized through democratic means. Please note that in the original constitution the term “Socialist” was not in the Preamble. It was added by the 42nd amendment in 1976.
India is secular country. Here No religion is a state religion. The constitution provides equality treatment of al religions by the government and equal opportunities for all religions. Again , the term “secular” was not in the Preamble. It was added by the 42nd amendment in 1976.
- Parliamentary Form of Government:
India has a parliamentary form of Government. The question is what is a government? And what it is made up of? The parliamentary system means that the ministers get their legitimacy from a Legislature body that is the Parliament of India. Our parliament has two houses viz. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. So, it’s called bicameral parliament. Part V of the Constitution trifurcates the State into three equal constituents, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The composition of the Legislature, the Parliament of India, is of members elected by adult suffrage in the case of the Lok Sabha, and indirectly by the State Legislatures in case of Rajya Sabha.
The Lok Sabha seats are divided into territorial constituencies and each elected member becomes the representative of all the people residing in his constituency and registered in the electoral roll of that constituency. Each Member of Parliament then acts in the House on behalf of all his constituents and that is why India is a representative democracy.
This is in contrast with the United States of America, which is a presidential form of democracy. The presidential system operates under a stricter separation of powers whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments.
In India, the government power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers who collectively enjoy the confidence of the House and who advise the President on how the executive powers of the Union will be exercised. The moment the House loses confidence in government the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers must resign and the government would fall.
However, in the presidential form of democracy the President is directly elected by the people and neither he nor his cabinet is responsible to the House of Representatives, the lower house in the American Congress or Parliament.
In fact in the United States a cabinet member cannot be a member of either House of Congress. In US, the balance of power is established by the Legislature through its functions of legislation and approving the budget, but by itself Congress cannot either dismiss the cabinet nor remove the President except through the process of impeachment. In India, which follows the Westminster model, legislation itself is initiated by government and because the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to Parliament, the Executive and the Legislature are intertwined in the matter of legislative business. Because government enjoys a majority in the House the Prime Minister can and does influence what goes on in Parliament, whether in the mater of the budget, legislation or debate. To that extent the Executive embodied by the Prime Minister can override the checks and balances between the Legislature and Executive, which are a feature of the American Constitution.
The above discussion makes it clear that the council of ministers is responsible to the lower of parliament i.e. Lok Sabha here in India This means that if the government loses the confidence in Lok Sabha it has to go.
Confidence of the House is reflected in existence/continuance of majority support – whether it be of a single party or of a coalition of parties. If it’s a coalition, it many a times becomes a cause for political instability. As we read above, in presidential democracies, the Head of Government, the President is directly elected by the people and cannot be removed from office except in circumstances of high crimes and misdemeanour established through impeachment process. Hence, Presidential democracies provide stable governance. That is the reason that many a times, a question has been publicly debated often that should India opt for a Presidential form of Government?
This is not possible because Parliamentary form is a basic feature of the Constitution, as held by the Supreme Court, legal problems might arise in switch over to any other form. Then, the merits of Parliamentary system are what make it suitable for India. In our country, the Parliament is in a position to keep the Prime Minister and his Ministers under constant vigil through its oversight mechanisms and many other tools such as – Question Hour, Adjournment Motions, Calling Attention Notices, debates, Confidence and No Confidence Motions, Scrutiny of budget and its implementation, public accounts audit etc.
- A blend of Federal and Unitary System
The constitution of India establishes the country a partly federal and partly unitary government. India is a federal system because there are separate governments in the Union and States and there is division of power. But, there are constitutional provisions and practices which have imparted unitary features by giving more powers to the centre. Some of them are
- It provides Single Citizenship to all the citizens of the country; it has single constitution for both the centre and states, though Jammu & Kashmir has a separate constitution.
- The parliament has power to legislate on the matters included in the Union List as well as the state list.
- There are emergency provisions which make the system virtually a unitary system. The Change in the names and boundaries of the states can be done by the parliament of India.
- There is an integral judiciary system.
- There are all India services such as IAS, IFS and IPS. The Governors of the states are agents of the President.
- There is an election commission which is central agency for elections at all levels.
- There is unequal representation of the states in council of States (Rajya Sabha).
- The Planned development of the whole country is responsibility of the planning Commission.
- The states are dependent on center for economic assistance and grants.
- Integrated Judiciary:
In United States there are separate Judicial systems for the Union and the states. In India the Judiciary is integrated. The supreme judicial courts are not in states. The states have high courts but the verdicts of these courts are subject to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Constitution has made the High Courts subordinate to the Supreme Court.
- Universal Adult Franchise:
Indian constitution provides adult and universal franchise to all citizens. Every citizen who is above 18 years has a Voting Right without any discrimination.