Salient Features of Indian Constitution
Written, Lengthy and Detailed Constitution
Our Constitution is written, lengthy and detailed. Written constitution is that which is based on written laws duly passed by a representative body elected for this very purpose. In other words, a written constitution is an enacted constitution. An unwritten constitution, on the other hand, is an evolved constitution. It is primarily based on unwritten conventions, traditions and practices. The Constitution of the U.S.A. is another example of a written constitution and that of England of an unwritten one. The Constitution of India is an elaborate document and is the most voluminous Constitution in the world. Our Constitution originally consisted of 395 Articles and eight Schedules. During the last forty-three years of its operation, seventy-six Amendments have been made to the Constitution. Two new Schedules have also been added, resulting in a further increase in its size and volume. An important reason for the extraordinary volume of the Constitution is that it contains detailed provisions regarding numerous aspects of governance. This was done to minimize confusion and ambiguity in the interpretation of the Constitution, another reason for its unusual lengthy is the incorporation of the good points of various constitutions of the world. The vastness of our country and its peculiar problems has also added to the bulk of the Constitution. Thus, for example, the Indian Constitution envisages laws for the governance of the States too. Detailed provisions regarding the working of the Union Government and the State Governments have been given with a view to avoiding any constitutional problem which the newly-born Democratic Republic might experience in the working of the Constitution.
Partly Rigid and Partly Flexible Constitution
A flexible constitution is that which can be amended like an ordinary law of the country, i.e. by a simple majority of Parliament. On the other hand, a rigid constitution is the one which prescribes a difficult procedure for its own amendment. The Constitution of the U.S.A. is the best example of rigid constitution because it can be amended only if a proposal for constitutional amendment is passed by a two-third majority in each House of the Congress (the US Parliament) and ratified by at least three-fourths of the federating states. The Constitution of Great Britain, on the other hand, is highly flexible. This is so because it can be amended by a simple majority of its Parliament, much like the ordinary laws of the country. The Indian Constitution is neither very flexible nor very rigid. Some provisions of the Constitution can be amended by a simple majority of Parliament, like ordinary laws of the land while most of the provisions can only be amended by a two-thirds majority of Parliament For very important provisions of the Constitution, such as the manner of election of the President and the extent of the legislative powers of the Union and the States, an amendment passed by a two-thirds majority of Parliament should also be ratified by at least one-half of the State legislatures. The Indian Constitution thus combines the flexibility of the British Constitution and the rigidity of the American Constitution. Jawaharlal Nehru, while justifying this nature of the Constitution, said,
“0ur Constitution is to be as solid and permanent as we can make it, yet there is no permanence in a constitution. There should be a certain amount of flexibility. If you make anything rigid and permanent, you stop the nation’s growth, the growth of a living vital organic people.”
Partly Federal and Partly Unitary
Our Constitution declares India a Union of States (federation). It prescribes dual set of governments-the Union Government and the State Governments. The subjects of administration have also been classified into three lists-the Union List, the State List and the Concurrent List. Whereas subjects of national importance like currency, defense, railways, post and telegraph, foreign affairs, citizenship, survey and census have been assigned to the Union Government and placed under the Union List, subjects of local importance like agriculture, law and order, health and entertainment have been assigned to the States and form a part of the State List. Both the Union Government and the State Governments operate within the spheres of their authority. The Union Parliament and the State Legislatures enjoy co-equal powers to make laws in regard to the Concurrent subjects. These subjects are of common importance such as marriage and divorce, adoption, succession, transfer of property, preventive detention, education, civil and criminal law, etc. However, if there is a conflict between a Union law and a law passed by one or many State Legislatures, the law made by the Union Parliament would prevail over the State law. The Indian Constitution possesses other features of a federation too, for example, supremacy of the constitution. This means that the Union and the State Governments both operate within the limits set by the Constitution. Both the governments derive authority from the Constitution itself. Similarly, in all federal countries, the authority of the Court is a well established fact. This means that in case of a dispute between the Union Government and State Governments or between two or more State Governments, the verdict of the Court will be final. Not only this, the Supreme Court is given the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution in case of dispute or confusion. The Supreme Court of India is the guardian of the Constitution and fulfils its role as a Federal Court too. The Indian Constitution, though federal in form, has a strong unitary bias. The Central Government possesses extensive powers compared to the State Governments. The exercise of these powers by the Centre gives the Constitution the strength of a unitary government. Let us look at those provisions of the Indian Constitution that make it partly unitary. The Union Government can supersede the authority of the States both in the normal and abnormal times. The President of India can declare three different types of emergency. During the operation of an emergency, the powers of the State Governments are greatly curtailed and the Union Government becomes all in all. Even in normal times, the Union Parliament can legislate upon a subject given in the State List, if the Rajya Sabha passes a resolution by a two-thirds vote that such legislation is necessary in the national interest. Moreover, the Indian Constitution, unlike the US Constitution, does not provide for double citizenship, division of public services or of the judiciary. Similarly, the States in India do not enjoy the right to secede from the Union nor do they enjoy equality of representation in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). Another unitary feature of our Constitution is that it gives Union Parliament the power to alter the boundaries of the existing States or to carve out new States out of the existing ones. It is on account of these features that the Indian Constitution is said to be federal in form but unitary in spirit.
The Constitution of India adopts Parliamentary system of government at the Centre and in the States. In such a system of government, the executive power is wielded by the Council of Ministers which is collectively responsible to the legislature. The Ministers continue in office so long as they enjoy the confidence of a majority of Members in the legislature. The moment they lose this confidence, a vote of no-confidence is passed against them and they have to resign forthwith. The responsibility of the executive to the legislature is also ensured by the right of the Members of the legislature to put questions to the Ministers. The Members may table adjournment motions and call attention motions against the policies pursued by the Government. The Ministers are duty-bound to answer all such questions and satisfy the Members of the legislature.
Certain rights are considered basic or fundamental as they provide suitable conditions for the material and moral uplift of the people. The Indian Constitution guarantees a number of such rights to the citizens of India. The Fundamental Rights of India conferred by the Constitution are:
- The Right to Equality;
- The Right to Freedom;
- The Right against Exploitation;
- The Right to Freedom of Religion;
- Cultural and Educational Rights; and
- The Right to Constitutional Remedies.
The Right to Property was deleted from the list of Fundamental Rights by the Forty-fourth Constitution Amendment Act, 1978. The fundamental rights as envisaged in the Constitution of India are justiciable.
Directive Principles of State Policy
The Directive Principles of State Policy constitute another distinctive feature of our Constitution, These Principles embody certain ideals and objectives which should be kept in mind by the Union and State Governments while making laws and implementing policies. The implementation of these directives was not made compulsory due to the paucity of resources. The framers of the Constitution expected that as and when the future Governments would mobilise resources, they would do their best to implement these directives. Equitable distribution of wealth, employment for all, protection of health, compulsory education for children up to the age of fourteen and the establishment of village panchayats are some such principles. The Directive Principles of State Policy are non-justifiable. No legal remedy can be sought in a court of law ft the Government fails to follow or implement any of these principles. In other words, the Directive Principles are non-justifiable rights of the citizen. However, these principles are considered important in the governance of the country. It becomes a moral duty of every government to follow them and realise the purpose behind them. Several amendments to the Constitution, together with some judgments of the Supreme Court have paved the way for the implementation of the Directive Principles.
Independence of the Judiciary
Our Constitution has taken special care to establish an independent and impartial judiciary. The judges of the Supreme Court and the State High Courts have been provided security of service. Once appointed, their salaries and allowances cannot be altered to their disadvantage by the Government during the course of their tenure. Nor can they be dismissed before the age of their retirement except in case of proven misconduct supported by a resolution of Parliament passed by a two-thirds majority. Security of service of judges is in keeping with the dignity and prestige of the highest judicial organs of the country. This provision has been made in the Constitution to keep the judges independent and immune from the control and influence of the Executive. The judges can exercise their discretion in the dispensation of justice even if their decisions go against the Government. The Supreme Court and the State High Courts are also the guardians of the rights and liberties of the citizens and protect them against arbitrary action on the part of all government agencies.
In a country like India, with diverse cultural traditions and languages, it is essential to declare one language as the national language, symbolic of the unity of the different regions of the country. The Constitution declares Hindi in Devanagari script as the official language of the country. Besides, each State is authorised to adopt a regional language for all or some of its official purposes. English has also been allowed to be used along with other languages for official purposes.
Adult Franchise and Joint Electorates
The Constitution provides for Universal Adult Franchise. The citizens of India who are 18 years of age and above have been granted the right to vote irrespective of any qualification pertaining to education, possession of property or payment of income tax. The adoption of Universal Adult Franchise was indeed a very daring step taken by the Constituent Assembly in view of the fact that large sections of our people are illiterate. The manner and the orderliness, with which Indian masses have exercised their right to vote during ten general elections and many State Legislative Assembly elections, speak eloquently of the political maturity of our people. The Constitution has replaced the system of communal representation (introduced by the British in 1909) by that of joint electorates. The country is divided into territorial constituencies. From each constituency, members of different communities jointly elect a common candidate. The system of joint electorates promotes communal harmony and goodwill and discourages communal politics. To bring the Scheduled Castes and Tribes at par with the other communities of the country, some seats have been reserved for them in the Union Parliament, State Legislatures and local bodies. There are reserved parliamentary and assembly constituencies from where only the members of the Scheduled Castes or Tribes can contest elections.
Establishment of a Welfare State
The Preamble to the Constitution, as modified by the Forty-second Amendment Act, 1976 and the Directive Principles of State Policy aim at the establishment of a Welfare State in India. Keeping in view the inherent spirit of the Constitution, the successive governments at the Centre have been pursuing a policy of democratic socialism. Nationalization of banks and general insurance, fixation of ceiling on urban and rural lands and abolition of privy purses of the rulers of the erstwhile native States, implementation of various poverty alleviation programs are some of the measures which have been taken to remove gross inequalities of wealth and to usher in an era of social and economic equality.