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Knowledge Centre

Indian Constitution - Salient Features
Date: 22 Jul 2014
Chapter: GENERAL

Salient Features of the Indian Constitution

1. Lengthiest Written Constitution :- Constitutions are classified into written, like the American Constitution, or unwritten, like the British Constitution. The Constitution of India is the lengthiest of all the written constitutions of the world. It is a very comprehensive, elaborate and detailed document. Originally (1949), the Constitution contained a Preamble, 395 Articles (divided into 22 Parts) and 8 Schedules. Presently, it consists of a Preamble, about 450 Articles (divided into 24 Parts) and 12 Schedules. The various amendments carried out since 1951 have deleted about 20 Articles and one Part (VII) and added about 70 Articles, three Parts (IVA, IXA and XIVA) and four Schedules (9, 10, 11 and 12). No other Constitution in the world has so many Articles and Schedules. Four factors have contributed to the elephantine size of our Constitution. They are :

(a) Geographical factors, that is, the vastness of the country and its diversity.

(b) Historical factors, e.g., the influence of the Government of India Act of 1935, which was bulky.

(c) Single Constitution for both the Centre and the states except Jammu and Kashmir.

(d) Dominance of legal luminaries in the Constituent Assembly.

2. Drawn From Various Sources :- The Constitution of India has borrowed most of its provisions from the constitutions of various other countries as well as from the Government of India Act of 1935. Dr. B R Ambedkar proudly acclaimed that the Constitution of India has been framed after 'ransacking all the known Constitution of the World'.

3. Government of India Act of 1935 :- More than 2/3 (two-third of the Constitution is taken from the Government of India Act of 1935. Basic structure of the polity, provisions regulating the Union-State relations, declaration of Emergency, Federal scheme, power of Federal Judiciary, and the office of the Governor etc are mainly lifted from this act.

4. Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility :- Constitutions are also classified into rigid and flexible. A rigid Constitution is one that requires a special procedure for its amendment, as for example, the American Constitution. A flexible constitution, on the other hand, is one that can be amended in the same manner as the ordinary laws are made, as for example, the British Constitution. The Constitution of India is neither rigid nor flexible but a synthesis of both. Article 368 provides for two types of amendments :

(a) Some provisions can be amended by a special majority of the Parliament, i.e., a two-third majority of the members of each House present and voting, and a majority (that is, more than 50%), of the total membership of each House.

(b) Some other provisions can be amended by a special majority of the Parliament and with the ratification by half of the total states. At the same time, some provisions of the Constitution can be amended by a simple majority of the Parliament in the manner of ordinary legislative process. Notably, these amendments do not come under Article 368.

5. Federal System with Unitary Bias :- The Constitution of India establishes a federal system of government. It contains all the usual features of a federation, viz., two government, division of powers, written Constitution, supremacy of Constitution, rigidity of Constitution, independent judiciary and bicameralism. However, the Indian Constitution also contains a large number of unitary or non-federal features, viz., a strong Centre, single Constitution, single citizenship, flexibility of Constitution, integrated judiciary, appointment of state governor by the Centre, all- India services, emergency provisions, and so on. Moreover, the term 'Federation has nowhere been used in the Constitution. Article 1, on the other hand, describes India as a 'Union of States' which implies two things: one, Indian Federation is not the result of an agreement by the states; and two, no state has the right to secede from the federation. Hence, the Indian Constitution has been variously described as 'federal in form but unitary in spirit', 'quasi-federal' by K C Wheare, 'bargaining federalism' by Morris Jones, 'co-operative federalism' by Granville Austin, 'federation with a centralizing tendency' by Ivor Jennings, and so on.

6. Parliamentary Form of Government :- The Constitution of India has opted for the British parliamentary System of Government rather than American Presidential System of Government. The parliamentary system is based on the principle of cooperation and coordination between the legislative and executive organs while the presidential system is based on the doctrine of separation of powers between the two organs. The  Parliamentary system is also known as the 'Westminster' model of government, responsible government and cabinet government. The Constitution establishes the parliamentary system not only at the Centre but also in the states. The features of parliamentary government in India are :

(a) Presence of nominal and real executives ;

(b) Majority party rule,

(c) Collective responsibility of the executive to the legislature, individually responsible to President.

(d) Membership of the ministers in the legislature,

(e) Leadership of the prime minister or the chief minister,

(f) Dissolution of the lower House (Lok Sabha or Assembly).

Even though the Indian the Indian Parliamentary System is largely based on the British pattern, there are some fundamental differences between the two. For example, the Indian Parliament is not a sovereign body like the British Parliament. Further, the Indian State has an elected head (republic) while the British State has hereditary head (monarchy). In a parliamentary system whether in India or Britain, the role of the Prime Minister has become so significant and crucial that the political scientists like to call it a 'Prime Ministerial Government'.

7. Synthesis of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy :- The doctrine of sovereignty or Parliament is associated with the British Parliament while the principle of judicial supremacy with that of the American Supreme Court. Just as the Indian parliamentary system differs from the British system, the scope of judicial review power of the Supreme Court in India is narrower than that of what exists in US. This is because the American Constitution provides for 'due process of law' against that of 'procedure established by law' contained in the Indian Constitution (Article 21). Therefore, the framers of the Indian Constitution have preferred a proper synthesis between the British principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the American principle of judicial supremacy. The Supreme Court, on the one hand, can declare the parliamentary laws as unconstitutional through its power or judicial review. The  parliament, on the other hand, can amend the major portion of the Constitution through its constituent power.

8. Integrated and Independent Judiciary :- The Indian Constitution establishes a judicial system that is integrated as well as independent. The Supreme Court stands at the top of the integrated judicial system in the country. Below it, there are high courts at the state level. Under a high court, there is a hierarchy of subordinate courts, that is, district courts and other lower courts. This single system of courts enforces both the central laws as well as the state laws, unlike in USA, where the federal laws are enforced by the federal by the state judiciary. The Supreme Court is a federal court, the highest court of appeal, the guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens and the guardian of the Constitution. Hence, the Constitution has made various provisions to ensure its independence-security of tenure of the judges, fixed services conditions for the judges, all the expenses of the Supreme Court charged on the Consolidated Fund of India, prohibition on discussion on the conduct of judges in the legislatures, ban on practice after retirement, power to punish for its contempt vested in the Supreme Court, separation of the judiciary from the executive, and so on.

9. Fundamental Rights :- Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to all the citizens :

(a) Right to Equality (Articles 14-18),

(b) Right to Freedom (Articles 19-22),

(c) Right against Exploitation (Articles 23-24),

(d) Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28),

(e) Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29-30),

(f) Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32).

The Fundamental Rights are meant for promoting the idea of political democracy. They operate as limitations on the tyranny of the executive and arbitrary laws of the legislature. They are justiciable in nature that is, they are enforceable by the courts for their violation. The aggrieved person can directly go to the Supreme Court which can issue the writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, certiorari and quo warranto for the restoration of his rights.

10. Directive Principles of State Policy :- According to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the Directive Principles of State Policy is a 'novel feature' of the Indian Constitution. They are enumerated in Part IV of the Constitution. They can be classified into three broad categories-socialistic, Gandhian and liberal intellectual. The directive principles are meant for promoting the ideal of social and economic democracy. They seek to establish a 'welfare state' in India. However, unlike the Fundamental Rights, the directives are non-justiciable in nature, that is, they are not enforceable by the courts for their violation. Yet, the Constitution itself declares that 'these principles in making laws'. Hence, they impose a moral obligation on the state authorities for their application. But, the real force (sanction) behind them is political, that is, public opinion.

11. Fundamental Duties :- The original constitution did not provide for the fundamental duties of the citizens. These were added during the operation of internal emergency (1975-77) by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976 on the recommendation of the Swaran Singh Committee. The newly inserted Part IV-A of the Constitution (which consists of only one Article 51-A) specifies the ten Fundamental Duties viz., to  respect the Constitution, national flag and national anthem; to protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of   the country; to promote the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people; to preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture and so on. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 added one more fundamental duty.

12. A Secular State :- The Constitution of India stands for a secular state. Hence, it does not uphold any particular religion as the official religion of the Indian State. The following provisions of the Constitution reveal; the secular character of the Indian State:

(a) The term 'secular' was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976.

(b) The Preamble secures to all citizens of India liberty of belief, faith and worship.

(c) The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws (Article 14).

(d) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of religion (Article 15).

(e) Equality

13. Universal Adult Franchise :- The Indian Constitution adopts universal adult franchise as a basis of elections to the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. Every citizen who is not less than 18 years of age has a right to vote without any discrimination of caste, race, religion, sex, literacy, wealth, and so on. The voting age was reduced to 18 years from 21 years in 1989 by the 61st to Constitutional Amendment Act of 1988. The introduction of universal adult franchise by the Constitution-makers was a bold experiment and highly  remarkable in view of the vast size of the country, its huge population, high poverty, social inequality and overwhelming illiteracy. Universal adult franchise makes democracy broad-based, enhances the self-respect and prestige of the common people, upholds the principle of equality, enables minorities to protect their interests and opens up new hopes and vistas for weaker sections.

14. Single Citizenship :- Though the Indian Constitution is federal and envisages a dual polity (Centre and states), it provides for only a single citizenship, that is, the Indian citizenship. In countries like USA, on the other had each person is not only a citizen of USA but also a citizen of the particular state to which he belongs. Thus, he

owes allegiance to both and enjoys dual sets of rights one conferred by the National government and another by the state government. In India, all citizens irrespective of the state in which they are born or reside enjoy the same political and civil rights of citizenship all over the country and no discrimination is made between them excepting in few cases like tribal areas, Jammu and Kashmir, and so on. The various models of acquisition of citizenship prescribed by the Citizenship Act, 1955, are as follows:

(a) Citizenship by birth;

(b) Citizenship by descent;

(c) Citizenship by registration;

(d) Citizenship by incorporation of territory.

In 1986 the citizenship act was amended to make acquisition of citizenship difficult for refugees from neighbouring countries.

15. Dual Citizenship for all PIO :- January 9 – the day Mahatma Gandhi returned from South African in 1915-was chosen to celebrate the Pravasi  Bharatiya Divas as a global gathering of Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) in New Delhi. Celebration of the Divas was one of the recommendations made by the L.M. Singhvi Committee on the Indian Diaspora. The three-day gala event in New Delhi from Jan.9 to 11, 2005. Nearly 2,000 delegates from 60 countries, including Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and V.S. Naipaul, attended the global gathering. The dual citizenship is applicable to US, Canada, European Union Countries etc. Dual citizenship allows the person to live in India indefinitely, unlike the Person of India Origin (PIO) card, which permitted a single stay for a period of six months. Dual citizens do not have voting rights. Neither can they be elected to public office. As per the  amended law, persons of Indian origin who were citizens of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Cyprus, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United Sates were eligible to apply for dual citizenship. The announcement by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, extends dual citizenship to all PIOs who migrated from India after January 26, 1950. It addresses a major anomaly that restricted dual citizenship to principally developed, Western nations.

16. Independent Bodies :- The Indian constitution not only provides for the legislative, executive and judicial organs of the government (Central and state) but also establishes certain independent bodies. They are envisaged by the Constitution as the bulwarks of the democratic system of Government in India. These are:

(a) Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections to the Parliament, the state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice-president of India.

(b) Comptroller and Auditor-General of India to audit the accounts of the Central and state governments. He acts as the guardian of public purse and comments on the legality and propriety of government expenditure.

(c) Union Public Service Commission to conduct examinations for recruitment to all-India services and higher Central services and to advise the president on disciplinary matter.

(d) State Public Service Commission in every state to conduct examinations for recruitment to state services and to advice the governor on disciplinary matters.

17. Emergency Provisions :- The Indian Constitution contains elaborate emergency provisions to enable the President to meet any extraordinary situation effectively. The rationality behind the incorporation of these provisions is to safeguard the sovereignty, unity, integrity and security of the country, the democratic political system and the Constitution. The Constitution envisages three types of emergencies, namely :

(a) National emergency on the ground of war or external aggression or armed rebellion (Article 352);

(b) State emergency (President's Rule) on the ground of failure of Constitutional machinery in the states (Article 356) or failure to comply with the directions of the Centre (Article 365); and

(c) Financial emergency on the ground of threat to the financial stability or credit of India (Article 360).

During an emergency, the Central Government becomes all-powerful and the states go into the total control of the center. It converts the federal structure into the unitary one without a formal amendment of the Constitution. This kind of transformation of the political system from federal (during normal times) to unitary (during emergency) is a unique feature of the Indian Constitution.

18. Three-tier Government :- Originally, the Indian Constitution, like many other federal constitutions, provided for a dual polity and contained provisions with regard to the organization and powers of the Centre and the States. Later, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (1991) have added a third tier of government (i.e. local) which is not found in any other Constitutional of the world. The 73rd Amendment Act of 1992 gave constitutional recognition to the panchayats (rural local governments) by adding a new Part IX and a new Schedule 11 to the Constitution. Similarly, the 74th Amendment Act of 1992 gave constitutional recognition to the municipalities (urban local governments) by adding a new Part IX-A and a new Schedule 12 to the Constitution.


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