Salient Features of Indian Constitution
Indian Constitution is quite unique in terms of its subject and content. Although it is borrowed from several constitutions of the world, our Constitution contains several distinctive features. 15 most important salient features of Indian Constitution are discussed below:
1. It is the lengthiest written constitution in the world:
- Originally (1949): 1 Preamble + 395 Articles (divided in 22 parts) + 8 Schedules.
- Presently (2019): 1 Preamble + 448 Articles (divided in 25 parts) + 12 Schedules + 5 appendices + 103 Amendments (till January 2019).
Indian Constitution is so lengthy, because:
a. The Constitution contains not just fundamental principles of governance but also contains detailed administrative provisions which were laid down to make it more convenient.
b. Historical Factors: our constitution is highly influenced by the Government of India Act (1935) which itself was very bulky.
c. Geographical Factors: vast geographical area and diverse society.
d. Single Constitution containing separate provisions for both Centre and States (except Jammu and Kashmir).
e. Borrowed from various sources:
- The government of India Act 1935: Basic structure of the Constitution.
- Britain: 1. Parliamentary form of Government, 2. Cabinet system, 3. Bicameralism, 4. The relation between Executive and Legislature, 5. President as Nominal Head.
- U.S.A.: 1. The concept of Written Constitution, 2. Preamble, 3. The concept of Supreme Court, 4. Fundamental Rights, 5. Independence of Judiciary, 6. The concept of Judicial Review 7. Method of removal of President and Judges of Supreme Court and High Court.
- Ireland: 1. Method of election of President 2. Method of the nomination of Rajya Sabha member, 3. Directive Principles of State Policies.
- Canada: 1. Federal System with strong Central government (i.e. Quasi-Federal form of Government), 2. Residuary Powers with Centre, 3. Reservation of Bill by the Governor for President’s Assent.
- Australia: 1. Joint Sitting of the Parliament, 2. Concurrent List.
- Germany: 1. Suspension of Fundamental Rights during Emergency.
- USSR: 1. Fundamental Duties 2. The concept of Five Year Plan.
- France: 1. The concept of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in Preamble.
- South Africa: 1. Amendment of Constitution.
2. A fine balance between Rigidity and Flexibility:
Article 368 deals with the Amendment of the Constitution in the following ways:
a. Some provisions (which do not come under the scope of Article 368) can be amended by Simple Majority of the parliament.
b. Some can be amended by Special Majority of Parliament i.e. 2/3rd majority of the House present and voting and majority (i.e. more than 50%) of total members of the house.
c. Whereas, some provisions require amendment by special majority and also ratification by half of the total states.
3. Federal System with Unitary Bias:
Indian Constitution recognizes Federal System of Government.
Features of Federalism: Two systems of Government, Written and rigid Constitution, Bicameralism, Independent Judiciary.
However, Constitution of India also recognizes several features of Unitary System of Government such as Single Constitution, Single Citizenship, Strong Centre, Integrated Judiciary, Governors appointed by the centre over states, Emergency Provisions, All India Services etc.
Thus Indian Constitution can be described as ‘Federal in form but Unitary in spirit’ or ‘Quasi federal’.
4. Parliamentary Form of Government:
- Indian Constitution follows British Parliamentary form of Government rather than American Presidential form of Government.
- In a Parliamentary system, there is cooperation and coordination between Legislative and Executive organs, but Presidential system follows ‘Doctrine of Separation of Powers’ between the Legislative and Executive organs.
- Parliamentary System of government is also known as ‘Westminster’ model of government or ‘Responsible Government’ or ‘Cabinet Government’.
- Indian Constitution provides for Parliamentary System at the centre and also in the states.
- Important features of Parliamentary Government in India are:
- Majority Party Rule.
- Presence of Nominal and Real Executive i.e. President serves as the nominal head whereas Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers collectively are Real Executives.
- Collective responsibility of Executive to legislature i.e. Prime Minister and Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.
- Lok Sabha (or the Lower House) is subjected to dissolution.
- Although Indian Parliamentary form of Government is very much similar to the British system, there are two important differences to be noted:
- British Parliament is a sovereign body but Indian Parliament is not sovereign.
- The President, who is the head of India is an elected head which makes India a ‘Republic’ where as in Britain, head of the state (king or a queen) enjoys hereditary position which makes Britain a ‘Monarchy’.
5. Combination of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy:
- Parliament can amend a major part of the Constitution through its constituent powers.
- On the other hand, Supreme Court through its power of Judicial Review can declare Parliamentary laws as unconstitutional if they are against the basic structure of the Constitution.
6. Integrated and Independent Judiciary:
- Indian Constitution provides for an integrated judicial hierarchy in which the Supreme Court stands on top followed by High Courts at the state level. Below High Courts, there are Subordinate Courts (i.e. District Courts and Other Lower Courts).
- This single system of courts enforces both the central laws and state laws.
- Supreme Court is the Guardian of the Indian Constitution.
- In USA, Federal laws are enforced by Federal Courts and State laws are enforced by State Courts.
7. Fundamental Rights:
- Indian Constitution provides fundamental rights to strengthen political democracy in the country.
- Their main function is to limit the tyranny of the executive and to restrict the legislature from passing arbitrary laws.
- Six Fundamental Rights guaranteed to all Indians are:
- Right to Equality (Article 14 – 18).
- Right to Freedom (Article 19 – 22).
- Right against Exploitation (Article 23 – 24).
- Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25 – 28).
- Cultural and Educational Rights (Article 29-30).
- Right to Constitutional Remedies (Article 32).
8. Directive Principles of State Policies:
- Directive Principles were introduced in the Indian Constitution to promote the idea of Social and Political Democracy.
- These are guidelines to be followed by the government for healthy governance.
- Directive Principles are not enforceable by court of law in case of their violation.
9. Fundamental Duties:
- Fundamental Duties were not present in the original Constitution and were added during the internal emergency (1975-77) by 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976 on the recommendation of Sardar Swaran Singh Committee.
- Fundamental Duties were introduced in the Constitution to remind the citizens that while enjoying their Fundamental Rights, they should also be conscious about the duties they owe towards the society and the country.
10. Secular State:
- The Constitution recognizes India as a secular state where all religions are respected equally and there is no official religion of the Indian State.
- Indian Constitution imbibes Positive Secularism i.e. equal respect to all religion and protecting all religions equally.
- Whereas, Western concept of secularism implies a complete separation between religion and the state. This is known as Negative Secularism.
11. Universal Adult Franchise:
- Every citizen above the age of 18 years has a right to vote without any discrimination of religion, race, caste, sex, wealth etc.
- Originally, the voting age was kept 21 years but was reduced to 18 in 1989 by 61st Constitutional Amendment Act 1988.
12. Single Citizenship:
- People of India enjoy only single citizenship which is Indian citizenship irrespective of their state in which they are born or reside.
- In USA, people enjoy dual citizenship i.e. they are citizen of USA and also a citizen of the particular state from which they belong.
13. Independent Bodies:
- Constitution of India provides for certain independent bodies which are considered as bulwark of democratic system of government.
- Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Union Public Service Commission and State Public Service Commission are such independent bodies.
14. Emergency Provisions:
- Constitution of India provides for detailed emergency provisions which empower President to deal with extraordinary situations effectively.
- During the emergency, State governments come under direct control of Central government and the federal structure is converted into unitary structure without amending the constitution.
- The constitution mentions three types of emergencies:
- National Emergency (Article 352) on the ground of war or external aggression or armed rebellion within India.
- Constitutional Emergency in the state (Article 356) also known as President Rule is an emergency imposed on the ground of failure of Constitutional Machinery.
- Financial Emergency (Article 360) imposed on the ground of threat to financial stability of India.
15. Three Tier Government:
- Originally, Indian Constitution, provided for dual polity of centre and states.
- Later in 1992 by 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, dual polity was converted into Three Tier Government which is not found in any other constitution in the world.
- 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) gave constitutional recognition to Panchayats (Rural Local Government) and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) gave constitutional recognition to Municipalities (Urban local Government).