“Salient Features of the Constitution” is a chapter from “Our Constitution: An Introduction to India’s Constitution and Constitutional laws” authored by Dr. Subhash C. Kashyap, a well-known political scientist and expert of the Indian Constitution and Constitutional Laws.
Indian Constitution is a lengthy and very comprehensive document. It is unique in several ways. It cannot be fitted into any usual model of constitution as written or unwritten, rigid or flexible, federal or unitary. In fact, it is a blend of the rigid and flexible, federal and unitary, and the presidential and the parliamentary forms of government. The fundamental rights safeguard citizens’ rights, while the non-enforceable directive principles provide guidelines to the states while formulating policies. There are provisions for reasonable restrictions of fundamental rights within the Constitution by 42nd amendment in 1976.
The constitution has also established an independent judiciary which has jurisdiction over all laws- Union, State, Civil, Criminal or Constitutional. Indian Constitution presents an intermediary between the principles of parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy.
Dr. Kashyap argues that the Indian constitutions, unlike many constitutions framed after World War II, could successfully face crises because of its resilience, dynamics and potential for growth.
The Indian Constitution bears certain distinctive features as compared to the Constitution of the US and that of the United Kingdom.
Though the President is the head of Indian Republic, he is only a nominal head of the executive; he acts only with the aid and advice of the council of the ministers. The ministers are collectively responsible to Lok Sabah. Thus the Constitution of India has basically adopted the Parliamentary system of Government, as that of the British pattern, where the ministers are from parliament and remain part of it and responsible to its House of the People. The parliamentary system lays greater stress on the responsibility than on the stability of the executive. But unlike the Constitution of the U.K, the Indian constitutions is Federal like that of the U.S.
In a Parliamentary system, the President is only the head of the State and not the chief head of the executive. He is bound by the advice of his ministers. In the Presidential system, the President is both the head of the State and the chief executive. He is not bound by the advice of his secretaries. A parliamentary form of Government tends to be more responsible but less stable, where as a non-parliamentary form is more stable but less responsible. A parliamentary Government must resign the moment it loses the confidence of the majority of the parliament. But in the presidential form of Government, the executive cannot be dismissed.
In parliamentary system, the assessment of the responsibility of the executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by the members of the parliament, through question, debates, adjournment motion, non- confidence motion and resolutions. The periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of election which may take place every five year or earlier. In non-parliamentary system, there is no provision for daily assessment and the periodic assessment is done by the electorate in every two years.
Though the president is the head of Indian public, he is only a nominal head of the executive; he acts only with the aid and advice of the Council of the Ministers. The ministers are collectively responsible to Lok Sabha. Thus the Constitution of India has basically adopted the parliamentary system of government, as that of the British pattern, where the ministers are from parliament and remain part of it and responsible to its House of the People. The parliamentary system lays greater stress on the responsibility than on the stability of the executive. But unlike the Constitution of the U.K, the Indian Constitution is federal like that of the U.S.
In the British Parliamentary system, Parliament is supposed to be supreme and sovereign whereas in the U.S system the Supreme Court has assumed supremacy. In India, the constitution has arrived at a middle course between the sovereignty of parliament and judicial supremacy. We are governed by the rule of law, and the judicial review of administrative action is an essential part of rule of law. Thus courts can determine not only the constitutionality of the law but also the procedural part of the administrative action. Since we have a written constitution no organ, not even Parliament can be said to be supreme. Both the Parliament and the Supreme Court are supreme in their respective powers. While the Supreme Court may declare a law passed by Parliament ultra vires, Parliament may amend most parts of the Constitution.
The distinctive features of the Indian Constitution enabled the nation to overcome crises. This is an ample evidence of the resilience and dynamism of the Indian Constitution and its potential for growth.