Constitution of India
The Constitution of India lays down the basic structure of government under which the people are to be governed. It establishes the main organs of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The Constitution not only defines the powers of each organ, but also demarcates their responsibilities. It regulates the relationship between the different organs and between the government and the people. It thus forms the basis of politics in India. The Constitution is superior to all other laws of the country. Every law enacted by the government has to be in conformity with the Constitution.
The governance of India is based on a tiered system, wherein the Constitution of India appropriates the subjects on which each tier of government has executive powers. The constitution uses the Seventh Schedule to delimit the subjects under three categories namely the union list, the state list and the concurrent list. The central government has the powers to enact laws on subjects under the union list, while the state governments have the powers to enact laws on subjects under the state list. Both the central as well as the state governments can enact laws on subjects under the concurrent list. However, the laws enacted by the central government under the concurrent list overrides the laws enacted by the state government when a conflict arises between those laws.
Central and State Governments
The central government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the President, whose duties may seem largely ceremonial. The president and vice president are elected indirectly for 5-year terms by a special electoral college. The vice president assumes the office of president in case of the death or resignation of the incumbent president.
The constitution designates the governance of India under two branches namely the executive branch and the legislative branch. Real national executive power is centered in the Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister of India. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The President then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. In reality, the President has no discretion on the question of whom to appoint as Prime Minister except when no political party or coalition of parties gains a majority in the Lok Sabha. Once the Prime Minister has been appointed, the President has no discretion on any other matter whatsoever, including the appointment of ministers. But all Central Government decisions are nominally taken in his name.
The constitution designates the Parliament of India as the legislative branch to oversee the operation of the government. India’s bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is held responsible to the Lok Sabha.
The government can enact laws and ordinances as required for the governance of the country. However, laws and ordinances have to be passed by the legislative branch in order to be effected. Parliament sessions are conducted to discuss, analyse and pass the laws tabled as Acts. Any law is first proposed as a bill in the lower house. If the lower house approves the bill in current form, the bill is then proposed to be enacted in the upper house. If not, the bill is sent for amendment and then tabled again so as to be passed as an Act. Even if the bill is passed in the lower house, the upper house has the right to reject the proposed bill and send it back to the government for amending the bill. Therefore, it can be said that the governance of India takes place under two processes; the executive process and the legislative process. Ideally, the governance cannot be done through the individual processes alone. After the Acts are passed by both the houses, the President signs the Bill as an Act. Thus the legislative branch also acts under the name of the President, like the executive branch.
Ordinances are laws that are passed in lieu of Acts, when the parliament is not in session. When the parliament is in recess, the President assumes the legislative powers of both the houses temporarily, under Part V: Chapter III – Article 123 of the Constitution of India. The government has to propose a law to the President during such periods. If the President is fully satisfied with the bill, and signs the bill, it becomes an ordinance. The powers of ordinances are temporary, and each ordinance has to be tabled in the parliament when the houses reassemble. The President also has the right to withdraw an ordinance.
States in India have their own elected governments, where as Union Territories are governed by an administrator appointed by the central government. Some of the state legislatures are bicameral, patterned after the two houses of the national parliament. The states’ chief ministers are responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to parliament.
Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local state governments in India have less autonomy compared to their counterparts in the United States and Australia.
India’s independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The constitution designates the Supreme Court, the High Courts and the lower courts as the authority to resolve disputes among the people as well as the disputes related to the people and the government. The constitution through its articles relating to the judicial system provides a way to question the laws of the government, if the common man finds the laws as unsuitable for any community in India.