Saturday, September 1, 2007

The salient features of the Indian Constitution are of two types. There are some features that are unique to this Constitution; no previous constitution possessed them, while there are others which, though not peculiar, are still important characteristics.
Framed by the People of India:
This Constitution has been framed by the representatives of the people of India through a Constituent Assembly during 1946-1949. Prior to it, the British Parliament enacted all the constitutions. The Constituent Assembly, however, was elected indirectly by the Provincial Legislative Assemblies that were themselves elected on a restricted franchise. The representatives of the princely states were the nominees of their rulers. In spite of it, the Constituent Assembly could be called a representative body because the then ruling party at the Centre had decided to give representation to all sections of society as well as to all shades of opinion.

Derived from Various Sources: It is a unique document that was derived from various sources. Our constitution makers were inspired to draft the provisions regarding Fundamental Rights and Supreme Court from the U.S.A, Directive Principles of State Policy from Ireland, Emergency from Germany, Distribution of legislative powers from Canada, and Parliamentary Institutions from the United Kingdom. Besides, they borrowed extensively from the Government of India Act, 1935.

Sovereignty of the People: The Constitution declares the people of India to be the supreme authority. Prior to it, the supreme authority lay in the British Parliament. Even the Indian Independence Act, 1947 through which India got independence recognized the supremacy of the British Parliament. The term Sovereignty implies that the people of India are not subordinate to any other external agency. The membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, sometimes, is misinterpreted as a limitation on the sovereignty of the people of India. This, however, is not correct. The Commonwealth has now undergone a sea-change. It is now purely a voluntary association of independent sovereign States.

Republican Polity: The Constitution provides for the republican form of polity in India. Prior to it, the British king was the Head of the State who owed his office to the laws of inheritance. It is note-worthy that in Ancient India there existed republican governments in a number of parts for about one thousand years. But in modern times there was not a single territory where republican form of government prevailed.
Secular Polity: This Constitution provides for a secular polity in India. Though the term secular has not been defined in the Constitution anywhere, the substance of secularism can be deduced from various provisions of the Constitution. It has been used in the sense of absence of discrimination on grounds of religion and equal respect for all religions. Prior to it, the Government of India Act, 1935 had provided for a separate department of Ecclesiastical Affairs.
Fundamentals Rights and Duties: The Constitution provides for Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties of the citizens of India. No previous constitution provided for them. The leaders of the Indian National Movement always demanded for the inclusion of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India. The Constitution initially did not provide for Fundamental Duties. This provision was inserted in the Constitution through the Constitution (Forty Second Amendment) Act, 1976.
Directive Principles of State Policy: The Constitution provides for the Directive Principles of State Policy. No previous constitution had such a provision. Though the Instrument of Instructions attached to the Government of India Act, 1935, appears to be analogous to the Directives, the aims and objects of the two are very different. It is to be noted that the leaders of the Indian National Movement had made various promises regarding the Fundamental Rights that the citizens of free India would enjoy. But when India got independence in 1947, the leaders realised that they did not possess sufficient means to grant those rights, particularly economic and social rights, immediately. But at the same time they did not want to go back upon their promises. They, therefore, decided to put the Fundamental Rights into two categories: (i) those that were granted immediately and (ii) those that would be granted in future if and when they were capable to do so. The first were included in Chapter Ill entitled Fundamental Rights and the second were included in Chapter IV entitled Directive Principles of State Policy. The rights included in Chapter IV are nonenforceable through courts of law but they are the fundamental principles of governance which ‘the State’ (i.e. the Government and Parliament of India; the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of Government of India) is required to take cognisance of.
Judicial Review: The Constitution provides for the judicial review of the Acts of Legislatures (of both, the Union and States) as well as of the activities of the executives (Union and State). Prior to it, there was no such provision. This provision keeps the legislative and the executive branches of governments under restraint and they cannot exercise their authority arbitrarily.
Universal Adult Franchise: It provides for the universal adult franchise. Prior to it all the constitutions provided for restricted franchise. According to the Government of India Act, 1935, which granted the largest amount of franchise, only 14% of the people had a right to vote. It is noteworthy that most of the western democracies had taken a number of decades to grant such a right to their citizens. It is really a very revolutionary step taken by the Constituent Assembly to grant universal adult franchise by a stroke of pen.
Recognition of Hindi as an Official Language: The Constitution recognises Hindi as the official language of the Indian Union. Prior to it, English was the only official language of India. Besides Hindi, the Constitution also recognises seventeen other Indian languages as regional languages.
Unique Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility: The Constitution provides for an amending procedure. Prior to it, there was no provision for an amendment of the prevalent constitution. The British Parliament alone was entitled to do it. The procedure for an amendment is a unique blend of rigidity and flexibility.Some provisions of the Constitution can be amended by simple majority of the two Houses of Parliament, though technically they are not treated as amendments in the constitution, others require absolute majority of the total strength of the two Houses of Parliament and two-thirds majority of the members present and voting and still others require an additional support by half of the States’ legislatures. For instance, a change in the name or territory of a State can be made through an ordinary law enacted by the two Houses of Parliament; whenever there is a change proposed in the federal character of the Constitution, absolute majority of the total strength of the two Houses of Parliament and two-thirds majority of the members present and voting and also ratification by at least half the State Legislatures is required; in all other matters a resolution passed by an absolute majority of the two Houses of Parliament and two-thirds majority of the members present and voting is sufficient for any change in the Constitution.

No comments: