The Constitution of India begins with a Preamble. The Preamble contains the ideals, objectives and basic principles of the Constitution.
The salient features of the Constitution have evolved directly and indirectly from these objectives which flow from the Preamble.
Indian constitution, one of the most admired constitutions in the world was enacted after ‘ransacking’ all the known constitutions of the world at that time. This constitution that we have enacted has stood the test of time.
Though provisions were borrowed from other constitutions, the constitution of India has several salient features that distinguish it from constitution of other countries.
Some of its salient features are discussed below are :
Framed From Different 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 [About 250 provisions of the 1935 Act have been included in the Constitution].
Dr B R Ambedkar proudly acclaimed that the Constitution of India has been framed after ‘ransacking all the known Constitutions of the world’.
The structural part of the Constitution is, to a large extent, derived from the Government of India Act of 1935.
The philosophical part of the Constitution (Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy) derives their inspiration from the American and Irish Constitutions respectively.
The political part of the Constitution (the principle of Cabinet government and the relations between the executive and the legislature) has been largely drawn from the British Constitution.
Independent as Well As Integrated Judicial System
In the United States of America, there are 2 tier judicial systems. But in India, there is a single integrated system of judiciary where the Supreme Court is the supreme authority to make decisions.
The other salient features of the Indian Judiciary are –
In India judges of the Supreme Court and High Court are appointed through the collegium system.
If there is a need to remove any judge, the procedure of impeachment has to be followed.
Salaries and pension of Supreme Court judges are paid from the consolidated fund of India.
After retirement Supreme Court judges are banned from practice.
Lengthiest Constitution in the World
The Constitution can be classified into a written constitution such as that of America or an unwritten constitution such as that UK.
The constitution of India is a written constitution which happens to be the lengthiest written constitution in the world.
It is comprehensive, elaborate and a detailed document.
The factors that have contributed to this phenomenon are: geographical factors (vastness of country and diversity), Historical factors (Influence of GoI, 1935), Single constitution for both centre and state and dominance of legal luminaries.
Preamble of the constitution
The Preamble to the Constitution is a reflection of the core constitutional values that embody the Constitution. It declares India to be a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic committed to Justice, Equality and Liberty for the people.
The Preamble does not grant substantive rights and is not enforceable in the courts, but various Indian courts have engaged with the Preamble and have treated it as guiding light in the interpretation of the Constitution.
The opening and last sentences of the Preamble: “We, the people…adopt enact and give to ourselves this Constitution” signifies the power that is vested in the hands of the people.
Blend of Rigidity and Flexibility
The Indian constitution is best known in the entire world for keeping the perfect balance between rigidity and flexibility. The Indian constitution provides the amendment provision in its article 368. The article 368 states that –
Some amendments can be made only by securing a special majority of both the houses of parliament. By special majority, it means 2/3rd majority of the total members of each house.
There are some more provisions which can be amended with the special majority of members of parliament (As described above) Plus with the ratification of at least 50% of the total states.
The above points clarify that, for amending the Indian constitution a simple notification is not enough, but it requires the wide majority of members of both the houses. However, apart from these points, there are instances in the past and maybe in the future where amendments have also been done through the ordinary legislative process. These ordinary amendments fall outside the purview of article 368.
Synthesis of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Judicial Supremacy
The doctrine of the sovereignty of 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 the 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 can declare the parliamentary laws as unconstitutional through its power of judicial review.
The Parliament can amend the major portion of the Constitution through its constituent power.
Amending the Constitution of India
Amending the Constitution of India is the procedure of making modifications to the nation’s fundamental law or supreme law.
The procedure of amendment in the constitution is laid down in Part XX (Article 368) of the Constitution of India.
This procedure guarantees the sanctity of the Constitution of India and keeps a check on uninformed power of the Parliament of India.
Directive Principles of State Policy
Directive Principles of State Policy. A unique aspect of the Constitution is that it comprises a chapter in the Directive Principles of State Policy. These principles are in the nature of directives to the government to implement them to maintain social and economic democracy in the country.
It exemplifies important philosophies such as adequate means to livelihood, equal pay for both men and women, distribution of wealth so as to serve the common good, free and compulsory primary education, right to work, public assistance in case of old age, unemployment, sickness and disablement, the organisation of village Panchayats, special care to the economically disadvantaged group in country.
Most of these principles could help in making India a welfare state. These principles have been stated a; “fundamental in the governance of the country”.
The judiciary has a significant position in the Indian Constitution and it is also made independent of the legislature and the executive. The Supreme Court of India stands at the peak of a single integrated judicial system. It operates as defender of fundamental rights of Indian citizens and guardian of the Constitution.
The entire judicial system of India is systematized into a hierarchical order. Supreme Court is at the highest position of judicial administration below that there are high courts at the state level and there are district courts at the district level. All the courts of India are bound to accept the decisions of the Supreme Court.
Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to all Citizens.
Fundamental Rights are one of the important features of the Indian Constitution.
The Constitution contains the basic principle that every individual is entitled to enjoy certain rights as a human being and the enjoyment of such rights does not depend upon the will of any majority or minority.
No majority has the right to abrogate such rights.
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, enforceable by the courts for their violation.
The original constitution did not provide for the fundamental duties of the citizens.
Fundamental Duties were added to our Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 on the recommendation of the Swaran Singh Committee.
It lays down a list of ten Fundamental Duties for all citizens of India.
Later, the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 added one more fundamental duty.
While the rights are given as guarantees to the people, the duties are obligations that every citizen is expected to perform.
However, like the Directive Principles of State Policy, the duties are also non-justiciable in nature.
There are a total of 11 Fundamental duties altogether.
The Constituent Assembly decided to espouse Parliamentary form of government both for the Centre and the states.
In the Indian parliamentary system, distinction is made between nominal and real executive heads.
The Council of Ministers is responsible before the Lok Sabha, The lower house of union parliament. There are close relations between the executive and legislature.
Federal structure of government
A federal state is a state where a country is divided into smaller regions and the government is functioning at two levels
The Indian Constitution has envisaged a federal structure for India considering the geographical vastness and the diversity of languages, region, religions, castes, etc.
Written Constitution, supremacy of the Constitution, division of powers between Union and States, bicameral Legislature, independent Judiciary, etc. are the features of Indian federation.
Scholars describe India as a ‘Quasi-Federation’ (K.C. Wheare) or as ‘a federation with a unitary bias, or even as ‘a Unitarian federation.’
Universal adult franchise
Indian democracy functions on the basis of ‘one person one vote’.
Every citizen of India who is 18 years of age or above is entitled to vote in the elections irrespective of caste, sex, race, religion or status.
The Indian Constitution establishes political equality in India through the method of universal adult franchise.
Originally, the Indian Constitution provided for a dual polity and contained provisions with regard to the organisation and powers of the Centre and the States.
Later, the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (1992) added a third-tier of government (that is, Local Government), which is not found in any other Constitution 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 government) by adding a new Part IX-A and a new schedule 12 to the Constitution.