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Salient Features of Indian Constitution

Posted by Admin on August 6, 2014 | Comment

The Constitution of India has earned the distinction of being the longest written constitution of any sovereign nation in the world. As the “supreme law of India”, it encapsulates the powers and duties of government institutions and establishes fundamental rights and the duties of citizens. Its salient features are worth mentioning.

salient features of indian constitution

Preamble to the Constitution of India

The preamble establishes the guiding principles of Indian Constitution. It’s an introductory statement that sets the purpose of the document that follows thereafter. Since the preamble is not an integral part of the Constitution, it is not legally enforceable. Originally, the preamble described India as a “sovereign democratic republic”. However, during the emergency phase in 1976, the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution was brought into effect and the words “socialist” and “secular” were added between “sovereign” and “democratic”. Moreover, the “unity of the nation” was replaced by the “unity and integrity of the nation”.

Fundamental Rights

The Constitution of India guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen of the country. In fact, every individual has the right to approach courts in case of the violation of rights. Even if the government passes a law that violates any of the rights, the court can nullify it. Fundamental rights are mentioned in Part III of the Constitution. On a broader level, the Constitution enlists six fundamental rights.

The Right to Equality prohibits any form of discrimination of the residents of the country. The ‘Equality before law’ clause ensures that the citizens are treated equally before law irrespective of their religion, race, caste and sex. Equal employment opportunity is also covered under the Right to Equality. The Right to Freedom not only ensures the freedom of speech, but also gives people the freedom to protect life and personal liberty. Protection against detention also comes under its ambit. The Right against Exploitation prohibits human trafficking, and child labour. The freedom to practise and promote any religion is guaranteed by the Right to Freedom of Religion

The Constitution also guarantees cultural and educational rights, which help minorities to protect their interests and establish & administer educational institutions. Right to Constitutional Remedies is another crucial provision covered by the Constitution.

Initially, there were seven Fundamental Rights including the Right to Property. It was removed during the 44th constitutional amendment in 1978. It is said that the Right was creating an obstacle in attaining the goal of “socialism and equitable distribution of wealth.”

Fundamental Duties

The Constitution not only empowers citizens with fundamental rights, but also defines a set of duties that every citizen is expected to perform. Respecting the Constitution and abiding by its principles is the foremost duty. Besides upholding and protecting “the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India,” every citizen is expected to promote “harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood” among the people coming from diverse regional and social backgrounds.

One of the important duties enlisted in the Constitution is to defend the country and “render national service” whenever needed. In a very holistic manner, the Constitution has included the duties such as preserving the rich heritage and protecting the natural environment. Safeguarding public property, abjuring violence and developing the “scientific temper” are some of the other duties that people of India should perform. The Constitution also calls for striving towards “excellence in all spheres of individual.”

After the enactment of Right to Education Act in 2009, a new duty was added, which makes it obligatory for parents to provide academic opportunities to their children between the age of six and fourteen years. It’s to be noted that these duties are not justiciable and therefore they don’t carry any legal sanction. A demand has been made on several occasions to make these duties justiciable.

Supremacy of President of India

Indian Constitution bestows significant powers on the President of the country. To start with his legislative powers, the President can issue ordinances when both the houses of Parliament are not in session. These are considered as temporary legislations. After six weeks of implementation, their continuity is decided on the basis of parliamentary approval. Moreover, any bill would need the President’s assent to become a law.

The pardoning powers of the President are mentioned in Article 72. He can exercise the powers to grant pardons in case the punishment is given for offence against Union Law or the punishment is announced by a military court. He can also grant mercy to the convicts facing death sentence. The President can take these decisions independent of the opinion of the Prime Minister or Parliament.

The Constitution has also empowered the President with the role of appointing people in important portfolios including the governors of states, chief election commissioner, and envoys to other countries. When it comes to judicial powers, it is the President who appoints the Chief Justice. He can also dismiss a judge on the basis of the resolutions passed by both the Houses of Parliament.

The President is the supreme commander of the defence forces having the power to “declare war or conclude peace.” However, he needs Parliament’s approval for this. He also appoints the heads of the armed forces.

Judicial Review by the Supreme Court

Judicial review refers to the power of Judiciary to review the law passed by the government. The primary objective is to protect the Constitution against “any undue encroachment by the government.”

The Supreme Court, as “guardian of the Constitution”, reviews the laws and executive orders to ensure that they do not violate the Constitution of the country. The scope of judicial review is not limited to ensuring fairness in administrative action. Protecting the fundamental rights of citizens is another purpose of judicial review. Article 32 of the Constitution gives Supreme Court the power to enforce these fundamental rights. Citizens can approach the apex court in case of rights violations.

Proclamation of Emergency

There had been times in the past when the governance of the country or its states was taken over by “an altered constitutional setup”, which was proclaimed by the President of India. Such proclamations are made on occasions when the President perceives threats to the country from internal and external agents. Part XVIII of the Constitution of India grants President the power to declare national, state, and financial emergencies. He also has the authority to ‘overrule’ several provisions of the Constitution, which guarantee fundamental rights to the citizens.

According to Article 352 of the India Constitution, the President can declare national emergency following a written request by the Cabinet Ministers. Such emergencies were declared during Indo-China war in 1962 and Indo-Pakistan war in 1971. Although national emergencies are imposed for six months, they can be extended following the parliamentary approval. The article 352 also includes the power of the President to “issue different Proclamations on different grounds,” be it war or armed rebellion.

Under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, the President can impose state emergency, during which he takes over the executive and the Governor administers the state. The President can also impose financial emergency if there is a prospect of economic instability. As per the Article 360, such an emergency must be approved by Parliament.

WBSB06.08.2014