The Constitution of India has some outstanding features which distinguish it from other constitutions. The framers of our constitution studied other constitutions, selected their valuable features and put them with necessary modifications in our constitution. Ours is not a borrowed constitution, though it has been influenced by other constitutions.
The framers of the constitution of India did not aim at a completely new or original constitution. They just wanted to produce "a good and workable" constitution. And they succeeded doing this. The fact that the constitution, for last 59 years, has been working satisfactorily is a testimony to its quality and utility. The salient features of the constitution are analysed below.
The Preamble, the preface to the constitution, describes the source nature, ideology, goals and objectives of the constitution. It describes India as a sovereign socialist, secular, democratic republic and underlines the-national objective of social just: economic justice and political justice as well as fraternity. It emphasises the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. It declares that in India the people sovereign.
2. Written Constitution:
There are two types of constitutions in the world. Most of the constitutions are written. The first modern written constitution was the American constitution. On the other hand, the British constitution is unwritten. It consists of customs and conventions which have grown over the years. In India, we have a written constitution. The framers of our constitution tried to put everything in black and white.
3. Longest Constitution:
The Constitution of India is the longest one in the world. Originally it had 395 Articles and 8 schedules. During the period since 1950 a few Articles have been deleted, but many more have been added through amendments.
Today the constitution has 395 Articles and 12 schedules. However there is a view that the constitution today has 444 Articles. Originally the constitution had 22 parts. Now it has 24 parts.
The constitution became lengthy mainly due to the following factors.
(a) The constitutional fathers wanted to put everything in great detail.
(b) In other federations, there are two constitutions: one for the federation and the other for the states. In India, the states do not have separate constitutions. The powers of states along with the powers of the federation have been stated in one constitution.
(c) The Government of India Act, 1935 was in operation when India got independence. Our leaders were familiar with this Act. They borrowed heavily from this lengthy Act while framing our constitution.
(d) India is a country of great diversity. It is a country of several minorities; it has many languages, castes, races and religions. The problems and interests of these different groups have found place in the constitution.
(e) Good features of other constitutions have been included, with necessary modifications, in our constitution. For example, we have brought the 'bill of rights' from the American constitution, parliamentary system of government from the British constitution and Directive Principles of State Policy from the Irish constitution.
While including these elements of other constitutions in our constitution Ambedkar said the framers of our constitution tried to remove their faults and suit them to our conditions.
(f) Many members of the Constituent Assembly were "lawyer-politicians". They have made the constitution not only long, but also extremely complicated.
Ivora Jennings has described our constitution as a 'lawyer's paradise'.
Jennings says that a constitution should be intelligible to common people, but they fail to clearly understand the Indian constitution which is very complex. Every article of this constitution can be interpreted by the higher judiciary, and lawyers, while interpreting, different articles, further complicate the constitution.
4. Partly Rigid, Partly Flexible:
Whether a constitution is rigid or flexible depends on the nature of amendment. If the constitutional laws and ordinary laws are amended separate ways, it is a rigid constitution. On the contrary, in a flexible constitution constitutional laws and ordinary laws are amended in the same way.
Some provisions of the Constitution of India can be amended by the Indian Parliament with simple majority. The amendment of most other provisions of the constitution requires a special majority in both houses of the parliament. There are some other provisions of constitution which cannot be amended by the parliament alone.
In case of such provision the amending bill has first to be approved by both houses of parliament by a special majority (with the support of two-thirds of the members of each house present and voting). Then it has to be ratified by the legislatures of at least half of the states of India.
These different amendment procedures make our constitution partly flexible and rigid. In fact, there is a balance between rigidity and flexibility in our constitution.
Some amount of flexibility was introduced into our constitution in order to encourage its growth. Nehru feared that if a constitution is too rigid, it will be stagnant.
5. Parliamentary Democracy:
In India, there is a parliamentary form of government. The majority party in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) forms government. The Council Ministers is responsible to the Lok Sabha. The Cabinet is the real executive head. In Presidential form of government, the President is the executive head. In India, the President is only the nominal head.
In Britain, the monarchy is hereditary. But in India, the post of President is elective our founding fathers adopted the parliamentary model for two reasons. Firstly, they believed that a parliamentary form of government would be more responsible democratic than the presidential form of government.
Secondly, they were, to so extent, familiar with the parliamentary form of government during the British rule particularly after the implementation of the Government of India Act, 1935.
6. Role of Conventions:
Though India has a very detailed constitution, there is some scope for conventions to influence its functioning. On some vital issues constitution is silent and one has to depend upon well-established parliament conventions on such occasions.
For example, the constitution does not say whether government, defeated on a 'snap vote' in the Lok Sabha, will be required to resign whether the recommendation of a defeated government for the dissolution of the Sabha is to be accepted by the President of India.
7. Federal Government with Unitary Bias:
India is a federation, although word 'federation' does not find a place in the whole text of the Indian Constitution. The elements of federation are present in the Indian Constitution. It is a written and rigid constitution.
There is dual polity and there is constitutional division of powers between the centre and the states. There is also an independent judiciary. The Supreme C arbitrates the disputes between the centre and the states.
All these provisions make India a federation. But in Indian Federation, the centre is strong as compared to the slates. The centre has more financial powers and the states largely depend upon it for their economic development. The Planning Commission has emerged as a 'super cabinet' or a 'super state'. The Governor acts as the agent of the centre.
The centre can reorganize a state, but a state cannot reorganize the centre. In other words, the centre is indestructible while the states are destructible. During emergencies, the powers of the centre considerably grow and the states become weak. K. C. Where has described the Indian government as 'quasi-federal'. India has also been characterised as 'a federal state with unitary spirit.'
8. Fundamental Rights:
The Fundamental Rights are guaranteed to the individuals by our constitution. These are enumerated in Pail III of the constitution.These rights are fundamental because they are basic to the moral and spiritual development of the individual and these rights cannot be easily abridged by the parliament.
Now the citizen enjoys six fundamental rights, originally there were seven fundamental rights. One of them was taken away from Part III of the constitution by the Forty-fourth Amendment Act, 1978. As a result, the Right to Property is no longer a fundamental right. Since 1978, it has become a legal right.
An individual can now own property; he can enjoy it or dispose of it. But when the government takes it away, he cannot go for a writ challenging the validity of the government's action.
The six fundamental rights are -
(1) Right to Equality,
(2) Right to Freedom,
(3) Right against Exploitation,
(4) Right to Freedom of Religion,
(5) Cultural and Educational Rights and
(6) Right to Constitutional Remedies.
The Fundamental Rights are subject to some restrictions. The idea of fundamental rights has been borrowed from the American Constitution.
Any citizen of India can seek the help of High Court or Supreme Court of India if any of his fundamental rights is undermined by the government or any institution or any other government. The fundamental rights, granted to the citizen, cannot be amended in the normal manner. They can be amended with two-third majority in each house of the Parliament.
9. Directive Principles of State Policy:
The Directive Principles of State Policy are enumerated in Part IV of the constitution. They are instructions or directives from the constitution to the state and the government. It is the duty of the government to implement them.
Originally there were 20 Directive Principles. Three more were added by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. Thus, in total, there are now 23 Directive Principles.
Some of the important Directive Principles are:
(1) There should not be concentration of wealth and means of production to the detriment of common man;
(2) There should be equal pay for equal work for both men and women;
(3) Workers should be paid adequate wage;
(4) Weaker sections of the people, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people should be given special care;
(5) The state should promote respect for international law and international peace.
In general, the Directive Principles aim at building a Welfare State. The Directive Principles are not enforceable in a Court of Law, but they are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country. These principles provide the criteria with which we can judge the performance of the government.
10. An Independent and Integrated Judiciary:
An independent judiciary is a none of any federation. The judiciary in India is independent and impartial. It is an integrated judiciary with the Supreme Court at the apex of the hierarchy. The High Courts stand in its middle, and the lower courts are located at its bottom.
The Judges security of tenure and it is extremely difficult to remove any Judge of the Supreme or of the High Court through impeachment. Recently the Parliament failed to impeach Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court who was charged with corruption. Soft a single Judge in India has been removed from office through impeachment.
The Supreme Court and the High Court have the power of Judicial Review. They have the power to declare acts of legislatures and actions of the Executive ultra such acts or actions are found to be in conflict with the provisions of the constitution.
The Supreme Court of India has the power of Judicial Review. In the United of America there is judicial dominance. The Supreme Court of America can declare invalid if it violates natural justice. For many years it was maintained that the Su Court of India did not have this power. But now it is the view of the Supreme C India that it can declare any law ultra wires if it violates natural justice.
11. Universal Franchise:
Article 326 of the Constitution of India provides universal adult suffrage. The voting age has now come down from 21 to 18. Anybody who has completed 18 years of age is eligible to vote in general elections. This is one of the most revolutionary aspects of Indian democracy.
India is a secular state. Although the 42nd Amendment Act, inserted the word 'secular' in the Preamble to the constitution, India has been secularism since independence.
India is a country of several religions and each individual has fundamental profess any religion he likes. The state cannot force him to accept any specific India is a secular state. In India, there is no State Religion. In matters relating to the state is neutral and non-interfering. It does not patronize any religion. Nor discriminate against any religion.
13. Single Citizenship:
In the United States of America, there is double citizenship. An American is a citizen of America and at the same time he is also a citizen of the 50 States of America. In India, there is only single citizenship. An Indian is a citizen of India only. He is not a citizen of any Indian state. Single citizenship is meant to s national unity and national integration.
14. Fundamental Duties:
Fundamental Duties did not form part of the constitution. Ten Fundamental Duties were inserted in Part IV of the constitution 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. Some of the important Fundamental Duties are:
(1) To abide by the constitution and respect the ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem;
(2) To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
(3) To defend the country and render national service;
(4) To protect and improve the natural environment;
(5) To safeguard public property and to abjure violence.
A new Article - Article 51-A enumerates ten Fundamental Duties. These duties are assigned only to citizens and not to aliens. These duties are not justifiable, but, in case of conflict, they will prevail over Fundamental Rights.
15. Welfare State:
Our constitution aims at building a Welfare State. It provides for development of weaker and depressed sections of the society. It underlines the need of improving the conditions of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who have remained neglected for long.
Our constitution is opposed to concentration of wealth and means of production. Workers should be involved in management and they should get fair wages. Children should not be exposed to hazards. All these provisions are expected to help in building a Welfare State.
16. Democratic System:
Our constitution lays a lot of emphasis on democratic values, and a number of democratic institutions have been established to give shape to these values. The centre, states and local self-governing bodies follow democratic principles, and all elections from gram panchayat to parliament are democratically held.
All persons of 18 years age and more, irrespective of their caste, religion and gender, are eligible to vote in elections, and the constitution has provided for reservations in elections for dalits and tribal's. No democracy can survive if citizens are not allowed fundamental rights. The Indian constitution has granted a number of valuable fundamental rights to the citizens.
17. One National Language:
Although India is a multi-lingual state, the constitution provides that Hindi in Devnagri script will be the national language. It shall be the duty of the union to promote and spread Hindi language.
18. Language Policy:
The Constitution has also defined the language policy. India is a country where different languages are spoken in various parts of the country. Hindi and English have been made official languages of the central government. A state can adopt the language spoken by its people in that state also as its official language. At present, we have 22 languages which have been recognised by the Indian Constitution. These are:
19. A constitution derived from many sources:
The framers of our constitution borrowed many things from the constitutions of various other countries and included them in our constitution. That is why; some writers call Indian Constitution a 'bag of borrowings'.
20. Special provisions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes:
The Constitution provides for giving certain special concessions and privileges to the members of these castes. Seats have been reserved for them in Parliament, State legislature and local bodies, all government services and in all professional colleges. These concessions were continued up to the year 2010.
21. Emergency Provisions:
The framers of our constitution had realised that there could be certain dangerous situations when government could not be run as in ordinary time. Hence our constitution contains certain emergency provisions. During emergency the fundamental rights of the citizens can be suspended and our government becomes a unitary one.