Salient Features Of The Indian Constitution


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The salient features of the Indian Constitution which directly and indirectly flow from the Preamble, indicates the faith of framers in the ideals, objectives and goals as mentioned in our Constitution. They are –

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A Written Constitution

The Indian Constitution is mainly a written constitution.

A written constitution is framed at a given time and comes into force or is adopted on a fixed date as a document. Indian constitution was –

  • framed over a period of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days;
  • adopted on 26th November, 1949; and
  • enforced on January 26, 1950.

Certain conventions have gradually evolved over a period of time which have proved useful in the working of the constitution. The British Constitution is an example of unwritten constitution.

It is to be noted though, that a written constitution is ‘mainly’ an enacted document, there could be bodies or institutions which may not be included in the constitution but form an important part of governance. In Indian context one can mention the Planning Commission.

Planning Commission : It was a very important body for country’s planning and development. The planning commission was set up in March 1950, not by an Act of Parliament, nor as a Part of the Constitution of India, but by a cabinet resolution.

Planning Commission has now been replaced by NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India). NITI Aayog have a governing council comprising all chief ministers and lieutenant governors with chairperson as the Prime Minister.

The Indian constitution is the lengthiest in the world.

  • The original constitution had 395 Articles and 8 Schedules, while, the constitution of USA has only 7 Articles.

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A Combination Of Rigidity And Flexibility

The Indian Constitution is a unique example of combination of rigidity and flexibility.

A constitution may be called rigid or flexible on the basis of its amending procedure. In a rigid constitution, amendment of the constitution is not easy.

  • The Constitutions of USA, Switzerland and Australia are considered rigid constitutions.
  • While, the British Constitution is considered flexible because amendment procedure is easy and simple.

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The Constitution of India provides for three categories of amendments.

  1. In the first category, amendment can be done, by the two houses of Parliament,with simple majority of the members present and voting, before sending it for the President’s assent.
  2. In the second category amendments require a special majority. Such an amendment can be passed by each House of Parliament by a majority of the total members of that House as well as by the 2/3rd majority of the members present and voting in each house of Parliament and send to the President for his assent which cannot be denied.
  3. In the third category besides the special majority mentioned in the second category, the same has to be approved also by at least 50% of the State legislatures.

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Thus, the Indian Constitution provides for the type of amendments ranging from simple to most difficult procedure depending on the nature of the amendment.

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Federal Polity

India has adopted a federal structure.

In a federation there are two distinct levels of governments.

  1. There is one government for the whole country which is called the Union or Central Government. Also there is government for each Unit / State.
    • The United States of America is a federation.
  2. In a unitary structure there is only one government for the whole country and the power is centralized.
    • The United Kingdom (Britain) has a unitary form of government.

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The Constitution of India does not use the term ‘federal state’. It says that India is a ‘Union of States’.

There is a distribution of powers between the Union/Central Government and the State Governments. Since India is a federation, such distribution of functions becomes necessary. There are three lists of powers such as Union List, State List and the Concurrent List. On the basic of this distribution, India may be called a federal system.

The supremacy of the judiciary is an essential feature of a federation so that the constitution could be interpreted impartially.

In India, the Supreme Court has been established to guard the constitution.

However, in case of Indian federalism, more powers have been given to the Union Government in administrative, legislative, financial and judicial matters.

In fact, The Indian federal set up stands out with certain distinctive unitary features. The makers of our constitution while providing for two sets of government at the centre and in the states provided for division of powers favouring the Central Government.

Following features indicate the unitary nature of our federalism –

  • appointment of the Head of the State government by the Central Government,
  • single unified judiciary,
  • single citizenship, etc.

Therefore, it is said that India has a quasi-federal set up.

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Quasi Federal

It means a federal set up where despite having two clear sets of government – central and the states, more powers are given to the Central Government.

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Parliamentary Democracy

India has a parliamentary form of democracy. This has been adopted from the British system. In a parliamentary democracy there is a close relationship between the legislature and the executive.

  • The Cabinet is selected from among the members of legislature.
  • The cabinet is responsible to the latter.
  • In fact the Cabinet holds office so long as it enjoys the confidence of the legislature.

In this form of democracy, the Head of the State is nominal. In India, the President is the Head of the State. Constitutionally the President enjoys numerous powers but in practice the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister, which really exercises these powers. The President acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.

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Fundamental Rights And Fundamental Duties

Every human being is entitled to enjoy certain rights which ensure good living. In a democracy all citizens enjoy equal rights. The Constitution of India guarantees those rights in the form of Fundamental Rights.

Fundamental Rights are one of the important features of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution provides for six Fundamental Rights

  • Right to equality
  • Right to freedom
  • Right against exploitation
  • Right to freedom of religion
  • Cultural and educational rights
  • Right to constitutional remedies

Fundamental Rights are justiciable and are protected by the judiciary. In case of violation of any of these rights one can move to the court of law for their protection.

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Fundamental Duties were added to our Constitution by the 42nd Amendment. It lays down a list of ten Fundamental Duties for all citizens of India.

*  It shall be the duty of every citizen of India —

(a) to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
(b) to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
(c) to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
(d) to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
(e) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
(f) to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;
(h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
(i) to safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
(j) to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement;
**(k) who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years.

* Inserted by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976.
** Inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002.

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While the rights are given as guarantees to the people, the duties are obligations which every citizen is expected to perform.

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Directive Principles Of State Policy

The Directive Principles of State Policy which have been adopted from the Irish Constitution, is another unique feature of the Constitution of India. The Directive Principles were included in our Constitution in order to provide social and economic justice to our people. Directive Principles aim at establishing a welfare state in India where there will be no concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

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Single Integrated Judicial System

India has a single integrated judicial system.

  • The Supreme Court stands as the apex court of the judicial system.
  • Below the Supreme Court are the High Courts.
  • The High Courts control and supervise the lower courts.

The Indian judiciary, thus, stands like a pyramid with the lower courts as the base, High Courts in the middle and the Supreme Court at the top.

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Independence Of Judiciary

Indian judiciary is independent an impartial. The Indian judiciary is free from the influence of the executive and the legislature. The judges are appointed on the basis of their qualifications and cannot be removed easily.

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Single Citizenship

In a federal state usually the citizens enjoys double citizenship as is the case in the USA.

In India there is only single citizenship.

  • It means that every Indian is a citizen of India, irrespective of the place of his/her residence or place of birth.
  • He/she is not a citizen of the Constituent State like Jharkhand, Uttaranchal or Chattisgarh to which he/she may belong to but remains a citizen of India.

All the citizens of India can secure employment anywhere in the country and enjoy all the rights equally in all the parts of India.

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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.

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Emergency Provisions

The Constitution makers also foresaw that there could be situations when the government could not be run as in ordinary times. To cope with such situations, the Constitution elaborates on emergency provisions.

There are three types of emergency –

  1. emergency caused by war, external aggression or armed rebellion;
  2. emergency arising out of the failure of constitutional machinery in states; and
  3. financial emergency.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Political Science

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