The Constitution of India (IAST: Bhāratīya Saṃvidhāna) is the supreme law of India. The document lays down the framework that demarcates fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens. It is the longest written constitution of any country.[a]
Most of the colonial India was under British rule from 1857 to 1947. From 1947 to 1950, the same legislation continued to be implemented as India was a dominion of Britain for these three years, as each princely state was convinced by Sardar Patel and V.P.Menon to sign the articles of integration with India, and the British government continued to be responsible for the external security of the country. Thus, the constitution of India repealed the Indian Independence Act 1947 and Government of India Act 1935 when it became effective on 26 January 1950. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a sovereign democratic republic with the constitution. Articles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 324, 366, 367, 379, 380, 388, 391, 392, 393, and 394 of the constitution came into force on 26 November 1949, and the remaining articles became effective on 26 January 1950.
The constitution was drawn from a number of sources. Mindful of India's needs and conditions, its framers borrowed features of previous legislation such as the Government of India Act 1858, the Indian Councils Acts of 1861, 1892 and 1909, the Government of India Acts 1919 and 1935, and the Indian Independence Act 1947. The latter, which led to the creation of India and Pakistan, divided the former Constituent Assembly in two. The Amendment act of 1935 is also a very important step for making the constitution for two new born countries. Each new assembly had sovereign power to draft and enact a new constitution for the separate states.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a wise constitutional expert, he had studied the constitutions of about 60 countries. Ambedkar is recognised as the "Father of the Constitution of India". In the constitution assembly, a member of the drafting committee, T. T. Krishnamachari said:
"Mr. President, Sir, I am one of those in the House who have listened to Dr. Ambedkar very carefully. I am aware of the amount of work and enthusiasm that he has brought to bear on the work of drafting this Constitution. At the same time, I do realise that that amount of attention that was necessary for the purpose of drafting a constitution so important to us at this moment has not been given to it by the Drafting Committee. The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you, one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced. One was away in America and his place was not filled up and another person was engaged in State affairs, and there was a void to that extent. One or two people were far away from Delhi and perhaps reasons of health did not permit them to attend. So it happened ultimately that the burden of drafting this constitution fell on Dr. Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved this task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable."
Timeline of formation of the Constitution of India
6 December 1946: Formation of the Constitution Assembly (in accordance with French practice).
11 December 1946: The Assembly appointed Rajendra Prasad as its president,H. C. Mukherjee as its vice-chairman and B. N. Rau as constitutional legal adviser. (There were initially 389 members in total, which declined to 299 after partition. Out of the 389 members, 292 were from government provinces, four from chief commissioner provinces and 93 from princely states.)
13 December 1946: An "Objective Resolution" was presented by Jawaharlal Nehru, laying down the underlying principles of the constitution. This later became the Preamble of the Constitution.
22 January 1947: Objective resolution unanimously adopted.
At 14 August 1947 meeting of the assembly, committees were proposed. Rau's draft was considered, debated and amended by the eight-person drafting committee, which was appointed on 29 August 1947 with B. R. Ambedkar as chair. A revised draft constitution was prepared by the committee and submitted to the assembly on 4 November 1947. Dr B. R. Ambedkar in his concluding speech in constituent assembly on 25 November 1949 stated that:
The credit that is given to me does not really belong to me. It belongs partly to Sir B.N. Rau the Constitutional Advisor to the Constituent Assembly who prepared a rough draft of the Constitution for the consideration of Drafting Committee.
While deliberating the revised draft constitution, the assembly moved, discussed and disposed off 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635. Before adopting the constitution, the assembly held eleven sessions in 165 days. On 26 November 1949, it adopted the constitution, which was signed by 284 members. The day is celebrated as National Law Day, or Constitution Day. The day was chosen to spread the importance of the constitution and to spread thoughts and ideas of Ambedkar.
The Indian constitution is the world's longest for a sovereign nation.[a] At its enactment, it had 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules. At about 145,000 words, it is the second-longest active constitution—after the Constitution of Alabama—in the world.
Appendix I – The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954
Appendix II – Re-statement, referring to the constitution's present text, of exceptions and modifications applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir
Appendix III – Extracts from the Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act, 1978
Appendix IV – The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002
Appendix V – The Constitution (Eighty-eighth Amendment) Act, 2003
Governmental sources of power
The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government receive their power from the constitution and are bound by it. With the aid of its constitution, India is governed by a parliamentary system of government with the executive directly accountable to the legislature.
Each state and union territory has its own government. Analogous to the president and prime minister, each has a governor or (in union territories) a lieutenant governor and a chief minister. Article 356 permits the president to dismiss a state government and assume direct authority if a situation arises in which state government cannot be conducted in accordance with constitution. This power, known as president's rule, was abused as state governments came to be dismissed on flimsy grounds for political reasons. After the S. R. Bommai v. Union of India decision, such a course of action is more difficult since the courts have asserted their right of review.
Article 368 dictates the procedure for constitutional amendments. Amendments are additions, variations or repeal of any part of the constitution by Parliament. An amendment bill must be passed by each house of Parliament by a two-thirds majority of its total membership when at least two-thirds are present and vote. Certain amendments pertaining to the constitution's federal nature must also be ratified by a majority of state legislatures.
By July 2018, 124 amendment bills had been presented in Parliament; of these, 103 became Amendment Acts. Despite the supermajority requirement for amendments to pass, the Indian constitution is the world's most frequently-amended national governing document. The constitution is so specific in spelling out government powers that many amendments address issues dealt with by statute in other democracies.
In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court ruled that an amendment cannot destroy what it seeks to modify; it cannot tinker with the constitution's basic structure or framework, which are immutable. Such an amendment will be declared invalid, although no part of the constitution is protected from amendment; the basic structure doctrine does not protect any one provision of the constitution. According to the doctrine, the constitution's basic features (when "read as a whole") cannot be abridged or abolished. These "basic features" have not been fully defined, and whether a particular provision of the constitution is a "basic feature" is decided by the courts.
The Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala decision laid down the constitution's basic structure:
This implies that Parliament can only amend the constitution to the limit of its basic structure. The Supreme Court or a high court may declare the amendment null and void if this is violated, after a judicial review. This is typical of parliamentary governments, where the judiciary checks parliamentary power.
In its 1967 Golak Nath v. State of Punjab decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Punjab could not restrict any fundamental rights protected by the basic structure doctrine. The extent of land ownership and practice of a profession, in this case, were considered fundamental rights. The ruling was overturned with the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1971.
The judiciary is the final arbiter of the constitution. Its duty (mandated by the constitution) is to act as a watchdog, preventing any legislative or executive act from overstepping constitutional bounds. The judiciary protects the fundamental rights of the people (enshrined in the constitution) from infringement by any state body, and balances the conflicting exercise of power between the central government and a state (or states).
The courts are expected to remain unaffected by pressure exerted by other branches of the state, citizens or interest groups. An independent judiciary has been held as a basic feature of the constitution, which cannot be changed by the legislature or the executive. Article 50 of the Constitution provides that the state must take measures to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services.
All pre-constitutional laws, if they conflict wholly or in part with the constitution, shall have all conflicting provisions deemed ineffective until an amendment to the constitution ends the conflict; the law will again come into force if it is compatible with the constitution as amended (the Doctrine of Eclipse).
Laws made after the adoption of the constitution must be compatible with it, or they will be deemed void ab initio.
In such situations, the Supreme Court (or a high court) determines if a law is in conformity with the constitution. If such an interpretation is not possible because of inconsistency (and where separation is possible), the provision which is inconsistent with the constitution is considered void. In addition to Article 13, Articles 32, 226 and 227 provide the constitutional basis for judicial review.
Due to the adoption of the Thirty-eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court was not allowed to preside over any laws adopted during a state of emergency which infringe fundamental rights under article 32 (the right to constitutional remedies). The Forty-second Amendment widened Article 31C and added Articles 368(4) and 368(5), stating that any law passed by Parliament could not be challenged in court. The Supreme Court ruled in Minerva Mills v. Union of India that judicial review is a basic characteristic of the constitution, overturning Articles 368(4), 368(5) and 31C.
According to Granville Austin, "The Indian constitution is first and foremost a social document, and is aided by its Parts III & IV (Fundamental Rights & Directive Principles of State Policy, respectively) acting together, as its chief instruments and its conscience, in realising the goals set by it for all the people."[h] The constitution has deliberately been worded in generalities (not in vague terms) to ensure its flexibility.John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the United States, said that a constitution's "great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves." A document "intended to endure for ages to come", it must be interpreted not only based on the intention and understanding of its framers, but in the existing social and political context.
The "right to life" guaranteed under Article 21[A] has been expanded to include a number of human rights, including:
At the conclusion of his book, Making of India's Constitution, retired Supreme Court Justice Hans Raj Khanna wrote:
If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people."
^Although the last article of the constitution is Article 395, the total number in March 2013 was 465. New articles added through amendments have been inserted in the relevant location of the original constitution. To not disturb the original numbering, new articles are inserted alphanumerically; Article 21A, pertaining to the right to education, was inserted by the 86th Amendment Act.
^The Constitution was in 22 Parts originally. Part VII & IX (older) was repealed in 1956, whereas newly added Part IVA, IXA, IXB & XIVA by Amendments to the Constitution in different times (lastly added IXB by the 97th Amendment).
^By 73rd & 74th Amendment, the lists of administrative subjects of Panchayat raj & Municipality included in the Constitution as Schedule 11 & 12 respectively in the year 1993.
^Scheduled Areas are autonomous areas within a state, administered federally and usually mainly populated by a Scheduled Tribe.
^Originally Articles mentioned here were immune from judicial review on the ground that they violated fundamental rights, but in a landmark judgement in 2007, the Supreme Court of India held in I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu and others that laws included in the 9th schedule can be subject to judicial review if they violated the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14, 15, 19, 21 or the basic structure of the Constitution[ambiguous] – I.R. Coelho (dead) by L.Rs. v. State of Tamil Nadu and others(2007) 2 S.C.C. 1
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