|Ratified 26 November 1949|
|Date effective January 26, 1950; 67 years ago (1950-01-26)|
Signatories 284 members of the Constituent Assembly
Purpose To replace the Indian Independence Act
The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the 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 sovereign country in the world. The nation is governed by it. B. R. Ambedkar is regarded as its chief architect.
- Previous legislation used as sources
- Constituent assembly
- The constitution and the government
- The constitution and the judiciary
- Judicial review
- The constitution a living document
It imparts constitutional supremacy and not parliamentary supremacy, as it is not created by the Parliament but, by a constituent assembly, and adopted by its people, with a declaration in its preamble. Parliament cannot override the constitution.
It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950. With its adoption, the Union of India became the modern and contemporary Republic of India replacing the Government of India Act, 1935 as the country's fundamental governing document. To ensure constitutional autochthony, the framers of the constitution repealed the prior Acts of the British Parliament via Article 395 of the constitution. India celebrates its coming into force on 26 January each year, as Republic Day.
It declares India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.
The major portion of the Indian subcontinent was under British rule from 1857 to 1947. When the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950, it repealed the Indian Independence Act. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a sovereign democratic republic. The date of 26 January was chosen to commemorate the Purna Swaraj declaration of independence of 1930.
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 on 26 January 1950.
Previous legislation used as sources
It is drawn from many sources. Keeping in mind the needs and conditions of India its framers borrowed different features freely from previous legislation viz. Government of India Act 1858, Indian Councils Act 1861, Indian Councils Act 1892, Indian Councils Act 1909, Government of India Act 1919, Government of India Act 1935 and the Indian Independence Act 1947. The last legislation which led to the creation of the two independent nations of India and Pakistan provided for the division of the erstwhile Constituent Assembly into two, with each new assembly having sovereign powers transferred to it, to enable each to draft and enact a new constitution, for the separate states.
It was drafted by the Constituent Assembly, which was elected by elected members of the provincial assemblies. The 389 member Constituent Assembly took almost three years (two years, eleven months and eighteen days to be precise) to complete its historic task of drafting the Constitution for independent India, during which, it held eleven sessions over 165 days. Of these, 114 days were spent on the consideration of the draft Constitution. On 29 August 1947, the Constituent Assembly set up a Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to prepare a draft Constitution for India. While deliberating upon the draft Constitution, the assembly moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635 tabled. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Sanjay Phakey, Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Kanaiyalal Munshi, Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar, Sandipkumar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Nalini Ranjan Ghosh, and Balwantrai Mehta were some important figures in the assembly. There were more than 30 members of the scheduled classes. Frank Anthony represented the Anglo-Indian community, and the Parsis were represented by H. P. Modi. The Chairman of the Minorities Committee was Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, a distinguished Christian who represented all Christians other than Anglo-Indians. Ari Bahadur Gurung represented the Gorkha Community. Prominent jurists like Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, Benegal Narsing Rau and K. M. Munshi, Ganesh Mavlankar were also members of the Assembly. Sarojini Naidu, Hansa Mehta, Durgabai Deshmukh, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Vijayalakshmi Pandit were important women members.
The first temporary 2-day president of the Constituent Assembly was Dr Sachchidananda Sinha. Later, Rajendra Prasad was elected president of the Constituent Assembly. The members of the Constituent Assembly met for the first time on 9 December 1946.
On 14 August 1947 meeting of the Assembly, a proposal for forming various committees was presented. Such committees included a Committee on Fundamental Rights, the Union Powers Committee and Union Constitution Committee. On 29 August 1947, the Drafting Committee was appointed, with Dr B. R. Ambedkar as the Chairman along with six other members assisted by a constitutional advisor. These members were Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (K M Munshi, Ex- Home Minister, Bombay), Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer (Ex- Advocate General, Madras State), N Gopalaswami Ayengar (Ex-Prime Minister, J&K and later member of Nehru Cabinet), B L Mitter (Ex-Advocate General, India), Md. Saadullah (Ex- Chief Minister of Assam, Muslim League member) and D P Khaitan (Scion of Khaitan Business family and a renowned lawyer). The constitutional advisor was Sir Benegal Narsing Rau (who became First Indian Judge in International Court of Justice, 1950–54). Later B L Mitter resigned and was replaced by Madhav Rao (Legal Advisor of Maharaja of Vadodara). On D P Khaitan's death, T T Krishnamachari was included in the drafting committee. A draft Constitution was prepared by the committee and submitted to the Assembly on 4 November 1947, which was debated and over 2000 amendments were moved over a period of two years. Finally on 26 November 1949, the process was completed and the Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution. 284 members signed the document and the process of constitution making was complete. This day is celebrated as National Law Day or Constitution Day.
The assembly met in sessions open to the public, for 166 days, spread over a period of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days before adopting the Constitution, the 308 members of the assembly signed two copies of the document (one each in Hindi and English) on 24 January 1950. The original Constitution of India is hand-written with beautiful calligraphy, each page beautified and decorated by artists from Shantiniketan including Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Nandalal Bose. The illustrations on the cover and pages represent styles from the different civilisations of the subcontinent, ranging from the prehistoric Mohenjodaro civilisation, in the Indus Valley, to the present. The calligraphy in the book was done by Prem Behari Narain Raizda. It was published in Dehra Dun, and photolithographed at the offices of Survey of India. The entire exercise to produce the original took nearly five years. Two days later, on 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India became the law of all the States and territories of India. Rs.1,00,00,000 was official estimate of expenditure on constituent assembly. It has undergone many amendments since its enactment.
The original 1950 Constitution of India is preserved in helium cases in the Parliament house, New Delhi. There are two original versions of this – one in Hindi and the other in English. The original constitution can be viewed here.
The Indian constitution is the world's longest. At its commencement, it had 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules. It is made up of almost 80,000 words. In its current form (September 2012), it has a preamble, 25 parts with 448 articles, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 100 amendments, the latest of which came into force on 1 August 2015.
The individual articles of the constitution are grouped together into the following parts:
Schedules are lists in the Constitution that categorise and tabulate bureaucratic activity and policy of the Government.
The constitution and the government
Institutions of governance – the Parliament, the President, the Judiciary, the Executive, etc. get their power from the Constitution and are bound by it. With the aid of the Constitution, India is governed by a parliamentary system of government with the executive directly accountable to the legislature. It states that there shall be a President of India who shall be the head of the executive, under Articles 52 and 53. The President's duty is to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law under Article 60 of the Indian constitution. Article 74 provides that there shall be a Prime Minister as the head of union cabinet which would aid and advice the President in performing his constitutional duty. Union cabinet is collectively responsible to the House of the People per Article 75(3).
The Constitution of India is federal in nature but unitary in spirit. The common features of a federation such as written Constitution, supremacy of Constitution, rigidity of Constitution, two government, division of powers, bicameralism and independent judiciary as well as unitary features like single Constitution, single citizenship, integrated judiciary, flexible Constitution, a strong Centre, appointment of state governor by the Centre, All-India Services, Emergency Provisions etc. can be seen in Indian Constitution. This unique combination makes it quasi-federal in form.
Each state and each Union territory of India has its own government. Analogous to President and Prime Minister, each has a Governor (in case of states) or Lieutenant Governor (in the case of Union territories) and a Chief Minister. Article 356 permits the President to dismiss a state government and assume direct authority when a situation has arisen in which the Government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. This power, known as President's rule, was abused earlier as state governments came to be dismissed on the flimsiest of grounds, and more due to the political discomfiture of the party in power at the centre. Post – Bommai judgment, such a course of action has been rendered rather difficult, as the courts have asserted their right to review it. Consequently, very few state governments have been disbanded since.
The 73rd and 74th Amendment Act also introduced the system of Panchayati Raj in rural areas and Municipality in urban areas. Also, Article 370 of the Constitution gives special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The process of addition, variation or repeal of any part of the constitution by the parliament under its constituent powers, is called amendment of the constitution. The procedure is laid out in Article 368. An amendment bill must be passed by each House of the Parliament by a majority of the total membership of that House when at least two-thirds members are present and voted. In addition to this, certain amendments which pertain to the federal nature of the Constitution must be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. Unlike the ordinary bills under legislative powers of Parliament as per Article 245 (with exception to money bills), there is no provision for joint sitting of the two houses (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) of the parliament to pass a constitutional amendment bill. During recess of Parliament, President can not promulgate ordinances under his legislative powers per Article 123, Chapter III which needs constitutional amendment. Deemed amendments to the constitution which can be passed under legislative powers of Parliament, are no more valid after the addition of Article 368 (1) by Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution of India.
As of September 2015, there have been 120 amendment bills presented in the parliament, out of which 100 have been passed to become Amendment Acts. Most of these amendments address issues dealt with by statute in other democracies. However, the Constitution is so specific in spelling out government powers that many of these issues must be addressed by constitutional amendment. As a result, the document is amended roughly thrice in a two-year duration.
In 2000 the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) was set up to look into updating the constitution. Government of India, establishes term based law commissions to recommend law reforms for maximising justice in society and for promoting good governance under the rule of law.
The Supreme Court has ruled in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case that an amendment cannot destroy what it seeks to modify, which means, while amending anything in the Constitution, it cannot tinker with the "basic structure" or its framework, which is immutable. Such an amendment will be declared invalid even though no part of the constitution is explicitly prevented from being amended, nor does the basic structure doctrine protect any single provision of the Constitution. Yet, this "doctrine of basic features" lays down that, the Constitution when "read as a whole", that what comes to be understood as its basic features cannot be abridged, deleted or abrogated. What these "basic features" are, have not been defined exhaustively anywhere, and whether a particular provision of the Constitution of India is a "basic feature" is decided as and when an issue is raised before a court in an instant case.
The judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case laid down the following as the basic structure of the constitution of India:
- The Supremacy of the Constitution
- Republican and Democratic form of the Government
- Secular Character of the Constitution
- Maintenance of Separation of powers
- The Federal Character of the Constitution
This implies that the Parliament, while amending the Constitution, can only amend it to the extent so as to not destroy any of the aforesaid characters. The Supreme Court/High Court(s) may declare the amendment null and void if this is violated, by performing Judicial review. This is typical of Parliamentary governments, where the Judiciary has to exercise an effective check on the exercise of the powers of the Parliament, which in many respects is supreme.
In the Golak Nath v. State of Punjab case of 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of Punjab could not restrict any of the Fundamental rights protected by the basic structure doctrine. Extent of land ownership and practice of profession, in this case, were held to be a fundamental right. The ruling of the Golak Nath v. State of Punjab case was eventually overturned with the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1971.
The constitution and the judiciary
The Judiciary interprets the Constitution as its final arbiter. It is its duty as mandated by the Constitution, to be its watchdog, by calling for scrutiny any act of the legislature or the executive, who otherwise, are free to enact or implement these, from overstepping bounds set for them by the Constitution. It acts like a guardian in protecting the fundamental rights of the people, as enshrined in the Constitution, from infringement by any organ of the state. It also balances the conflicting exercise of power between the centre and a state or among states, as assigned to them by the Constitution.
While pronouncing decisions under its constitutional mandate, it is expected to remain unaffected by pulls and pressures exerted by other branches of the state, citizens or interest groups. And crucially, independence of the judiciary has been held to be a basic feature of the Constitution, and which being inalienable, has come to mean – that which cannot be taken away from it by any act or amendment by the legislature or the executive.
Judicial review is adopted in the Constitution of India from judicial review in the United States. In the Indian constitution, Judicial review is dealt with under Article 13. Judicial Review refers that the Constitution is the supreme power of the nation and all laws are under its supremacy. Article 13 states that:
- All pre-constitutional laws, if in part or completely in conflict with the Constitution, shall have all conflicting provisions deemed ineffective until an amendment to the Constitution ends the conflict. In such situation the provision of that law will again come into force, if it is compatible with the constitution as amended. This is called the Doctrine of Eclipse.
- In a similar manner, laws made after adoption of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly must be compatible with the constitution, otherwise the laws and amendments will be deemed to be void ab initio.
- In such situations, the Supreme Court or High Court interprets the laws to decide if they are in conformity with the Constitution. If such an interpretation is not possible because of inconsistency, and where a separation is possible, the provision that is inconsistent with constitution is considered to be void. In addition to article 13, articles 32, 226 and 227 provide a constitutional basis to judicial review in India.
Due to the adoption of the thirty-eighth amendment, the Indian Supreme Court was not allowed to preside over any laws adopted during a state of emergency that infringes upon fundamental rights under article 32 i.e. Right to Constitutional Remedies. Later with the Forty-second Amendment of the Constitution of India, article 31 C was widened and article 368(4) and 368(5) were added, which stated that any law passed by the parliament can't be challenged in the court on any ground. The Supreme court in the Minerva Mills v. Union of India case said that Judicial Review is one of the basic character of the constitution and therefore can't be taken away quashing Article 368(4)&(5) as well as 31 C.
The constitution – a living document
"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."
The Constitution's provisions have consciously been worded in generalities, though not in vague terms, instead of making them rigid and static with a fixed meaning or content as in an ordinary statute, so that they may be interpreted by coming generations of citizens with the onward march of time, to apply to new and ever-changing and demanding situations, making the Constitution a living and an organic document. Justice Marshall asserts: “It is the nature of (a) Constitution that only its great outlines be marked”. It is a document intended “to endure for ages” and therefore, it has to be interpreted not merely on the basis of the intention and understanding of the its framers but on the experience of its working effectively, in the existing social and political context.
For instance, "right to life" as guaranteed under Article 21, has by interpretation been expanded to progressively mean a whole lot of human rights
In the conclusion of his Making of India's Constitution, Justice Khanna writes:
"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."