Parliamentary System in India

Constitutional Provisions: A reading of the articles relating to the parliamentary system in India is likely to help us understand the parliamentary pattern in the country: As executive head of the state, certain powers go in the name of the President:

  • the executive power is vested in him and is exercised by him either directly or through subordinate to him in accordance with the Constitution (Article 53(1));
  • he is the supreme commander of the defence forces, exercise of which is to be regulated by law (Article 53(2));
  • he has the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remission of punishment or to suspend, remit, or commute the sentence of any person convicted by of any offence (Article 72(1));
  • all major appointments such as of the Prime Minister, of the ministers, of the Attorney-General, of the Governors, of the Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court, the chief justice and other judges of High Court, the chairmen and other members of the various constitutional, extra-constitutional, statutory commissions and bodies are made by the President (see numerous Articles of the Constitution);
  • every executive action of the Government of India is expressed to be taken in the name of the President (Article 77(1)); all orders and instruments are made in his name (Article 77(2)); all the rules for the convenient transaction of the business of the Government are made by the President (Article 77(3));
  • the President may call for any information relating to the administration and legislation from the Prime Minister (Article 78(b));
  • the President nominates twelve numbers of the Rajya Sabha who have special knowledge or practical experience on matters such as literature, science, art, and social service (Article 80(1) (a) and (2) and nominate two members belonging to the Anglo-Indian community if the President is satisfied that such a community is not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha (Articles 330, 331);
  • the President summons, prorogues the Houses of the Parliament, and can dissolve the Lok Sabha (Article 85(1)) and (2) addresses (special messages including) and sends messages to either House of the Parliament (Articles 85(1) and 86(1));
  • he notifies the joint meeting of the two Houses to resolve the deadlock between the two Houses of the Parliament (Articles (108(1));
  • the President gives assent and can withhold the ordinary bill passed by the Houses of the Parliament and can also send the bill back to the originating House for reconsideration and if the reconsidered bill is passed for the second time, the President has to give his assent (Article 111);
  • no money bill can be presented in the Lok Sabha without the prior permission of the President (Article 112(1));
  • the President has the power to promulgate ordinances during the recesses of the Parliament which will have to be approved by the Parliament within six weeks of the reconvening of the Parliament (Article 123);
  • the President has the power to give the assent or withhold the assent to the state bill reserved for his consideration (Article 201);
  • he proclaims emergency if he is satisfied that there is actual aggression or threat of aggression or armed rebellion in the country or a part thereof (on the written communication of the cabinet) under Article 352 or the breakdown of the constitutional machinery, under Article 356 or the financial stability or credit of India is in danger, under Article 360, during which period, in the process, the enforcement of rights of Part III can be suspended and he can put restrictions on freedoms under Article 19 in case of emergency under Articles 352 and 356, and restrictions in financial matters when there is emergency under Article 360.

The description of powers attributed to be those belonging to the President of India are only in his name, none of which is exercised by the President. The Constitution of India makes it clear that these powers are, though in the name of the President and are not exercised by him and yet, these are in the name of the President as executive head of the State, to be exercised on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister (Article 74(1)) or by officers subordinate to him (Article 53(a)). He, himself, does nothing, except those as provided by law (Article 53(2)), the law through which the Parliament can confer on authorities other than the President (Article 53(2)(b)). In the exercise of his functions the President is bound to go by the advice of the Council of Ministers, s is why the President of India is usually described as one like the king of England—only governs, and not rules. Like the king (or Queen) of England, the President of India acts as the nominal head, to be more specific as the constitutional head of the State, a requisite considered necessary in any parliamentary system of governance.

And yet, the President of India does more than he governs. The Constitution of India expects the President to perform certain responsibilities, a fact that deviates our polity from being called as exclusively one related to parliamentary system:

  • There is no power prescribed in the Constitution exclusively assigned to the President while exercising it—all executive powers are exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution: his powers as the supreme commander of the defence forces are to be exercised as provided by law; all the major appointments are done by the President on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers; his pardoning powers are exercised on the recommendations of the concerned ministries; he proclaims emergency under Article 352 on the written communication of the cabinet, emergency under Article 356 on the basis of the report of the Governor;
  • Certain responsibilities relating to administration have been entrusted to the President of India which are normally not expected of the nominal executive in a parliamentary system. These make the position of the President unique and help emerge a parliamentary system in India, one with a difference : (i) The President recommends to either House of the Parliament supported by the views of the concerned state(s) when the areas, boundaries or names of the state(s) are affected (Article 3); ( ii) It is on the consent of the President of India that any citizen, holding any office of profit, can accept any title, emolument or any of from any foreign state (Article 18(3 and 4)); (iii) The President has to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law and devote his life in the service and well-being of the people of India (Article 60); (iv) The President has to exercise all his functions in accordance with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, which advice is binding on him, implying that he does not and cannot, and in fact, should not exercise his functions by himself, i.e., in his own discretion (Article 74(1)); (v) The President appoints all the ministers only on the advice of the Prime Minister, (Article 75(1)); (vi) Rules with regard to the more convenient transaction of the business of the Government of India are to be made by the President (Article 77(3)); (vii) The President may seek information relating to the administration and legislation from the Prime Minister and may ask for the consideration of the decision by the Council of Ministers on which the council itself has not decided, though the minister concerned might have done (Article 78 (b and c)).

The President summons the sessions of the two Houses from time to time but in between two sessions, the period of six month should not have lapsed (Article 85(1)); he sends messages to the Parliament with respect to the bills pending therein (Article 86(2)) and can deliver special address after each general elections so to inform the Parliament the causes of its summoning (Article 87(1)). A joint meeting of the two Houses of Parliament is convened by the President to resolve the deadlock between the two Houses on any ordinary bill (Article 108(1)). Without his assent, no bill passed by the two Houses of the Parliament becomes an Act: he can, however, withhold the bill or can send the bill back to the originating House with his message, for reconsideration; the Parliament has to reconsider the bill accordingly and if passed by the Parliament with or without amendment, the President has but to give his assent (Article 111).

“The budget is caused to be laid in both the Houses of Parliament by the President (Article 112(1)); No money bill can be introduced in the Lok Sabha without the recommendations of the President (Article 117(1)); “The ordinances issued by the President during the recess of the Parliament have to be placed within six weeks of the first sitting of the reconvened Parliament (Article 123(2)(a)). “The judges, including the Chief Justice(s) of the Supreme Court or/and High Courts are appointed by the President (Article 124(2)). “The President of India may either seek opinion and/or refer a dispute of the kind mentioned in Article 131 on which the Supreme Court must give an opinion to the President (Article 143(1) (2)). He appoints the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (Article 148(1)) and lays his report(s) before each House of Parliament (Article 151(1)).

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