Our Parliamentary System: A Brief Outline
India, a Union of 28 States and 7 Union territories is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic governed by a republican Constitution that came into force on 26 January 1950. The Constitution envisages a parliamentary form of Government. The Executive is responsible to the elected representatives of the people. The President of India is the Constitutional head of the Union. The Constitution provides for a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as the head to aid and advise the President who, in the exercise of his functions, acts in accordance with such advice. The Indian governmental system has been described as federal in form but unitary in character. It, in fact, is a federation with certain strong unitary features. The legislative power is divided between the Parliament and the State Legislatures. However, residuary powers are vested in the Parliament.
The Constitution provides for an independent Judiciary, Comptroller and Auditor-General, Public Service Commissions – both at the national and the State levels, Election Commission and single and uniform citizenship. The Constitution offers all citizens some basic freedoms known as Fundamental Rights. It also lays down certain Directive Principles of State Policy which, though not justifiable, are ‘fundamental in the governance of the country’.
The executive power of the Union is vested in the President and is exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with the Constitution. In the exercise of his functions, the President acts in accordance with the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. The President is elected for five years by an electoral college consisting of elected members of both the Houses of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of States in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
The Constitution also provides for a Vice-President of India. The Vice-President is elected for a term of five years by an electoral college comprising members of both the Houses of Parliament in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The Vice-President is also the ex officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (the Council of States).
There is a Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President who also appoints other Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha (the House of the People) and it remains in office so long as it enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha. In the event of losing this support, the Council of Ministers has to bow out of office and pave the way for an alternative one.
The Union Legislature called Parliament, consists of the President and the two Houses, viz. the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha at present has 245 members. Of these, 233 members represent the States and Union territories whereas 12 members are nominated by the President. The members of the Rajya Sabha, representing States are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of the States in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. Members representing the Union territories are chosen in such manner as the Parliament may by law prescribe. The Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution; one-third of its members retire every second year.
The members of the Lok Sabha are directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. Unless sooner dissolved, the term of the Lok Sabha is five years. Presently, the Lok Sabha consists of 545 members. Of these, 530 members are directly elected from the States and 13 from the Union territories, while two are nominated by the President to represent the Anglo-Indian community.
The functions of our Parliament, among others, are those of legislation, overseeing of administration, passing of budget, ventilation of public grievances, discussing various subjects like development plans, international relations and national policies. Under the Indian federal system, the Parliament enjoys precedence over the State legislatures. Under certain circumstances, it assumes legislative powers even over a subject falling within the sphere exclusively reserved for the States.
An important feature of the Indian parliamentary set-sup is an elaborate Committee System in both the Houses of Parliament. The three Financial Committees, one each on Estimates, Public Accounts and Public Undertakings, constitute a distinct group and they keep an unremitting vigil over Government expenditure and performance. While members of the Rajya Sabha are associated with the Committees on Public Accounts and Public Undertakings, members of the Committee on Estimates are drawn entirely from the Lok Sabha. Other important Committees having similar functions in both House are the Committee of Privileges, Committee on Subordinate Legislation, Committee on Government Assurances, Committee on Petitions, Committee on Ethics, etc. These apart, there are 24 Departmentally-related Standing Committees corresponding to different Ministries and Departments to look into the Demands for Grants, Annual Reports of Ministries/Departments and policy matters relating to the Ministries/Departments. Besides, Joint Committees and ad hoc Committees are constituted from time to time to inquire into and report on specific subjects or consider and report on a particular bill.
A similar pattern of government is prevalent at the State level as well. The State Executive consists of the Governor and the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister to aid and advise the Governor. The Governor is appointed by the President and the executive power of the State is vested in him. The Council of Ministers comprises the Chief Minister and other Ministers. The Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor who also appoints other Ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State and remains in office till such time as it enjoys the confidence of the House.
For every State, 28 in all, there is a Legislature which consists of the Governor and one House, or as the case may be, two Houses. Five States, viz., Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have two Houses each, viz., the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. The other States have only one House each, i.e., the Legislative Assembly whose term is five years. The State Legislatures have their own Committee System.
The Union territories are administered by the President through an Administrator appointed by him. Among the seven Union territories, only two, i.e., the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Pondicherry have a Legislative Assembly and Council of Ministers.