The Constitution of India has some distinct and unique features as compared to other constitutions to the world. As Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee puts it, the framers had tried to accumulate and accommodate the best features of other constitutions, keeping in view the peculiar problems and needs of our country.
The following are the salient features of the Constitution of India.
1. Longest written constitution
Indian Constitution can be called the largest written constitution in the world because of its contents. In its original form, it consisted of 395 Articles and 8 Schedules to which additions have been made through subsequent amendments. At present it contains 395 Articles and 12 Schedules, and more than 80 amendments. There are various factors responsible for the long size of the constitution. One major factors was that the framers of the constitution borrowed provisions form several sources and several other constitutions of the world.
They have followed and reproduced the Government of India Act 1935 in providing matters of administrative detail. Secondly, it was necessary to make provisions for peculiar problems of India like scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward regions. Thirdly, provisions were made for elaborate centre-state relations in all aspects of their administrative and other activities. Fourthly, the size of the constitution became bulky, as provisions regarding the state administration were also included. Further, a detail list of individual rights, directive principles of state policy and the details of administration procedure were laid down to make the Constitution clear and unambiguous for the ordinary citizen. Thus, the Constitution of India became an exhaustive and lengthy one.
(2) Partly Rigid and Partly Flexible
The Constitution of India is neither purely rigid nor purely flexible. There is a harmonious blend of rigidity and flexibility. Some parts of the Constitution can be amended by the ordinary law-making process by Parliament. Certain provisions can be amended, only when a Bill for that purpose is passed in each house of Parliament by a majority of the total membership of that house and. by a majority of not less than two-third of the members of that house present and voting. Then there are certain other provisions which can be amended by the second method described above and are ratified by the legislatures of not less than one-half of the states before being presented to the President for his assent. It must also be noted that the power to initiate bills for amendment lies in Parliament alone, and not in the state legislatures.
Pundit Nehru expressed in the Constituent Assembly, "While we want the Constitution to be as solid and permanent as we can make it, there is no permanence in Constitution. There should be certain flexibility. If you make anything rigid and permanent, you stop the nation’s growth, the growth of a living, vital organic people."
3) A Democratic Republic
India is a democratic republic. It means that sovereignty rests with the people of India. They govern themselves through their representatives elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. The President of India, the highest official of the state is elected for a fixed term. Although, India is a sovereign republic, yet it continues to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations with the British Monarch as its head. Her membership of the Commonwealth does not compromise her position as a sovereign republic. The commonwealth is an association of free and independent nations. The British Monarch is only a symbolic head of that association.
4) Parliamentary System of Government
India has adopted the Parliamentary system as found in Britain. In this system, the executive is responsible to the legislature, and remains in power only as long and it enjoys the confidence of the legislature. The president of India, who remains in office for five years is the nominal, titular or constitutional head. The Union Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as its head is drawn from the legislature. It is collectively responsible to the House of People (Lok Sabha), and has to resign as soon as it loses the confidence of that house. The President, the nominal executive shall exercise his powers according to the advice of the Union Council of Ministers, the real executive. In the states also, the government is Parliamentary in nature.
5) A Federation
Article 1 of the Constitution of India says: - "India, that is Bharat shall be a Union of States." Though the word 'Federation' is not used, the government is federal. A state is federal when (a) there are two sets of governments and there is distribution of powers between the two, (b) there is a written constitution, which is the supreme law of the land and (c) there is an independent judiciary to interpret the constitution and settle disputes between the centre and the states. All these features are present in India. There are two sets of government, one at the centre, the other at state level and the distribution of powers between them is quite detailed in our Constitution. The Constitution of India is written and the supreme law of the land. At the apex of single integrated judicial system, stands the Supreme Court which is independent from the control of the executive and the legislature.
But in spite of all these essential features of a federation, Indian Constitution has an unmistakable unitary tendency. While other federations like U.S.A. provide for dual citizenship, the India Constitution provides for single citizenship. There is also a single integrated judiciary for the whole country. The provision of All India Services, like the Indian Administrative Service, the India Police Service, and Indian Forest Service prove another unitary feature. Members of these services are recruited by the Union Public Service Commission on an All-India basis. Because these services are controlled by Union Government, to some extent this constitutes a constraint on the autonomy of states.
A significant unitary feature is the Emergency provisions in the Indian constitution. During the time of emergency, the Union Government becomes most powerful and the Union Parliament acquires the power of making laws for the states. The Governor placed as the constitutional head of the state, acts as the agent of the centre and is intended to safeguard the interests of the centre. These provisions reveal the centralising tendency of our federation.
Prof: K.C. Wheare has rightly remarked that Indian Constitution provides, "a system of government which is quasi-federal, a unitary state with the subsidiary unitary features". The framers of the constitution expressed clearly that there exists the harmony of federalism and the unitarism. Dr. Ambedkar said, "The political system adopted in the Constitution could be both unitary as well as federal according to the requirement of time and circumstances". We can say that India has a "Cooperative federalism" with central guidance and state compliance.
6) Fundamental Rights
"A state is known by the rights it maintains", remarked Prof. H.J. Laski. The constitution of India affirms the basic principle that every individual is entitled to enjoy certain basic rights and part III of the Constitution deals with those rights which are known as fundamental rights. Originally there were seven categories of rights, but now they are six in number. They are (i) Right to equality, (ii) Right to freedom, (iii) Right against exploitation, (iv) Right to freedom of Religion, v) Cultural and Educational rights and vi) Right to constitutional remedies. Right to property (Article-31) originally a fundamental right has been omitted by the 44th Amendment Act. 1978. It is now a legal right.
These fundamental rights are justiciable and the individual can move the higher judiciary, that is the Supreme Court or the High Courts, if there is an encroachment on any of these rights. The right to move to the Supreme Court straight for the enforcement of fundamental rights has been guaranteed under Article 32 (Right to Constitutional Remedies). However, fundamental rights in India are not absolute. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed keeping in view the security-requirements of the state.
7) Directive Principles of State Policy
A novel feature of the Constitution is that it contains a chapter in the Directive Principles of State Policy. These principles are in the nature of directives to the government to implement them for establishing social and economic democracy in the country.
It embodies important principles like adequate means to livelihood, equal pay for both men and women, distribution of wealth so as to subserve the common good, free and compulsory primary education, right to work, public assistance in case of old age, unemployment, sickness and disablement, the organisation of village Panchayats, special care to the economically back ward sections of the people etc. Most of these principles could help in making India welfare state. Though not justiciable. These principles have been stated a; "fundamental in the governance of the country".
8) Fundamental Duties
A new part IV (A) after the Directive Principles of State Policy was incorporated in the constitution by the 42nd Amendment, 1976 for fundaments duties. These duties are:
i) To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
ii) To cherish and follow the noble ideals, which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
iii) To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
iv) To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
v) to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, regional or sectional diversities, to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of woman;
vi) to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
vii) to protect and improve the natural environments including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures;
viii) to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
ix) to safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
x) 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.
The purpose of incorporating these duties in the Constitution is just to remind the people that while enjoying their right as citizens, should also perform their duties for rights and duties are correlative.
9) Secular State
A secular state is neither religious nor irreligious, or anti-religious. Rather it is quite neutral in matters of religion. India being a land of many religions, the founding fathers of the Constitution thought it proper to make it a secular state. India is a secular state, because it makes no discrimination between individuals on the basis of religion. Neither it encourages nor discourages any religion. On the contrary, right to freedom of religion is ensured in the Constitution and people belonging to any religious group have the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion they like.
10) An Independent Judiciary
The judiciary occupies an important place in our Constitution and it is also made independent of the legislature and the executive. The Supreme Court of India stands at the apex of single integrated judicial system. It acts as protector of fundamental rights of Indian citizens and guardian of the Constitution. If any law passed by the legislature or action taken by the executive contravenes the provisions of the Constitution, they can be declared as null and void by the Supreme Court. Thus, it has the power of judicial review. But judicial review in India constitutes a middle path between the American judicial supremacy in one hand and British Parliamentary supremacy in the other.
11) Single Citizenship
The Constitution of India recognises only single citizenship. In the United States, there is provision of dual citizenship. In India, we are citizens of India only, not of the respective states to which we belong. This provision would help in promoting unity and integrity of the nation.