Constitution: Meaning and Features


  • A Constitution means a document having a special legal sanctity which sets out the framework and principal functions of organs of government of a State and declares the principles governing the operation of those organs.
  • Constitution means a written organic instrument, under which government powers are conferred and circumscribed (Schwartz).
  • The Constitution is the supreme or fundamental law of land, and all governmental organs, which owe their origin to the Constitution and derive their powers from its provisions, must function within the framework of Constitution, and must not do any thing which is inconsistent with provisions of Constitution.
  • The binding force of the Constitution is the sovereign will of the people of India.

Salient Features of Indian Constitution

The Constitution of India is unique in many ways. It has several special features that distinguish it from other Constitution of the world.

  • Size of the Constitution: It is the lengthiest Constitution of world. It is a very comprehensive document. This happened because the Government of India Act, 1935 which was after all basically a statue, was used as a model and an initial working draft and large portions of it got reproduced in the Constitution.
  • Written Constitution :The constitution of the Indian Republic is written. It contains 395 articles and 10 Schedules, According to the proposals of the Cabinet Mission Plan; Constituent Assembly was set up for framing a constitution for the Union of India. The Assembly consisted of the representatives of the provinces and the nominees of the states, first met in New Delhi in December 1946. After nearly three years of deliberations if finally adopted the constitution on November 26, 1949. The Indian Republic was inaugurated on January 26, 1950.
  • Rigid and flexible: The constitution is rigid in the sense that most of its parts cannot be amended by the ordinary law-making process. There are three methods of amending the constitution. Some of its facts can be amended by the ordinary law-making process by Parliament. Certain provisions can be amended provided that a Bill for that purpose is passed in each House of Parliament by a majority of the total membership of the House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting. Thus the constitution is rigid as well as flexible.
  • Bag of Borrowings: A distinguishing feature of the Indian constitution is that it was prepared after studying all the known constitutions of the world. So it is a borrowed constitution, it is a patch work.
  • Secular State: India is a secular state. It means that the state does not recognize, establish or endow any church or religious organization. It is not guided in the discharge of its functions by the considerations of secular or the worldly welfare of the people. It does not seek to promote the spiritual or religious welfare of the people. It allows freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, faith and conscience. It does not discriminate in matters of government employment on the basis of religion. The term “Secular” did not occur in any part of the original constitution. It was incorporated in the preamble by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in 1976.
  • Socialist State: India is a socialist state. The term “Socialist” was added to the preamble of the constitution by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976. But it is to be noted that the “Socialism” envisaged by the constitution is not the usual state socialism of Russian.
  •  Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Remedies: Like the constitution of the USA and the USSR, the Indian constitution contains a comprehensive Bill of Rights. Right to freedom, right to equality, right to religion, right against exploitation, and cultural rights have been guaranteed to the citizens of India. The rights are enforceable in the courts. The constitution guarantees the right to move the Supreme Court and the High Courts by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights mentioned above. The remedies for enforcing the rights, namely, the writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition and certiorari are also guaranteed by the constitution under Article 32.
  • Fundamental Duties : A chapter Part IVA on fundamental duties was incorporated in the constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act. Article 51A of the constitution enumerates ten fundamental duties of the citizens of India.
  • Directive Principles of State Policy: A distinctive feature of the constitution is that it contains a Chapter IV on the Directive Principles of State Policy. These Directives relate mostly to social and economic justice, such as adequate means of livelihood for all distribution of wealth so as to sub serve the common good, equal pay for equal work, protection of adult and child labor, free and compulsory primary education etc. These are the Guiding principles of state policy. The authors of the constitution did not make the Directive Principles justiciable. Though the Directive Principles are not enforceable by the courts and if the government of the day fails to carry out these objects no court can make the government ensure them, yet the principles have been declared to be fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these, principles in making laws.
  • Federal System with a Unitary Bias: The Indian Constitution provides for a federation with a strong centre. It is noteworthy that the Constitution has not used the word federation any where, and India has been described as a Union of States according to the Article 1 of the constitution which implies that the Indian Federation  is not the result of any agreement among the units, the units cannot secede from it. There are twenty nine states in the union, each one with a separate Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Powers have been divided between the Union Government on the one hand and the states on the other by the constitution itself. Indian Constitution possesses most of the federal features but also has several unitary features. The Indian federal structure acquires a unitary character during emergency, when the normal distribution of powers between the centre and the states undergoes vital changes.
  • Parliamentary System of Government: India has Parliamentary system of Government. Both at the centre and in the states the Executive is responsible to the Legislature elected by the people on the basis of adult franchise. The President, who is the head of the state, is only the nominal head of the Government. The real head of the government is the Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority party in Parliament. The Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister, is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament. In the states also the government is parliamentary in nature.
  • Adult Franchise: Every adult citizen of India Every citizen who is 21 years of age has the right to vote irrespective of the differences of education, property or sex.
  • Independent Judiciary:  The Constitution of India establishes an independent judiciary with powers of judicial review. The High Courts and the Supreme Court from a single integrated judicial structure with jurisdiction over all laws. The entire judiciary is one hierarchy of courts. It not only adjudicates disputes and acts as the custodian of individual rights and freedoms but also may from time to time need to interpret the Constitution and review legislation to determine its vires vis-à-vis the Constitution.  The court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. It has the power of judicial review. Besides, the Supreme Court is a court of record.
  • Emergency Powers: The Constitution vests extraordinary powers in the President during emergencies arising out of armed rebellion or external aggression; emergency due to the breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state; and financial emergency when the credit of the country is threatened. In fact, during emergency the federal Constitution can virtually be converted into a unitary Constitution.
  • Single Citizenship: Constitution provide single citizenship. All persons residing in different parts of the country are treated as Indian Citizens and are entitled to the same rights  of citizenship. There is not separate citizenship of different states.
  • Bicameral Legislature: It provides a bicameral legislature at the centre consisting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The former contains representatives of the people while the latter contains representatives of the states.
  • Special provision for minorities: The Constitution makes special provision for minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, etc. It not only reserves seats for them in the Parliament and state legislatures, but also grants them certain special rights and privileges.
  • Panchayati Raj and Urban local bodies: The Constitution provides constitutional basis to Panchayati Raj institution as well as urban local bodies. This was achieved through the Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth amendments to the Constitution carried out in December 1992.


*Dr. Deepak Miglani, Email id.:- [email protected]

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