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An Overview of the Functioning of the Government of India

The (Indian) Union Government or the Central Government (as opposed to State Governments), or more commonly referred to as the Government of India, governs the union of 29 states and 7 Union Territories (UTs). This union is called the Republic of India, also known as Bharat. The seat of the government is the Indian Capital – New Delhi. Like the United States, India has a federal structure of government, in which the constitution divides power between the central government and the state governments. India’s present constitution went into effect on January 26, 1950, but it has been amended numerous times.

The federal constitution of Government of India includes a lengthy list of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and religion and the right to equality before the law. It also mentions goals the states must promote, called directive principles of state policy, which are designed to guide the government in the interests of the people. In periods of national emergency, which only the President can declare, the government may legally suspend certain rights for a limited period. Such an emergency was in force in India from June 1975 to March 1977.

Now, let’s understand more about the Indian Government.

Structure of the Government of India

The government has three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Indian President is the head of the state and exercises his or her power directly or through officers subordinate to him. Lok Sabha (the lower house) and Rajya Sabha (the upper house) form the legislative branch. The Supreme Court, 21 High Courts, and many civil, criminal and family courts at the district level form the Judiciary.

Structure of the State Government of India

The Civil Procedure Code, the Indian Penal Code, and the Criminal Procedure Code laid down by the parliamentary legislation form the basic Civil and Criminal laws. Just like the central government, state governments too consist of the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches. The legal system is based on the English Common and Statutory Law. International Court of Justice jurisdiction is accepted by India, with some reservations. The Panchayat Raj system for local governance has been institutionalized by the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.

India is a Sovereign Country

India is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. Sovereign means an independent nation. Socialist implies social and economic equality for all Indian citizens. This guarantees equal opportunity and equal social status. The government attempts to reduce economic inequality by reducing the concentration of wealth. Secular means freedom to choose your religion. The state gives every citizen the right to practice and propagate a religion of his choice. The state also treats all religions as equal and there is no official state religion. Democratic means the government is a democratically elected.

Judiciary of India

India’s union judicial system, which is independent, started under the British rule. Therefore, its concepts and procedures are similar to those of Anglo-Saxon countries. It works as a guardian in our country and protects the fundamental rights of the people, as preserved in the Constitution, from breach by any organ of the state. It is also responsible for balancing the differing exercise of power between the centre and a state or among states. The Supreme Court of India includes a chief justice and 30 associate justices, who have all been appointed by the president on the advice of the Chief Justice of India.

As we know, the Indian Judiciary is all about having a common law system of legal jurisdiction, wherein all the customs, legislation and precedents codify the law of the land. However, unlike its United States counterpart, the Indian justice system has a unitary system at both state and union level. Our judiciary includes the Supreme Court of India, which is at the top of the hierarchy, then come the high courts at the state level, and district courts and sessions courts at the district level.

Structure of the Local Government Bodies in India

Village (rural) Administration:

Panchayati Raj: Basic unit of Administration in India, comprising of three levels –

  1. Gram (Village) – Gram Panchayat (for one or more than one village)

Gram Panchayat elects one Sarpanch and other members.

Powers and responsibilities of the Gram Panchayat:
1. Preparation of the economic development plan and social justice plan.
2. Implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice.
3. To levy and collect appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees.

2. Taluka/Tehsil (Block) – Panchayat Samiti

Block Panchayat/Panchayat Samiti comprised of all Aarpanchas of the Panchayat Samiti area, the MPs and MLAs of the area, the SDO of the subdivision and some other members from the weaker section of society. Block Panchayat/Panchayat Samiti works for the villages of the tehsil or taluka that together are called a Development Block.

3. Zila (District) – Zila Panchayat

Zila Panchayat’s Chief of administration is an IAS officer and other members are elected by the Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samitis.

City (urban) Administration:

Mahanagar Nigam (Municipal Corporation in Metro cities): At present, around 88 Nagar Nigams are in operation. From every ward, there is a Sabhashad, elected by the voters, whereas one is Mayor elected separately.

Nagar Palika (Municipality): Cities having more than 1,00,000 population (there are exceptions as the earlier threshold was 20,000, so all those who have a Nagar Palika earlier, sustain it even though their population is below 1,00,000). From every ward, a member is elected; whereas, Chairman is elected separately.

Nagar Panchayat/Nagar Parishad (Notified Area Council/City Council): It is applicable when the population is more than 11,000 but less than 25,000.

Indian has a Parliamentary form of government. The constitutional head of the Indian Executive is the President. The council of the Parliament consists of the President, the Upper House – the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the Lower house, the House of the People (Lok Sabha). Lok Sabha Members – Members of Parliament or MPs – are democratically elected. A Council of Ministers selected by the Prime Minister, with the Prime Minister as the head advise the President, who performs his duties in accordance with the advice. The real executive power is thus vested in the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as its head.

The Government of India Act 1919 was an act of the British Parliament that sought to increase the participation of Indians in the administration of their country.

Main provisions of the Government of India Act 1919:

Provincial government:
  • Executive:
      • Dyarchy was introduced, i.e., there were two classes of administrators – Executive councillors and ministers.
    • The Governor was the executive head of the province.
    • The subjects were divided into two lists – reserved and transferred.
    • The governor was in charge of the reserved list along with his executive councillors. The subjects under this list were law and order, irrigation, finance, land revenue, etc.
    • The ministers were in charge of subjects under the transferred list. The subjects included were education, local government, health, excise, industry, public works, religious endowments, etc.
    • The ministers were responsible to the people who elected them through the legislature.
    • These ministers were nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.
    • The executive counselors were not responsible to the legislature, unlike the ministers.
    • The Secretary of State and the Governor-General could interfere in matters under the reserved list but this interference was restricted for the transferred list.
  • Legislature:
    • The size of the provincial legislative assemblies was increased. Now about 70% of the members were elected.
    • There were communal and class electorates.
    • Some women could also vote.
    • The governor’s assent was required to pass any bill. He also had veto power and could issue ordinances also.
Central government:
  • Executive:
    • The chief executive authority was the Governor-General.
    • There were two lists for administration – central and provincial.
    • The provincial list was under the provinces while the center took care of the central list.
    • Out of the 6 members of the Viceroy’s executive council, 3 were to be Indian members.
    • The governor-general could issue ordinances.
    • He could also certify bills that were rejected by the central legislature.
  • Legislature:
      • A bicameral legislature was set up with two houses – Legislative Assembly (forerunner of the Lok Sabha) and the Council of State (forerunner of the Rajya Sabha).
      • Legislative Assembly (Lower House)
      • Members of the Legislative Assembly:
      • The nominated members were nominated by the governor-general from Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians.
      • The members had a tenure of 3 years.
    • Council of State (Upper House)
      • Only male members with a tenure of 5 years.
      • Members of the Council of State:
    • The legislators could ask questions and also vote a part of the budget.
    • Only 25% of the budget was subject to vote.
    • Rest was non-votable.
    • A bill had to be passed in both houses before it became a law.
    • There were three measures to resolve any deadlock between both the houses – joint committees, joint conferences and join sittings.
    • Governor-General
      • The governor-general’s assent was required for any bill to become a law even if both houses have passed it.
      • He could also enact a bill without the legislature’s consent.
      • He could prevent a bill from becoming law if he deems it as detrimental to the peace of the country.
      • He could disallow any question, adjournment motion or debate in the house.

Indian Council

  • There were to be at least 8 and a maximum of 12 members in the council.
  • Half of the members should have ten years of experience in public service in India.
  • Their tenure was to be 5 years.
  • Their salaries were increased from £1000 to £1200.
  • There were to be 3 Indian members in the Council.

Who Can Vote?

  • Franchise was restricted and there was no universal adult suffrage.
  • Voters should have paid land revenue of Rs.3000 or have a property with rental value or have taxable income.
  • They should possess previous experience in the legislative council.
  • They should be members of a university senate.
  • They should hold certain offices in the local bodies.
  • They should hold some specific titles.
  • All this narrowed the number of people who could vote to an abysmal number.

Merits of the Government of India Act 1919

  • Dyarchy introduced the concept of responsible government.
  • It introduced the concept of federal structure with a unitary bias.
  • There was increased participation of Indians in the administration. They held some portfolios like labour, health, etc.
  • For the first time, elections were known to the people and it created a political consciousness among the people.
  • Some Indian women also had the right to vote for the first time.

Limitations of the Government of India Act 1919

  • This act extended consolidated and communal representation.
  • Franchise was very limited. It did not extend to the common man.
  • The governor-general and the governors had a lot of power to undermine the legislatures at the centre and the provinces respectively.
  • Allocation of the seats for the central legislature was not based on population but the ‘importance’ of the province in the eyes of the British.
  • The Rowlatt Acts were passed in 1919 which severely restricted press and movement. Despite the unanimous opposition of Indian members of the legislative council, those bills were passed. Several Indian members resigned in protest.

Other Salient Features

  • This act provided for the first time, the establishment of a public service commission in India.
  • The act also provided that after 10 years, a statutory commission would be set up to study the working of the government. This resulted in the Simon Commission of 1927.
  • It also created an office of the High Commissioner for India in London.

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