Understanding the Indian Government and Its Acts

The Indian constitution is an incredible document in the fact that it is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country and written at a time when competing interests involved with dividing Hindustan into India and Pakistan were in violent aggrevation. The framing of India’s sovereign government was influenced by the British model of parliamentary democracy and adopted a number of principles from the United States Constitution including the separation of powers among the major branches of government, and the establishment of a Supreme Court.

There is a full pdf copy of the  Indian Constitution in the sidebar of this blog. Reading any constitution is a dry process, however, the value in it is that you know the stated rules of how the government “should” operate . With a little study of how it has changed from its original inception to now, you can  see how external influences such as changes in technology or demographic shifts have influenced its amendments and acts.

This article will attempt to outline legislation that has opened up opportunities for exploiting and shifting India’s vast natural wealth away from her people and into the hands of foreign multinationals and corrupt business ventures. With the coming of this new trend, transgenic crops are now considered for patenting, and tribal lands are on the chopping block for anything and everything ranging from dams to mining projects pushed by foreign multinationals.

Over the next four posts I will cover:

Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act 2001
Indian Seed Patent Act/Seeds Bill 2004
The Land acquisition Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act 1894
Forest Rights Act and
Special Economic Zones Act or SEC

But first, lets take a look at  the Indian governments structure:

India has a bicameral parliamentary system. The government comprises of three branches:

1. Executive branch, which is headed by the president (Who exercises his or her power directly through officers subordinate to him/her).
2. Legislative branch consists of both houses of parliament as well as the president.
3. Judicial branch which has the Surpeme Court, 21 High Courts and district, civil, criminal and family courts.

Parliament consists of the President and the two houses; Lok Sabha (Lower House) and Rajya Sabha (Upper House) also known as the House of people and council of states respectively. The Lok Sabha has up to 552 directly elected members from all parts of India. (2 are selected by the President) The Rajya Sabha has 238 members elected by the legislative bodies of the states and territories. Lok Sabha is the House to which the Council of Ministers is responsible under the Constitution.

The Council of Ministers also called the cabinet. This cabinet is the governments“collective decision making body”. It is composed of the Prime Minister and 33 senior government ministers.

Unlike the American Presidential system, the parliamentary system contains a President and a Prime Minster. (From Wikipedia: “The President is elected, from a group of nominees, by the elected members of the Parliament of India both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as well as of the state legislatures (Vidhan Sabhas), and serves for a term of five years.”)

 President of India is the head of state ( and the supreme commander of the Indian Armed forces. All the resolutions passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are sent to him  her for final approval. The President of India, acting more in a ceremonial position, appoints the leader of the party or alliance that enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha as Prime Minister. The Prime Minister  oversees the daily functioning of the government.

Browsing the news you may read about a Standing Committee on x y and z affairs. Committees are common in all types of government. Parliament relies on committees to help process its work. There are two types of committees, Standing and Ad Hoc.

 (Wikipedia: “Standing committees are “permanent and regular committees which are constituted from time to time in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Parliament. The work of these Committees is of continuous nature”) and Adhoc committees are only appointed for specific purposes. Once their task is over, the Ad-hoc committee dissolves.

Bills, Acts and Amendments to the Constitution

Legislative proposals are brought before either house of Parliament in the form of a bill.  A bill starts in the Lok Sabha, then if approved, travels to the Rajya Sabha.If the bill passed by one house is amended by the other house, it goes back to the originating house. If the originating house does not agree with the amendments, it shall be that the two houses have disagreed.If the bill is passed by both houses of Parliament it becomes an Act of Parliament. There are many Acts listed on the side bar of this blog such as the Pesa Act of 1996 or SEC Act. 

 The Indian Constitution has been around for 60 years and has had 94 Amendments! The constitution of India provides for amendments by way of Amendment Acts as stated in article 268.

Simple Majority: An article can be amended  with a simple majority. The amendment contemplated under Articles 5-11 (Citizenship), 169 (Abolition or creation of Legislative Councils in States) and 239-A (Creation of local Legislatures or Council of Ministers or both for certain Union Territories) of the Indian Constitution can be made by simple majority. These Articles are specifically excluded from the purview of the procedure prescribed under Article 368.

Special Majority: Article 368 lays down which articles can be amended by a special majority or total membership of each House of Parliament as well as 2/3 of the members present and voting.

Amendment by Special Majority and Ratification by States:
Proviso to Article 368 states that amendments for certain Articles requires special majority as well as ratification by states. Ratification by states means that there has to be a resolution to that effect by one-half of the state legislatures. These articles include Article 54 (Election of President), 55 (Manner of election of President), 73 (Extent of executive power of the Union), 162 (Extent of executive power of State), 124-147 (The Union Judiciary), 214-231 (The High Courts in the States), 241 (High Courts for Union Territories), 245-255 (Distribution of Legislative powers) and Article 368 (power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution and procedure therefor) itself.

(Italic sections are copied from Amendability of Indian Constitution, www.legalservicesindia.com. For further information about amendments see their article here.

I believe this is a good place to stop. In the next post I will introduce the various political parties in India, and start dissecting the five acts mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Peace,

KV

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