“The greatest threat to our Constitution is our own ignorance of it”- Jacob F Roecker.
There are more than 200 countries in the world, among which 195 are a member of the General Assembly. Each State needs a law to keep everything under control in the public eye, to decide how the legislature would function, and to know the working of the legal executive. These all factors are derived from the Constitution of a country, the fundamental law of the land. But do you think every country has a constitution? To answer this question let us first know what is meant by the constitution. “A constitution is the arrangement of magistracies in a state”- Aristotle. Without a constitution, a State cannot function and would end up in a state of anarchy. Some constitutions- such as that of- India or the USA are codified into one single written document. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom the constitution consists of many documents, laws, court judgments, and customs, but has never been compiled and codified as one single document.
India has a past filled with the battle for freedom. On 26th January, 1950 the Government of India Act,1935 was replaced by the Constitution of India, and “Dominion of India” became the “Republic of India”. It is the lengthiest constitution for a sovereign nation and the second lengthiest active constitution (after the Constitution of Alabama) in the world, with at first containing 395 articles, 22 parts, and 8 Schedule. By and by, it contains 448 articles, 25 parts, 12 schedules, and 5 appendices. It took the Constituent assembly of India 2 years 11 months and 17 days to finally make the Constitution. There are historical and geographical reasons for the Constitution to be the lengthiest: the framers of the Constitution were very eager to preserve the democratic values for which they fought against the Britishers, they also considered the plight of the economically and socially backward people and made provisions for their interest also. The precedent of the Indian Constitution, the Government of India Act,1935 was respected and many provisions from it were included, moreover, the framers thought of the precaution in case of the distortion of the Constitution and made provisions.
Did you know, Dr. B R Ambedkar, who was the head of the Constituent assembly, read around 60 constitutions to frame the Constitution? Our constitution is an amalgamation of many other constitutions and previous Acts. It has over the period changed and included things important to the current scenario. A constitution of a country should be open to being revamped to keep pace with the global changes. Hence, it is important to have a comparative analysis with the constitution of other countries.
Let us first know the salient features of some different constitutions.
1. CONSTITUTION OF CANADA
It is a constitutional monarchy, where the British Queen is the formal head of the State.
- Canada has a parliamentary form of government, with two houses: the House of Commons and the Senate. The power and authority of these houses are modeled on the British parliament.
- The Constitution of Canada provides a federal form of government, where the power is distributed at two levels: the center and the regional. The residuary power lies with the center.
- The Supreme Court is the highest court of law, in civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. Each province operates its court system. The country’s legal system is based mainly on English common law, but in the province of Québec, it is modeled on French civil law.
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights ingrained in the Constitution of Canada, which frames the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Charter ensures certain political rights to Canadian residents and civil liberties to everybody in Canada.
2. CONSTITUTION OF USA
It is the shortest and one of the most rigid written constitutions in the world with only 7 articles and 27 amendments.
- The United States of America is truly federal, with legislative federalism.
- It has a presidential form of government, in which people directly elect the president for a term of 4 years.
- There are two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- The US has incorporated the fundamental rights in the “Bill of Rights” and has also provided human rights to its citizen.
3. BRITISH CONSTITUTION
It is uncodified and evolutionary. There was never a constituent assembly formed to frame the constitution. It is a constitutional monarchy.
- The Constitution of Britain is completely unitary with a parliamentary form of government.
- There is sovereign parliament, which means there is only one legislature that makes, amends or repeals the law.
- The legislative is bi-cameral.
- Judiciary is independent in Britain.
- There is no strict separation of power between legislative, executive, and judiciary.
Highlights of Indian Constitution compared and contrasted with other constitution:
- WRITTEN CONSTITUTION
It is an official document characterizing the idea of constitutional settlement and the standards that oversee the political framework and the rights and duties of the citizen in a codified manner.
- India has the longest written constitution among the sovereign states in the country.
- The USA has one of the shortest written constitutions in the world. it is the country that inspired India to have the written constitution.
- Great Britain has an unwritten constitution, with only a very minor portion being codified. It is more of an evolved constitution than an enacted one.
- French constitution has hanged many times. The present one that establishes the Fifth Republic is written.
2. FLEXIBILITY OF THE CONSTITUTION
The flexibility of a constitution implies the ease by which a constitution could be amended. A flexible constitution would be anything but difficult to revise, with an ordinary law-making process whereas a rigid constitution will need a special amendment procedure to make changes.
- India has neither a flexible nor a rigid constitution. It has only some provisions which would require ratification by the state legislature where a 50% vote would suffice. The other provisions just need a special majority of the union parliament to be enacted. But with the rise of the coalition government, even getting a special majority is getting difficult.
- The USA has a rigid constitution. It can only be amended by congress by a special procedure mentioned in the constitution.
- The British constitution is flexible. It can be amended in the same manner as the ordinary laws, there is no special provision for the constitutional amendments.
- France has a rigid constitution. There is a special procedure of 60% of votes in both the houses.
- The German and Japanese constitutions are also rigid.
3. UNITARY AND FEDERAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT
A unitary form of government is essentially a single unit, with no division of power. There is only a central government and no divisional or regional government. In the federal form of government, there is a division of power at the central and state level.
- India is quasi-federal. This means that though there are state and central government, the main power is vested with the center. The federal feature of the Indian constitution is written constitution, division of power, state list, and bicameralism. The unitary feature can be said as the single independent judiciary, single citizenship, the single constitution.
- The USA is a federal country, with a sharp division of power between state and center. The residuary power rests with the states. There is a different constitution for states with dual citizenship available to the citizen of the USA. Each state also has its governor and Supreme Court.
- Britain has a true unitary form of government, with all the powers vested in the union parliament. The executive is subordinate to the Parliament and answerable to the powers delegated to them.
4. PARLIAMENTARY AND PRESIDENTIAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT
A Parliamentary form of government is in which the parliament is the legislative body with Prime Minister being the real head and the executive being only responsible for the execution of the laws, enacted by the legislature. In the Presidential form of government, the President is the real head and the legislative body. The executive has a separate role, with no accountability to the legislature.
- India has a parliamentary form of government, based on Britain’s form of government. Indian has Prime Minister as the real head (de facto) and President is the nominal head(de jure). There is the concept of the majority party rule and collective responsibility.
- The USA has a presidential form of government, where the President is the real head of the state. He is elected by an electoral college for a tenure of 4 years and governs with the help of the cabinet. He is not responsible for the act of congress.
- France has a unique system of quasi presidential and quasi ministerial form of government. On one hand, the president is elected by the people for 7 years and on the other hand, there is a nominated council of ministers headed by the prime minister, accountable to the parliament.
- Britain has a parliamentary form of government with the King being the nominal head.
- Indian has single citizenship, which is of the nation. Article 5-11 in Part II of the constitution talks about citizenship. The State is becoming more flexible in context to the dual citizenship of PIOs and overseas citizens of India. There is no provision for state citizenship.
- In the USA there is dual citizenship, one the nation and one of the State. A person may lose US citizenship if he voluntarily applies for the citizenship of a foreign nation.
- Britain offers single citizenship. One who wants British citizenship may not give up their existing nationality but could lose British citizenship if becomes the citizen of another nation.
- In France, dual citizenship has been permitted since 1973. Having multiple citizenships of countries does not affect the nationality of France.
- Germany and Australia are also open to dual citizenship of other nations.
- FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES, AND FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES
- India has adopted Fundamental rights form the “Bill of Rights” of the constitution of the USA. But, unlike in the USA, fundamental rights are not absolute in India. The government can impose reasonable restrictions on it. The USA has also included human rights as fundamental rights. There are six fundamental rights in India.
- Right to equality
- Right to freedom and expression of speech
- Right against exploitation
- Right to freedom of religion
- Cultural and educational rights
- Right to constitutional remedy.
- In the USA there are fundamental rights mentioned as “bill of rights” and there are other fundamental rights too that are not enumerated in the constitution but recognized by the Supreme Court.
- Britain has no such fundamental rights enumerated in its constitution.
- Russia, Japan, and Canada also have set fundamental rights to guarantee to its citizens.
- India has adopted the concept of fundamental duties from Russia. It is a set of rules-cum-moral obligations for the citizens to perform for the better functioning of society. In a constitutional set up the citizen must abide by the constitution. There are 10 duties, mentioned in Article 51A under Part IV A of the constitution. Except for these two nations, there is no other country that has recognized fundamental duties.
- Directive Principle confers no justiciable rights or duties on the citizen but is to the furtherance of the proper governance. It is like the set of oughts for the government. It is contained in Part IV of the constitution. It is in nature to the social policy of Ireland.
- Article 352-360 under part XVIII of the Indian constitution talks about the emergency provisions. There are three types of emergency provisions mentioned in the Indian constitution.
- National Emergency
- State Emergency
- Financial Emergency
- In Australia, each state has its own emergency provisions, unlike India.
- The federal government in Canada can invoke national emergency, but will automatically expire after 90 days, unless and until explicitly extended by the Governor-in-Council.
- There are different methods in which the government reacts to the emergency in the USA. The local governor of an individual state can proclaim an emergency, which will be applicable in the state jurisdiction. The President of the federal government can also proclaim a nationwide emergency.
The working of the constitution has stood the trial of time yet late advancement in provincial legislative issues and divided polity in states like Bihar and Maharastra has represented some genuine danger to the center-state relationship. Considering the complexities and gigantic quantum of assignment of cutting edge government and the changing nature of Indian legislative issues there is a need to have to audit and revise the constitution. Some areas where changes are required:
- The eligibility of the legislators. People who are contesting for elections should have adequate educational qualifications because they are the people who would be formulating the laws and governing the country. The candidates contesting for the election, that have criminal charges or background should be completely debarred from the election.
- There are irregular sessions of the parliament and this has become a regular thing. There should be provisions for minimum working hours in the constitution and strict actions for not holding the sessions in time.
- Changes in UPSC should be made to ensure effectiveness and transparency.
- Many rights should be included in the fundamental rights sections of the constitution to impart better living conditions. These rights may be implied but should be explicitly mentioned in the constitutions. Like the right to livelihood, right to food, right to a clean environment. There has been applaudable inclusion like the right to choose a partner and the right to die.
Therefore, if it is getting difficult to run the constitution, then there is no problem in the constitution but the working of it.
“However good a constitution maybe, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However, bad a constitution maybe, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.”- BR Ambedkar.
To know more about different constitutions, visit these sites:
She is a second-year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Noida with an excellent academic background and active participation in extracurricular activities. She is keenly interested in human rights and environmental law and is a staunch believer of feminism and woman rights.