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Separation of Power In India - Evolution and Debates

Updated: Feb 24

Seperation of Power in India

In the realm of democratic governance, the concept of the separation of powers holds a pivotal position. It serves as the bedrock for ensuring checks and balances within a political system, safeguarding the interests and rights of citizens.

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By dividing power among distinct branches of government, constitutional governance aims to prevent the concentration of authority in any one entity, promoting stability, accountability, and the protection of individual liberties.

This article delves into the definition of the separation of powers, its evolution and Supreme court opinion with Consitutent Assembly debates, with Compartive global perspective

Definition of the Separation of Powers:

This doctrine, with its roots in the Enlightenment era, was eloquently articulated by the French social commentator and political thinker Montesquieu in 1748. He cautioned against the dangers of concentrating legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the same hands, be it an individual or a group of magistrates.

Montesquieu's words resonate through the centuries: "There can be no liberty... there is no liberty if the powers of judging are not separated from the legislative and executive... there would be an end to everything if the same man or the same body... were to exercise those three powers."

Montesquieu's Influence

Montesquieu's enduring influence lies in his profound understanding of the dangers inherent in the concentration of power. His seminal work, "The Spirit of the Laws," laid the foundation for the separation of powers theory.

  • At its core, Montesquieu's argument rested on the premise that the fusion of legislative, executive, and judicial powers would inevitably lead to the erosion of individual freedoms and the rise of despotic rule.

  • In response, he proposed the division of these powers into separate branches as a safeguard against tyranny.

Lock's Classification of Powers

Building upon Montesquieu's ideas, John Locke categorized governmental powers into three distinct realms: continuous executive power, discontinuous legislative power, and federative power.

  • This classification underscored the need for a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities within government, ensuring that each branch had defined functions and limitations.

  • "Continuous executive power" referred to the executive and judicial powers, "discontinuous legislative power" encompassed the authority to make and amend laws, while "federative power" pertained to the regulation of foreign affairs.

Wade and Phillips' Principles(Component of Speration of Power)

Legal scholars Wade and Phillips distilled the essence of the separation of powers doctrine into three fundamental principles:

(i) Prohibition of the Same Person Holding Multiple Organs: This principle asserts that no individual should simultaneously serve in more than one organ of government, thus preventing the concentration of power in a single individual.

(ii) Non-Interference Between Organs: It advocates that each organ of government should refrain from encroaching upon the functions and jurisdictions of the other branches. This separation ensures that the distinct roles of legislative, executive, and judicial bodies remain intact.

(iii) Mutual Respect and Cooperation: The principle emphasizes the importance of harmonious coexistence among the branches of government. While independence is vital, it should not lead to antagonism, as cooperation and collaboration are essential for effective governance.

Constituent Assembly Debates on Separation of power in India

During the Constituent Assembly debates in India, a significant discussion emerged regarding the doctrine of the separation of powers. Prof. K.T. Shah, a member of the Constituent Assembly, proposed an amendment to introduce a new Article 40-A that emphasized the complete separation of powers among the principal organs of the state, namely the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches.

Kazi Syed Karimuddin, another member of the Constituent Assembly, fully supported Prof. K.T. Shah's proposed amendment, endorsing the idea of a strict separation of powers.

However, Shri K. Hanumanthiya, also a member of the Constituent Assembly, dissented from Prof. K.T. Shah's proposal. He argued that the Drafting Committee had already approved a Parliamentary system of government, which he believed was more suitable for India. Shri K. Hanumanthiya expressed concerns about the potential conflicts that could arise if the executive, judiciary, and legislature were completely separated. He emphasized the need for a harmonious governmental structure, asserting that conflicts between these three branches could be detrimental to a country's peace and progress.

Prof. Shibban Lal Saksena echoed Shri K. Hanumanthiya's viewpoint, supporting the idea of a harmonious governmental structure rather than a strict separation of powers.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a key architect of the Indian Constitution, presented a contrasting perspective. He disagreed with Prof. K.T. Shah's argument and advocated for a nuanced approach.

Dr. Ambedkar acknowledged the importance of separating the executive from the judiciary. However, he pointed out that the American model, with its rigid separation between the executive and legislature, had its own shortcomings. He highlighted the complexity and vastness of parliamentary work, suggesting that members of the legislature needed guidance and initiative from the executive branch sitting in the parliament.

Dr. Ambedkar believed that a complete separation, as seen in the United States, might not be suitable for India and could potentially hinder the effective functioning of the legislature.

Indian Consitution and Dilution of Seperation of Power

The President of India, as the executive head, is vested with certain legislative powers. Article 123(1) of the Indian Constitution empowers the President to promulgate ordinances when circumstances necessitate immediate action, provided that both Houses of Parliament are not in session. The President may issue ordinances when satisfied that such action is required.

Additionally, during a Proclamation of Emergency due to the failure of Constitutional machinery under Article 356, the President is granted legislative authority under Article 357. This enables the President to enact laws to address the situation.

Furthermore, Article 372 and 372-A of the Indian Constitution grant the President the authority to adapt and modify existing laws, including repeal or amendment, as necessary to bring them into accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Executive and Judicial Functions:

Notably, the President of India also assumes certain judicial functions, as delineated in Article 103(1) of the Constitution.

  • This article stipulates that if any question arises regarding the disqualification of a member of either House of Parliament under clause (1) of Article 102, such questions shall be referred to the President for a final decision.

  • Article 50 underscores the importance of maintaining a separation between the judiciary and the executive. However, in practice, there are instances where the executive exercises judicial powers, particularly in the appointment of judges.

  • Articles 124, 126, and Article 127 provide a framework for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts, involving both the executive and the judiciary in the process.

Legislative Functions of the Judiciary:

The judiciary also exercises legislative functions in certain respects. High Courts and the Supreme Court have the authority to establish rules that have legislative character, regulating various aspects of the legal system.

  • Furthermore, when the judiciary finds a particular provision of law to be in contravention of the Constitution or against public policy, it has the power to declare that provision null and void.

  • In such cases, amendments may be required to align the legal system with the Constitution.

The separation of powers in India is a complex and dynamic concept. While there is a clear division of functions between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches on paper, the practical implementation often involves overlaps and interdependencies.

The Constitution of India grants the President specific powers in the legislative and judicial domains, and there are instances where the executive and judiciary perform functions typically associated with other branches. This intricate system underscores the adaptability of the Indian constitutional framework while also raising questions about the extent of separation of powers in practice.

Supreme Court Case on the Doctrine

The position of the doctrine of separation of powers in India has been elucidated through various judicial opinions, as demonstrated in the following cases:

  1. In Re Delhi Law Act Case: In this case, Chief Justice Kania made a significant observation regarding the Indian Constitution's stance on separation of powers. He noted that while the Constitution did not expressly establish separation, it was evident that the Constitution had created a legislature with detailed provisions for passing laws. Chief Justice Kania questioned whether it could be inferred that, under the Constitution, the primary responsibility for making laws rested with the legislature. This perspective emphasized the legislature's central role in lawmaking and hinted at a certain implied separation of powers.

  2. Rai Sahib Ram Jawaya v. State of Punjab (1955): Chief Justice B.K. Mukherjea, in a similar vein, reiterated the absence of an explicit separation of powers in the Indian Constitution. He underscored the Constitution's creation of a legislature and the provisions for lawmaking. Chief Justice Mukherjea posed the question of whether, in the absence of contrary indications in the Constitution, other bodies, such as the executive or the judiciary, were intended to engage in legislative functions. This reaffirmed the idea that the Indian Constitution did not rigidly adhere to the doctrine of separation of powers but rather differentiated the functions of various branches of government.

  3. Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Justice Tendolkar (1958): Chief Justice S.R. Das, in this case, acknowledged the absence of specific provisions for a strict separation of powers in the Indian Constitution, as seen in the American Constitution. However, he emphasized that an implicit division of powers—legislative, executive, and judicial—existed in the Indian Constitution. Chief Justice Das highlighted that even though the doctrine was not expressly recognized, the Constitution implicitly differentiated the functions of various branches.

  4. Jayanti Lal Amrit Lal v. S.M. Ram (1964): This case echoed the sentiments expressed in previous judgments. It emphasized that while the Indian Constitution did not explicitly adopt the rigid separation of powers found in the American Constitution, it maintained an implicit division of powers among its various branches.

Application of Separation of Powers: The United States

The United States Constitution serves as a prominent example of the separation of powers in action. While it does not explicitly mention the doctrine, the framers heavily drew from Montesquieu's ideas to establish a system where legislative, executive, and judicial powers are distributed across three distinct branches.

Legislative Powers:

Article I of the U.S. Constitution vests legislative powers in Congress, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This separation ensures that the process of lawmaking remains a distinct and autonomous function, free from undue executive or judicial influence.

Executive Powers:

Article II assigns executive powers to the President of the United States. This separation of roles is fundamental to the system, establishing a clear boundary between the executive and legislative branches. The President's authority extends to enforcing laws, conducting foreign affairs, and commanding the military, among other duties.

Judicial Powers:

Article III of the U.S. Constitution establishes the judicial branch, consisting of one Supreme Court and other inferior courts. This framework safeguards the independence of the judiciary, allowing it to interpret and apply the law without interference from the legislative or executive branches.

Evaluation of the Doctrine

1.The Impracticability of Absolute Separation

Historically, governments have grappled with the impracticality of achieving an absolute separation of powers. The interwoven nature of governance makes it challenging to compartmentalize functions rigidly. As Professor Garner aptly noted, "the doctrine is impracticable as a working principle of Government."

2.The Principle of Checks and Balances

While an absolute separation may be unattainable, the essence of the doctrine lies in the principle of checks and balances. This concept ensures that each organ of government maintains its essential functions without encroaching upon the domain of others. In the words of Professor Laski, "It is necessary to have a separation of functions, which need not imply a separation of personnel."

3.Judicial Interpretation

Judicial opinions have played a crucial role in shaping the doctrine's practical application. The Indian judiciary, for instance, has acknowledged that while the Indian Constitution does not explicitly endorse separation, it differentiates the functions of state organs sufficiently to prevent one from usurping the functions of another.

4.Flexibility and Adaptability

The doctrine's flexibility and adaptability are essential in navigating the complexities of modern governance. While maintaining the spirit of separation, governments often find it necessary to cooperate and adjust to address contemporary challenges effectively.

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