The chapter notes provide an overview of the functioning of the democratic institutions that are critical in making crucial choices, including the legislature, executive, and judiciary. It discusses why rulers must adhere to certain laws and processes with and within institutions in order to manage a democratic government, as well as how significant decisions are made and implemented in India.
Additionally, we shall discuss the functions of these institutions. What ties these institutions together? What factors contribute to their more or less democratic functioning?
Which institutions play a key role in major decision making?
Decision making in a democracy is often balanced between the 3 branches, namely – legislature, executive and judiciary. Each of them have their functions and domains and also keep a check on each other.
How was a major policy decision taken?
A Government Order
An office memorandum was issued by the government of India on ‘August 13, 1990’. Having a serial number: O. M. No. 36012/31/90-Est (SCT)
The Joint Secretary signed the order who was an officer in the Department of Personnel and Training in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.
Hundreds of orders are issued on a daily basis but this memorandum became the source of controversy. It announced a major policy decision stating that 27 per cent of the vacancies in civil posts and services under the Government of India are reserved for the
Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC).
What was SEBC all about?
SEBC is another name for all those people who belong to castes that are considered backward by the government. The benefit of job reservation was available only to Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes, until SEBC was introduced.
The reservation mark was about 27 percent of the jobs that were reserved for the persons belonging to the backward classes.
The Decision Makers
Who decides to issue any Memorandum?
The authority lies in the hands of the ministers of the concerned department, the lower officials merely implement the instructions. The highest authority resides within the powers of the President and the Prime minister.
As the President is the head of the state and is the highest formal authority in the country. The Prime Minister is the head of the government and actually exercises all governmental powers. He takes most of the decisions in the Cabinet meetings.
The Parliament comprises the President and two Houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The Government of India had appointed the Second Backward Classes Commission in 1979 known as Mandal Commission, headed by B.P. Mandal.
The Commission was asked to determine the criteria to identify the socially and educationally backward classes in India and recommend steps to be taken for their advancement.
The Commission gave its Report with many recommendations in 1980. The Report and recommendations were discussed in the Parliament. Hence, one of them was to reserve 27 per cent of government jobs for SEBC.
Many parliamentarians and parties kept demanding the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations for several years.
How did Politics change in the 1989 Lok Sabha Elections?
In the Elections of 1989, the Janata Dal promised to implement the Mandal Commission’s report if voted to power. This manifesto decided the fate and made the Janata Dal to form its government with ‘Mr. V. P. Singh’ as the Prime Minister.
The President of India announced the intention of the government to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. The Union Cabinet took a formal decision to implement the recommendations on 6th August 1990. The decision of the Cabinet was sent to the Department of Personnel and Training.
The senior officers of the Department drafted an order in line with the Cabinet decision and took the minister’s approval. An officer signed the order on behalf of the Union Government.
This was how O.M. No. 36012/ 31/90 was born on August 13, 1990.
What were the consequences of the implementation of Mandal’s report?
The implementation of the SEBC recommendation led to widespread protests and counter protests, some of which were violent. People reacted strongly because this decision affected thousands of job opportunities.
They felt this would give a fair opportunity to those communities who so far had not adequately been represented in government employment. Others felt that this was unfair as it would deny equality of opportunity to those who did not belong to backward communities as they would be denied jobs even though they could be more qualified.
Who resolved this dispute?
The Supreme Court and the High Courts in India settle disputes arising out of governmental decisions.
This Order was opposed by some persons and associations who filed a number of cases in the courts. They appealed to the courts to declare the order invalid and stop its implementation.
The Supreme Court of India bunched all these cases together. This case was known as the ‘Indira Sawhney and others Vs Union of India case’. Eleven judges of the Supreme Court heard arguments of both sides.
The Supreme Court judges in 1992 by majority declared that this order of the Government of India was valid. The Supreme Court also asked the government to modify its original order.
It said that well-to-do persons among the backward classes should be excluded from getting the benefit of reservation.
Personnel and Training issued another Office Memorandum on September 8, 1993. Democracy is not just about people electing their rulers. In a democracy the rulers have to follow some rules and procedures. They have to work with and within institutions.
What is the government responsible for?
The government is responsible for ensuring security to the citizens and providing facilities for education and health to all. It collects taxes and spends the money thus raised on administration, defence and development programmes.
Several welfare schemes are also implemented by the government. Some people have to make decisions on how to go about these activities. Others have to implement these decisions.
How do various democratic institutions help resolve conflicts?
There should be someone to determine what is right and what is wrong if conflicts arise on these decisions. Such arrangements are called institutions.
● A democracy works well when these institutions perform functions assigned to them. The Constitution of any country lays down basic rules on the powers and functions of each institution.
● There are several such institutions at work.
● The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are institutions that take all important policy decisions.
● The Civil Servants, working together, are responsible for taking steps to implement the ministers’ decisions.
● The Supreme Court is an institution where disputes between citizens and the government are finally settled.
● Working with institutions is not easy. Institutions involve rules and regulations.
● This can bind the hands of leaders. Institutions involve meetings, committees and routines.
● This often leads to delays and complications. Therefore dealing with institutions can be frustrating. One might feel that it is much better to have one person take all decisions without any rules, procedures and meetings which is against the spirit of Democracy.
● Institutions make it difficult to have a good decision taken very quickly but they also make it equally difficult to rush through a bad decision.
Parliament of India
Why do we need a Parliament?
In all democracies, an assembly of elected representatives exercises supreme political authority on behalf of the people. In India such a national assembly of elected representatives is called Parliament.
At the state level this is called Legislature or Legislative Assembly. The name may vary in different countries, but such an assembly exists in every democracy.
● Parliament is the final authority for making laws in any country. This task of law making or legislation is so crucial that these assemblies are called legislatures.
● Parliaments all over the world exercise some control over those who run the government. In some countries like India this control is direct and full. Those who run the government can take decisions only so long as they enjoy support of the Parliament.
● Parliaments control all the money that governments have. Money can only be spent if the Parliament Sanctions it.
● Parliament is the highest forum of discussion and debate on public issues and national policy in any country. Parliament can seek information about any matter.
Two Houses of Parliament
● The Parliament plays a central role in modern democracies, the role and powers of the Parliament in two parts in most of the countries. They are called Chambers or Houses.
● One House is usually directly elected by the people and exercises the real power on behalf of the people. The second House is usually elected indirectly and performs some special functions.
● The most common work for the second House is to look after the interests of various states, regions or federal units.
● The Parliament consists of two Houses. The two Houses are known as the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha).
● The President of India is a part of the Parliament, although he is not a member of either House. That is why all laws made in the Houses come into force only after they receive the assent of the President.
Differences and Functions
● Rajya Sabha is called the ‘Upper House’ and the Lok Sabha the ‘Lower House’. This does not mean that Rajya Sabha is more powerful than Lok Sabha.
● The Rajya Sabha has some special powers over the states. But on most matters, the Lok Sabha exercises supreme power.
● Any law needs to be passed by both the Houses. But if there is a difference between the two Houses, the final decision is taken in a joint session in which members of both the Houses sit together. Because of the larger number of members, the view of the Lok Sabha is likely to prevail in such a meeting.
● Lok Sabha exercises more powers in money matters. Once the Lok Sabha passes the budget of the government or any other money related law, the Rajya Sabha cannot reject it.
● The Rajya Sabha can only delay it by 14 days or suggest changes in it. The Lok Sabha may or may not accept these changes.
● The Lok Sabha controls the Council of Ministers. Only a person who enjoys the support of the majority of the members in the Lok Sabha is appointed the Prime Minister.
● If the majority of the Lok Sabha members say they have ‘no confidence’ in the Council of Ministers, all ministers including the Prime Minister, have to quit.
● The Rajya Sabha does not have this power.
● The person who signed the document did not take this decision. As he only executes the policy decision taken by someone else.
● The role of the Prime Minister in taking that decision was also noted , we also know that he could not have taken that decision if he did not have support from the Lok Sabha.
● In that sense he was only executing the wishes of the Parliament. At different levels of any government we find functionaries who take day-to-day decisions but do not exercise supreme power on behalf of the people.
● All those functionaries are collectively known as the executive. They are called executives because they are in charge of the ‘execution’ of the policies of the government.
Political and Permanent Executive
● In a democratic country, two categories make up the executive. One that is elected by the people for a specific period, is called the political executive. Political leaders who take the big decisions fall in this category.
● Second are the people who are appointed on a long-term basis. This is called the permanent executive or civil services.
● Persons working in civil services are called civil servants. They remain in office even when the ruling party changes.
● These officers work under political executive and assist them in carrying out the day-to-day administration.
● The advisors working in the Finance Ministry know more about economics than the Finance Minister. Sometimes the ministers may know very little about the technical matters that come under their ministry.
● This could easily happen in ministries like Defence, Industry, Health, Science and Technology, Mining.
● In a democracy the will of the people is supreme. The minister is elected by the people and thus empowered to exercise the will of the people on their behalf.
● Minister is finally answerable to the people for all the consequences of his decision. That is why the minister takes all the final decisions.
● The minister decides the overall framework and objectives in which decisions on policy should be made. The minister is not, and is not expected to be, an expert in the matters of her ministry.
● The minister takes the advice of experts on all technical matters. Depending on what the overall objective is, the minister decides.
Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
● The Prime Minister is the most important political institution in the country but there is no direct election to the post of the Prime Minister.
● The President appoints the Prime Minister. But the President cannot appoint anyone he likes. The President appoints the leader of the majority party or the coalition of parties that commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, as Prime Minister.
● In case no single party or alliance gets a majority, the President appoints the person most likely to secure a majority support. The Prime Minister does not have a fixed tenure.
● He continues in power so long as he remains the leader of the majority party or coalition. After the appointment of the Prime Minister, the President appoints other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.
● The Ministers are usually from the party or the coalition that has the majority in the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is free to choose ministers, as long as they are members of Parliament.
● A person who is not a member of Parliament can also become a minister. But such a person has to get elected to one of the Houses of the Parliament within six months of appointment as minister.
● Council of Ministers is the official name for the body that includes all the Ministers. Usually it has 60 to 80 Ministers of different ranks.
● Cabinet Ministers are usually top-level leaders of the ruling party or parties who are in charge of the major ministries. The Cabinet Ministers meet to take decisions in the name of the Council of Ministers. Cabinet is thus the inner ring of the Council of Ministers. It comprises about 20 ministers.
● Ministers of State with independent charge are usually in-charge of smaller Ministries. They participate in the Cabinet meetings only when specially invited.
● Ministers of State are attached to and required to assist Cabinet Ministers. Since it is not practical for all ministers to meet regularly and discuss everything, the decisions are taken in Cabinet meetings.
● The Cabinet works as a team that is why parliamentary democracy in most countries is often known as the Cabinet form of government..
● The ministers may have different views and opinions, but everyone has to own up to every decision of the Cabinet.
● No minister can openly criticise any decision of the government, even if it is about another Ministry or Department. Every ministry has secretaries, who are civil servants. The secretaries provide the necessary background information to the ministers to take decisions.
● The Cabinet as a team is assisted by the Cabinet Secretariat. This includes many senior civil servants who try to coordinate the working of different ministries.
Powers of the Prime Minister
● As the head of the government, the Prime Minister has wide ranging powers. He chairs Cabinet meetings. He coordinates the work of different Departments. His decisions are final in case disagreements arise between Departments.
● The Prime Minister distributes and redistributes work to the ministers. He also has the power to dismiss ministers and exercises general supervision of different ministries. All ministers work under his leadership.
● When the Prime Minister quits, the entire ministry quits. Thus, if the Cabinet is the most powerful institution in India, within the Cabinet it is the Prime Minister who is the most powerful.
● The powers of the Prime Minister in all parliamentary democracies of the world have increased so much in recent decades that parliamentary democracies are sometimes seen as the Prime Ministerial form of government.
● The Prime Minister controls the Cabinet and Parliament through the party. The media also contributes to this trend by making politics and elections as a competition between top leaders of parties.
● In India too we have seen such a tendency towards the concentration of powers in the hands of the Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, exercised enormous authority because he had great influence over the public.
● Indira Gandhi was also a very powerful leader compared to her colleagues in the Cabinet.
● In recent years the rise of coalition politics has imposed certain constraints on the power of the Prime Minister.
● The Prime Minister of a coalition government cannot take decisions as he likes. He has to accommodate different groups and factions in his party as well as among alliance partners.
He also has to heed to the views and positions of the coalition partners and other parties, on whose support the survival of the government depends.
The President is the head of the State. In our political system the head of the State exercises only nominal powers. The President of India is like the Queen of Britain whose functions are to a large extent ceremonial.
● The President supervises the overall functioning of all the political institutions in the country so that they operate in harmony to achieve the objectives of the State.
● The President is not elected directly by the people. The elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and the elected Members of the Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) elect her.
● A candidate standing for President’s post has to get a majority of votes to win the election. This ensures that the President can be seen to represent the entire nation.
● The President can never claim the kind of direct popular mandate that the Prime Minister can.
● This ensures that he remains only a nominal executive. The same is true of the powers of the President. All governmental activities take place in the name of the President. All laws and major policy decisions of the government are issued in his name.
Powers of the President
● All major appointments are made in the name of the President. These include the appointment of the Chief Justice of India, the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the states, the Governors of the states, the Election Commissioners, ambassadors to other countries, etc.
● All international treaties and agreements are made in the name of the President.
● The President is the supreme commander of the defence forces of India.
● The President exercises all these powers only on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
● The President can ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider its advice. But if the same advice is given again, she is bound to act according to it.
● A bill passed by the Parliament becomes a law only after the President gives assent to it. If the President wants, she can delay this for some time and send the bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration. If the Parliament passes the bill again, he has to sign it.
● He Appoints the Prime Minister. When a party or coalition of parties secures a clear majority in the elections, the President has to appoint the leader of the majority party or the coalition that enjoys majority support in the Lok Sabha. When no party or coalition gets a majority in the Lok Sabha, the President exercises her discretion. The President appoints a leader who in her opinion can muster majority support in the Lok Sabha. The President can ask the newly appointed Prime Minister to prove majority support in the Lok Sabha within a specified time.
The judicial authorities of a country are called Judiciary. Collectively, all the courts at different levels in a country put together are called the judiciary.
India has an integrated judiciary. It means the Supreme Court controls the judicial administration in the country. Its decisions are binding on all other courts of the country. The Indian judiciary consists of :
● Supreme Court for the entire nation,
● High Courts in the states
● District Courts and the courts at local level.
Supreme Court of India
It is the highest court of appeal in civil and criminal cases. It can hear appeals against the decisions of the High Courts.
It can take up any dispute
● Between citizens of the country.
● Between citizens and government.
● Between two or more state governments.
● Between governments at the union and state level.
Independence of the judiciary means that it is not under the control of the legislature or the executive. The judges do not act on the direction of the government or according to the wishes of the party in power.
That is why all modern democracies have courts that are independent of the legislature and the executive. India has achieved this.
The judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister and in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In practice it now means that the senior judges of the Supreme Court select the new judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
There is very little scope for interference by the political executive.
● The senior most judge of the Supreme Court is usually appointed the Chief Justice.
● Once a person is appointed as judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court it is nearly impossible to remove him or her from that position.
● A judge can be removed only by an impeachment motion passed separately by two thirds members of the two Houses of the Parliament.
● It has never happened in the history of Indian democracy.
● The judiciary in India is also one of the most powerful in the world.
What is Judicial Review?
The Supreme Court and the High Courts have the power to interpret the Constitution of the country. They can declare invalid any law of the legislature or the actions of the executive, whether at the Union level or at the state level, if they find such a law or action is against the Constitution.
Thus they can determine the Constitutional validity of any legislation or action of the executive in the country, when it is challenged before them. This is known as the judicial review.
The Supreme Court of India has also ruled that the core or basic principles of the Constitution cannot be changed by the Parliament.
The powers and the independence of the Indian judiciary allow it to act as the guardian of Fundamental Rights. Any one can approach the courts if the public interest is hurt by the actions of the government. This is called public interest litigation.
The courts intervene to prevent the misuse of the government’s power to make decisions. They check malpractices on the part of public officials. That is why the judiciary enjoys a high level of confidence among the people.