Constitution of India
The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining the fundamental political principles, and establishing the structure, procedures, powers and duties, of the government and spells out the fundamental rights, directive principles and duties of citizens.
Passed by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, it came into effect on January 26, 1950. It declares The Union of India to be a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty; the words “socialist” and “secular” were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment.
India celebrates the adoption of the constitution on January 26 each year as Republic Day. It is the longest written constitution of any independent nation in the world, containing 395 articles, 12 schedules and 83 amendments. Being the supreme law of the country, every law enacted by the government must conform to the constitution.
The Parliament of India (or Sansad) is the federal and supreme legislative body of India. It consists of two houses ? the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Any bill can become an act only after it is passed by both the houses of the Parliament and assented by the President.
The Lok Sabha is also known as the “House of the People” or the lower house. Almost all of its members are directly elected by citizens of India. It is the more powerful of the two houses and can precede or overrule the Rajya Sabha (upper house) in certain matters.
The Lok Sabha can have up to 552 members as envisaged in the Constitution of India (Article 81). It has a term of five years but may be dissolved earlier by the President in case of no party getting a majority. To be eligible for membership of Lok Sabha, a person should be a citizen of India and be not less than 25 years of age.
As of now, the Lok Sabha has 545 members, 530 members from the states, 13 members from the Union territories and 2 nominated members representing the Anglo Indian community. Some seats are reserved for representatives of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Rajya Sabha is also known as “Council of States” or the upper house. Its members are indirectly elected by members of legislative bodies of the States.
The Rajya Sabha has 250 members in all. Elections to it are scheduled and the chamber cannot be dissolved. Each member has a term of six years and elections are held for one-third of the seats after every two years. The composition is specified in Article 80 of the Constitution of India. 12 members are nominated by the President from people having special knowledge or experience in literature, science, art or social services. The minimum age for a person to become a member of Rajya Sabha is 30 years
Functions of the Parliament
The main function of the Parliament is to pass laws. Every Bill has to be passed by both the Houses of Parliament and assented to by the President before it becomes law. The subjects over which Parliament can legislate are the subjects mentioned under the Union List in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Besides passing laws, Parliament can by means of resolutions, motions for adjournment, discussions and questions addressed by members to Ministers exercise control over the administration of the country and safeguard people’s liberties.
Role of the President with regard to Parliament
The President of the Republic is elected by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies (popular Houses) of the States. Though the President of India is a constituent part of Parliament, he does not sit or participate in the discussions in either of the two Houses. There are certain constitutional functions which he has to perform with respect to Parliament.
- The President summons and prorogues the two Houses of Parliament from time to time.
- While the Rajya Sabha is a continuing body, the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha vests in the President.
- His assent is essential for a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament.
- When the Parliament is not in session he can promulgate Ordinances having the same force and effect as laws passed by Parliament.
- The President has the right to address either or both the Houses of Parliament.
- He has the power to appoint Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha on an interim basis.
Special Powers of Rajya Sabha
Rajya Sabha enjoys certain special powers under the Constitution. If Rajya Sabha passes a resolution by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting declaring that it is necessary or expedient in the national interest to create one or more All India Services common to the Union and the States, Parliament may then by law provide for the creation of such service or services.
If a Proclamation is issued at a time when Lok Sabha has been dissolved or the dissolution of Lok Sabha takes place within the period allowed for its approval, then the Proclamation can remain effective if, a resolution approving it is passed by Rajya Sabha.
Qualifications for being a Member of Parliament
Article 84 of the Constitution lays down the qualifications for membership of Parliament. They are similar for membership of both the Houses except in respect of:
- Minimum age and representation.
- He should be a citizen of India and make and subscribe before some person authorised in that behalf by the Election Commission an oath or affirmation according to the following form set out for the purpose in the Third Schedule to the Constitution.
- He must not be less than 30 years of age in the case of Rajya Sabha and 25 years in the case of Lok Sabha (on the date of scrutiny of nomination).
- He must possess such other qualifications as may be prescribed in that behalf by or under any law made by Parliament
Disqualifications for being a Member of Parliament
Article 102 of the Constitution which lays down the disqualifications for membership of either House of Parliament reads as follows: A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament if:
- he holds any off ice of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder;
- he is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court;
- he is an undischarged insolvent;
- he is not a citizen of India, or has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a foreign State, or is under any acknowledgment of allegiance or adherence to a foreign State; and
- he is so disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament.
A Bill is a draft law that Parliament proposes to make. If approved and passed by Parliament, the Bill becomes an Act. A Bill is divided into clauses; these become sections when the Bill becomes an Act. There are three stages through which a bill has to pass in one house of the Parliament.
- First reading – introduction stage
- Second reading – discussion stage
- Third reading – voting stage
First reading ? introduction stage
A minister, or member-in-charge of the bill seeks the leave of the house to introduce a bill. If the bill is an important one, the minister may make a brief speech, stating its main features. After the bill has been introduced, the first reading is deemed to be over. Therefore, in the first stage, only the principles and provisions of the bills are discussed.
Second reading ? discussion stage
This stage concerns the consideration of the bill and its provisions and is further divide into three stages./
On a date fixed for taking up consideration of the bill, there takes place a general discussion when only the principles are taken up for discussion. At this stage, three options are open to the house. The bill may be straightaway be taken into consideration or it may be referred to any of the Standing Committees or it may be circulated for the purpose of eliciting general opinion thereon
Second stage, i.e. discussion on the report
The next stage consists of a clause-by-clause consideration of the bill as reported by the committee. When all the clauses have been put to vote and disposed of, the second reading of the bill is over. Changes or amendments to the bill can be made only in this stage. Amendments become a part of a bill if they are accepted by a majority of the members present and voting./
Third reading ? voting stage
The next stage is the third reading. The debate on the third reading of a bill is of a restricted character. It is confined only to arguments either in support of the bill or for its rejection, without referring to its details. After the bill is passed, it is sent to the other house
Bill in the other house
After a bill, other than a money bill, is transmitted to the Rajya Sabha, it goes through all the stages in that house as that in the first house. But 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.
Joint-session of both houses
In case of a deadlock between the two houses or in a case where more than six months lapse in the other house, the President may summon a joint session of the two houses which is presided over by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the deadlock is resolved by simple majority. Until now, only three bills: the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), the Banking Service Commission Repeal Bill (1978) and the Prevention of Terrorism Bill (2002) have been passed at joint sessions.
When a bill has been passed, it is sent to the President for his assent. The President can assent or withhold his assent to a bill or he can return a bill, other than a money bill with his recommendations. If the President gives his assent, the bill becomes an Act from the date of his assent. If he withholds his assent, the bill is dropped. If he returns it for reconsideration, the Parliament must do so, but if it is passed again and returned to him, he must give his assent to it. In the case of a Constitutional Amendment Bill, the President is bound to give his assent.
Different types of Parliamentary Bills
Bills may be classified on the basis of their content as Ordinary Bill, Money and Finance Bills, and Constitution Amendment Bills
Any Bill which is not a Constitution Amendment Bill or a Money Bill is classified as an Ordinary Bill. Ordinary Bills are of five types.
- Original Bills (which embody new proposals, ideas or policies),
- Amending Bills (which modify, amend or revise existing Acts),
- Consolidating Bills (which consolidate existing law on a particular subject),
- Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bills (which authorise the continuation of an expiring Act), and
- Bills to replace Ordinances issued by the President.
Money and Financial Bills: A Bill is considered to be a Money Bill if it contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the following matters listed below. A Financial Bill may contain other proposals in addition to these. For example, a Bill that contains a taxation clause, but does not deal solely with taxation is a Financial Bill.
- The imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax;
- The regulation of money borrowed by the Government of India or any guarantee given by the Government of India;
- The Bill can also consider amendment of the law with respect to any financial obligations undertaken or to be undertaken by the Government of India;
- The custody of the Consolidated Fund of India or the Contingency Fund of India , the payment of moneys into or the withdrawal of moneys from any such Fund;
- The appropriation of moneys out of the Consolidated Fund of India;
- The declaring of a new item to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India. Also, if there is any increase in the amount of any such expenditure;
- The receipt of money on account of the Consolidated Fund of India or the Public Account of India or the custody or the issue of such money or the audit of the accounts of the Union or of a State; or
- Any matter incidental to any of the matters specified above.
Constitution Amendment Bills: These Bills seek to amend the Constitution of India.
How are the various types of Bills passed by the Parliament?
An Ordinary Bill may be introduced in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The Bill needs to be passed by both Houses by a majority of members present and voting. If it is passed by the House in which it was introduced, and rejected by the other House, the President may call a joint sitting of both the Houses. In this sitting, the decision to accept or reject a Bill is taken by the majority of the total number of members of both Houses present and voting.
A Money Bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha and requires the recommendation of the President. However, the Speaker of the House has the final authority to decide whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not. A Money Bill cannot be introduced in Rajya Sabha nor can it be referred to a Joint Committee of Houses or be considered at a Joint Sitting of the two Houses. Once a Money Bill is passed in the Lok Sabha it is sent to the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha may not amend Money Bills but can recommend amendments. A Money Bill should be returned by the Rajya Sabha to the Lok Sabha within 14 days or the Bill is deemed to have passed both Houses in the form it was originally passed by the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha has the discretion to accept or reject the recommended Amendments made by the Rajya Sabha.
A Constitution Amendment Bill may be introduced in either House and follow a process similar to an Ordinary Bill. The difference lies in the majority required to pass the Bills. Articles of the Constitution are classified into three categories for the purpose of amendment:
- Articles amendable by simple majority of members present The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005 Parliamentary Research Service February 13, 2006 – 8 – and voting;
- Articles which require special majority for their amendment, i.e., by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting; and
- Articles which require a special majority as well as ratification by the legislatures of not less than one-half of the States. The Constitution does not provide for any time limit within which the States must give their consent for the ratification of a Constitution (Amendment) Bill, referred to them for this purpose.
What is a Finance Bill?
The Finance Bill incorporates all the financial proposals of the Government for the following year. It is ordinarily introduced in the Lok Sabha every year, immediately after the Budget is presented. This Bill has to be considered and passed by the Parliament and assented to by the President within 75 days after its introduction. This Bill is classified as a Money Bill.
Types of Parliamentary Questions
A Question is one of the devices available to a Member of Parliament to seek information on matter of public importance concerning subjects detail with by the Ministries and Departments and to force on the omissions and commissions of the government.
There are three types of Questions:
- Starred Questions: Starred questions are required to be answered orally by the concerned Minister. These Questions are distinguished by an asterisk mark. Members of Parliament have the option to raise the Supplementary Questions based on the replies to the starred Questions. These Questions for which a notice period of minimum 10 days and maximum 21 days has been prescribed are asked during the question Hour on the fixed days allotted to the Ministry/Department. Started Questions from Lok Sabha are printed on green paper and those of Rajya Sabha questions on pink paper.
- Unstarred Questions: Unstarred Questions do not carry asterisk mark and are answered in a written form. The notice period is the same as that for the started Questions and these are also asked on the allotted days of the Department/Ministry during Question Hour. Lok Sabha Unstarred Questions are printed during Question hour. Lok Sabha Unstated Questions are printed on white paper and those of Rajya Sabha on yellow paper. The replies to the Unstarred Questions are laid on the Table of the House.
- Short Notice Questions: Short Notice Questions relate to a matter of urgent public importance and can be asked with a notice shorter than 10 days. These Questions are answered orally by the Minister concerned and Supplementary Questions can also be asked. However, a Short Notice Question can be asked only with the concurrence of the Minister. The Short Notice questions from Lok Sabha are printed on pinky white paper and those of Rajya Sabha on white paper.
Question Hour in Parliament
Question Hour is the first hour in India’s Lok Sabha devoted to questions. During this hour members can raise questions about any aspect of administrative activity. This sort of a process where elected representatives ask questions that are replied by the Prime Minister or other government ministers is part of parliamentary tradition in many other countries.
Zero Hour in Parliament
During the ?Zero Hour? members raise matters of importance, especially those which cannot be delayed. Nobody knows which issue a member would raise during this hour. As a result, questions so raised without prior notice result in avoidable loss of precious time of the House. It also obstructs the regular proceedings and business of the House.
A Half-an-Hour Discussion can be raised on a matter of sufficient public importance which has been the subject of a recent question in Lok Sabha irrespective of the fact whether the question was answered orally or the answer was laid on the Table of the House and the answer to which needs elucidation on a matter of fact. Normally not more than half an hour is allowed for such a discussion.
Selected Parliamentary Procedures
One tenth of the total number of members of Rajya Sabha constitutes the quorum for a meeting of the House and the quorum to initiate a session of the Lok Sabha is 55 members (one-tenth of the total membership).
Prorogation means the termination of a session of the House by an order made by the President under article 85(2)(a) of the Constitution. Usually, prorogation follows the adjournment of the sitting of the House sine die.
An adjournment terminates the sitting of the House which meets again at the time appointed for the next sitting. An adjournment also signifies brief break of the sitting of the House which re-assembles at the appointed time on the same day.
Dissolution of the House means the end of the life of the Lok Sabha either by an order made by the President under article 85 (2) (b) of the Constitution or on the expiration of the period of five years from the date appointed for its first meeting.
The president is also authorised to issue ordinances with the force of acts of Parliament when Parliament is not in session.
What is a Budget?
Budget is Estimate of inflows and outflows of the Government during a year. Budget is presented for the ensuing Financial year.
What does Budget consist of?
Every budget consist of Actual figures for preceding years, Budget and revised figures for the current year, Budget estimates for the following years.
When is Budget presented?
Budget is to be presented in Lok Sabha on a day as the President directs.
Who draws the timetable for Budget?
Timetable is drawn by the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of Parliament. In the schedule drawn up by the BAC, there is a fixed period of discussion for each ministry.
Who has the responsibility for Budget?
Budget Division in the Finance Ministry has the overall responsibility. It prepares the budget on basis of proposal received from various departments and ministries and the availability of funds. However, final approval is from the Prime Minister.
What if Budget is not approved by 1st April?
The Constitution empowers Lok Sabha to grant a Vote-on-Account (Article 116) so that the government can continue with the necessary expenditure into the new fiscal, before the Budget proposals actually get passed after necessary discussions. The vote-on-account normally covers the expenditure requirement of the government for two months.
Presentation of Budget in the Parliament
Budget is presented in two parts:
- Railway Budget
- General Budget
Railway Budget: The Budget of the Indian Railways is presented separately to Parliament and dealt with separately, although the receipts and expenditure of the Railways form part of the Consolidated Fund of India and the figures relating to them are included in the ?Annual Financial Statement?.
General Budget: It is presented in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Finance. He makes a speech introducing the Budget and it is only in the concluding part of his speech that the proposals for fresh taxation or for variations in the existing taxes are disclosed by him. The ?Annual Financial Statement? is laid on the Table of Rajya Sabha at the conclusion of the speech of the Finance Minister in Lok Sabha.
Vote on Account
Since Parliament is not able to vote the entire budget before the commencement of the new financial year, the necessity to keep enough finance at the disposal of Government in order to allow it to run the administration of the country remains. A special provision is, therefore, made for “Vote on Account” by which Government obtains the Vote of Parliament for a sum sufficient to incur expenditure on various items for a part of the year.
Approval of Budget in the Parliament
In India, the Budget is presented to Parliament on such date as is fixed by the President. The Budget speech of the Finance Minister is usually in two parts. Part A deals with general economic survey of the country while Part B relates to taxation proposals.
The Budget is discussed in two stages in Lok Sabha. First, there is the General Discussion on the Budget as a whole. This lasts for about 4 to 5 days. Only the broad outlines of the Budget and the principles and policies underlying it are discussed at this stage.
Consideration of the Demands by Standing Committees of Parliament
After the first stage of General Discussion on both Railway as well as General Budget is over, the House is adjourned for a fixed period. During this period, the Demands for Grants of various Ministries/Departments including Railways are considered by concerned Standing Committees (Rule 331G). These Committees are required to make their reports to the House within specified period without asking for more time.
Voting on Demands
After the reports of the Standing Committees are presented to the House, the House proceeds to the discussion and Voting on Demands for Grants, Ministry-wise. The time for discussion and Voting of Demands for Grants is allocated by the Speaker in consultation with the Leader of the House. On the last day of the allotted days, the Speaker puts all the outstanding Demands to the Vote of the House. This device is popularly known as ?guillotine?.
Motions for reduction to various Demands for Grants are made in the form of Cut Motions seeking to reduce the sums sought by Government on grounds of economy or difference of opinion on matters of policy or just in order to voice a grievance.
After the General Discussion on the Budget proposals and Voting on Demands for Grants have been completed, Government introduces the Appropriation Bill. The Appropriation Bill is intended to give authority to Government to incur expenditure from and out of the Consolidated Fund of India. The procedure for passing this Bill is the same as in the case of other money Bills.
The Finance Bill seeking to give effect to the Government?s taxation proposals which is introduced in Lok Sabha immediately after the presentation of the General Budget, is taken up for consideration and passing after the Appropriation Bill is passed. However, certain provisions in the Bill relating to levy and collection of fresh duties or variations in the existing duties come into effect immediately on the expiry of the day on which the Bill is introduced by virtue of a declaration under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. Parliament has to pass the Finance Bill within 75 days of its introduction.
No expenditure in excess of the sums authorised by Parliament can be incurred without the sanction of Parliament. Whenever a need arises to incur extra expenditure, a Supplementary estimate is laid before Parliament. If any money has been spent on any service during a financial year in excess of the amounts granted for that service and for that year, the Minister of Finance/ Railways presents a Demand for Excess Grant. The procedure followed in Parliament in regard to Supplementary/Excess Grants is more or less the same as is adopted in the case of estimates included in the General Budget.