In an effectively functioning democratic government, the doctrine of separation of powers ensures that no organ holds unchecked authority over the other. This doctrine has divided the government into three different branches and established a system of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of power in one hand. In this way, it prevents the abuse of power by an individual or a group of individuals and safeguards freedom for all. The most well-known examples of separation of powers in a democracy are the USA, UK, and India. In this blog, we will explore how the concept of separation of powers functions in India.
This Blog Includes:
- History of the Doctrine of Separation of Powers in a Democracy
- Why is the Separation of Powers in a Democracy Important?
- Functions of the Executive
- What are the Instruments of Checks and Balances?
- What are the Challenges in Achieveing the Separation of Powers?
History of the Doctrine of Separation of Powers in a Democracy
Although the doctrine of separation of powers in a democracy is widely seen in various countries, it dates back to the time of Plato and Aristotle. Interestingly, it is believed that the concept was first seen in the works of Aristotle during the 4th century BCE. In his works, he described the three agencies of the government using terms such as:
- General Assembly
- Public Officials
Similarly, in the 18th century, it was Montesquieu, a French philosopher, who simplified the doctrine by making it highly systematic. He argued that the judiciary should be liberated from the influence of the legislative and executive branches of government. Later on, the doctrine was also proposed by John Locke.
This doctrine had a major impact on the founding fathers of the United States who also incorporated it in the constitution of their country. Most importantly, this doctrine has been widely adopted all over the world and has become an essential and indispensable component of an effective democratic government.
Also Read: The Government of India Act 1919
Why is the Separation of Powers in a Democracy Important?
The concept of separation of powers is an integral part of the Indian legal administrative system for a bunch of reasons such as:
- It prevents the concentration of power in any singular branch of the government.
- It increases accountability as every branch of the government acts as a watchdog against others.
- It ensures that no individual or group of people can abuse their power in any manner that violates the rights of the citizens of the country.
- This system also prevents tyranny which subsequently leads to dictatorship.
- Separation of powers allows the different branches of the government to check and balance each other’s actions.
- This system also ensures the proper and effective functioning of the different pillars of the Indian government.
- It increases transparency in the system by holding people accountable for their actions and prevents corruption.
Let us now explore the three divisions of the Indian government along with their specific roles in the functioning of democracy.
The legislature is the branch of government that is primarily responsible for enacting laws of the country. It is the assembly of representatives elected by the people and has a unique and vital role to play in the country’s democracy.
- The first and foremost function of the legislature is to make laws.
- The legislature exercises its power on subjects of national importance, challenges, public issues, and needs.
- It also takes care of the nation’s finances as the executive cannot spend without the approval of the legislature.
Also Read: Full List Of Viceroys Of India
The Judiciary is an independent organ of the Indian administration. In layman’s language, the other pillars cannot interfere with the functioning of the judiciary. However, it does not mean that the judiciary can function without accountability.
Structure of the Judiciary
- The judiciary in India has a pyramid structure with the Supreme Court as the apex court at the top.
- The decisions of the Supreme Court are legally binding on all the other courts.
- Moreover, judges of the Supreme Court can take cases from lower courts to preside over them.
- The apex court is followed by 25 High Courts of India.
- The High Court of a state can only preside over the cases that fall within its jurisdiction.
- Below the High Courts are the district and subordinate courts.
Functions of the Judiciary
- The Judiciary interprets the law, settles disputes, and ensures justice throughout the country.
- It acts as the guardian of the Indian constitution.
- An impartial and independent judiciary ensures that democracy functions effectively.
- The judiciary can use judge-made law or case law to deliver justice using the previously made decisions that are considered binding on citizens.
- Many times, the judiciary also settles disputes between the center and the state.
Also Read: How many Supreme Courts are there in India?
The third branch of the government is the Executive body. This body is headed by the President of India who is also the head of the state and the head of the government. The President is further assisted by the Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister. It has a wide range of powers and responsibilities which are also mentioned below.
Functions of the Executive
The Executive branch of the Indian government consists of the Prime Minister and his councils of Ministers.
- The primary function of the executive branch of the government is the implementation and enforcement of laws passed by the legislative branch.
- It can appoint and dismiss government officials.
- It also supervises and manages bureaucracy, negotiates treaties, and commands the armed forces.
- The executive branch also manages programs and operations initiated by the government. They decide how the allocated resources will be utilized, programs will be carried out, etc.
- It has the power to sign or ratify international treaties.
- The Consitution of India also empowers the Executive to propose new policies and budgets.
- The Executive can recommend the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha of India.
What are the Instruments of Checks and Balances?
Here are more details about how the separation of powers in a democracy runs parallel with the instrument of checks and balances.
Legislative Control on the Judiciary
- Impeachment and the removal of judges.
- Powers to amend laws.
Legislative Control on the Executive
- It can dissolve the Government through a no-confidence vote.
- It can assess the working of the executive branch through the question hour and zero hour.
Executive Control on the Judiciary
- To appoint the Chief Justice and other judges.
Executive Control on the Legislature
- It has powers under delegated legislation.
- To make laws on some specific topics and within limits as set by the legislature itself.
Judicial Control on the Executive
- Judicial review or the power to review any executive action if it violates the Constitution.
Judicial Control on the Legislature
- Prohibition of amending the Constitution under the basic structure doctrine as observed by the apex court of India in the Kesavananda Bharati Case in 1973.
What are the Challenges in Achieveing the Separation of Powers?
- Overlapping independence: The first and foremost challenge faced by the government’s organs in ensuring the separation of powers of their overlapping independence. While the three branches should have distinct roles and powers, interdependence also lies. For instance, the legislative branch relies on the executive branch to implement its laws.
- Checks and balances: The power of checks and balances along with the excessive use of the veto power can eventually hinder the decision-making process.
- Political pressure: In a country with strong political party systems, ideologies can influence decisions or appointments. This subsequently undermines the impartiality expected by the organs of the government.
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In simple words, the separation of powers in a democracy refers to a popular organizational structure in which the powers and responsibilities are divided between different groups at different levels rather than being held centrally.
In India, the doctrine of separation of powers is followed by dividing the mechanism of the government into the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.
This concept of separation of powers offers numerous advantages such as preventing misuse of power and minimizing evils like corruption, maladministration, and nepotism.
This blog was all about the separation of powers in a democracy. If you want to read more such informative stuff, do read our blogs on the dedicated Civics & Polity page.