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5 institutions that have helped shape India

Aug 13, 2022

In the early years after Independence, the need to establish institutions that could formulate policies and implement them was key. Institutions were also necessary to support citizens in meeting their aspirations and providing them with a forum to remedy their grievances. For that, and to give effect to its founding values, the Constitution envisioned the following institutions:


If elections brought democracy to life in independent India, Parliament ensured that it endured. The first Lok Sabha, the directly elected house of Parliament, was constituted on April 17, 1952. With a majority of parliamentarians from the Indian National Congress, the first session of this Lok Sabha began on May 13, 1952. On May 16 it witnessed the fi rst presidential address by Rajendra Prasad. While touching upon India’s economic condition, relations with other states, and the requirements of a welfare state, Prasad expressed hope about the new Parliament setting an example of friendly co-operation and efficient working.

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Owing to its wide powers in securing justice for the marginalised, the Indian Supreme Court, a creation of Article 124, is often termed the “most powerful courting the world”. The origins of such powers can be traced to the year 1979. Noted lawyer Kapila Hingorani read news reports onthe plight of undertrial prisoners in Bihar, and approached the court for their release. In a petition by one such prisoner, Hussainara Khatoon, the court ordered the release of nearly40,000 others. This marked the birth of public interest litigation(PIL), through which the Supreme Court facilitates convenient access to itself for securing justice.

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Since 2007, the Banej polling station inside the Gir Forest in Gujarat has witnessed 100% voter turnout in every election cycle. Till his demise in 2019, Mahant Bharatdas Darshandas, the lone voter from Gir, could exercise his right to vote because the Election Commission of India would set up a polling booth inside the Gir Forest for a single voter. Article 324 of the Constitution has entrusted the ECI with the responsibility to conduct free and fair elections. If Darshandas could successfully exercise his franchise during his lifetime, it is because the Commission has been performing its constitutional duty well. 


‘A mere figure head’ is how the Indian President has been described by many, including BR Ambedkar. The Constitution, however, gives the President scope to assert herself or himself, especially in the legislative empowers the President to withhold assent to a Bill, and prevent it from becoming a law. In 1987, PresiGiani Zail Singh used his veto power and refused to assent to the Post Office (Amendment) Bill, 1986, which empowered the government to intercept all mail. Singh went a step ahead, exercising a ‘pocket veto’ by not sending the Bill back to Parliament. The Bill never became law and was eventually withdrawn. 

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In India’s executive set-up, the Council of Ministers is on a par with the Prime Minister, with the latter being considered fi rst among equals. This understanding was jolted after the proclamation of national emergency by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed on June 25, 1975, on Indira Gandhi’s recommendation. Under Article 352, an emergency can be promulgated only on the written request of the Council of Ministers headed by the PM. This crucial technicality was, however, lost on the PM who completely bypassed her Council. In that brief moment the possibility of rule by decree trumping collective decision-making seemed all too real. Next: Five fundamental rights that shaped India. 

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