The President of India is a Constitutional Head of the State and enjoys several powers and responsibilities. One of the most important powers conferred upon the President is the power to veto legislation passed by the Parliament. This article discusses the history, legal provisions, exercise, and significance of the veto power of President of India in the Indian political system.
The British Parliamentary System served as the basis for the Indian Constitution, and the veto power of President of India has its roots in the British system. In the 18th and 19th centuries, British monarchs had the power to veto legislation passed by the Parliament. However, this power was rarely exercised, and eventually, it was abolished in 1707.
When India became independent in 1947, the framers of the Constitution decided to vest the power of veto in the President, the highest executive but nominal authority of the State. This decision was influenced by the fact that India was a newly independent country and the Constitution makers wanted to ensure that the legislative process was not abused.
Legal Provisions for Veto Powers of President of India
The veto power of President of India is enshrined in the Constitution of India under Article 111. According to this provision, when a bill is passed by both houses of Parliament, it is required to be presented before the President for his assent. Only once the legislation has been assented to by the President does it become enforceable in the country. This Article further outlines the following provisions related to the President’s veto powers:
The Absolute Veto refers to the power of the President to withhold his assent to a bill. When the President exercises his absolute veto, the bill is not passed into law, and it cannot be reintroduced in the same session of the Parliament. If the Parliament wishes to reintroduce the bill, it must be introduced afresh in the next session. This power is provided under Article 111(1) of the Indian Constitution.
This refers to the power of the President to return a bill to the Parliament for reconsideration. When the President exercises his suspensive veto, the bill is not passed into law, it is rather sent back to the Parliament for reconsideration. The Parliament may either pass the bill again with or without amendments, or it may choose to drop the bill altogether. If the bill is passed again by both houses of the Parliament and presented to the President, he must give his assent to the bill. The suspensive veto can be overridden by the Parliament if it passes the bill again with a two-thirds majority in both houses. This power is provided under Article 111(2) of the Constitution.
Procedure for Reconsideration
When the President returns a bill for reconsideration, the Parliament may either pass the bill with or without amendments or choose to drop it altogether. This procedure is provided under Article 111(3) of the Constitution.
The Time Limit for Reconsideration
The Constitution does not specify any time limit within which the President must decide on a bill. However, if the President returns a bill for reconsideration, the Parliament must take action within six months, failing which the bill will be deemed to have lapsed. In addition to this, the President is expected to act within a reasonable time frame, and if he does not take any action within six weeks, the bill is deemed to have received the President’s assent. This time limit is provided under Article 111(4) of the Constitution.
It is important to note that the President’s veto powers are limited to bills passed by the Parliament. The President does not have the power to veto other types of legislation, such as ordinances or executive orders.
Significance of the Veto Power by President of India
The veto power of President of India is significant in the Indian political system for several reasons.
1. Checks on the Powers of the Parliament: The Parliament is the supreme legislative body of India, but the President has the power to veto legislation that he deems unconstitutional or against the public interest. This ensures that the Parliament does not abuse its power and that the interests of the people are protected. This function highlights the feature of checks and balances between the organs of the government. In this particular instance, the executive head (i.e., President) keeps a check on the Legislature and ensures the balance of powers between the two organs.
2. Reflection of Separation of Powers: In a democracy, the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary are separate entities that are independent of one another. The veto power of President ensures that the Executive has a say in the legislative process, and it helps to maintain the balance of power between the three branches of government.
3. Upholds Constitutional Values: The Indian Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and all legislation must conform to its provisions. The President has the power to veto legislation that violates the Constitution, ensuring that the Constitution remains the ultimate arbiter of the legality of laws.
4. Symbolises the Dignity of the President’s Office: The President of India is the Head of State and represents the country at both levels, national and international. The veto power gives the President a say in the legislative process and ensures that his views on important issues are taken into account.
Exercise of Veto Power by President of India
The Veto Power of President of India has been used sparingly in the history of independent India. Since 1950, when the Constitution came into force, the President has only vetoed a handful of bills. One of the most significant instances of the exercise of the veto power was in 1986 when the then President, Giani Zail Singh, refused to give his assent to the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill. The bill sought to empower the government to open letters and parcels for security reasons. However, the President felt that this provision violated the public’s right to privacy and refused to sign the bill into law.
In recent times, the use of the veto power has been rare. In the past 70 years, the respective President has vetoed only three bills. This suggests that the power is being used judiciously and only in cases where it is absolutely necessary in order to protect the public interest and the essence of the Indian Constitution.
Criticism of the Veto Power of President of India
Despite its significance, the President’s veto power is not without criticism. One of the criticisms of the power is that it is rarely used, and therefore, it is not an effective check on the power of the Parliament. Some have argued that the President should use his veto power more frequently to ensure that the Parliament does not abuse its power.
However, others argue that the infrequent use of the veto power is a testament to the responsible exercise of power not only by the President but also by the Legislature. It indicates that the Legislature is taking appropriate steps while drafting legislation and that is why the President is not compelled to utilise his power to veto the bills.
Another criticism of the veto power is that it can create a deadlock in the legislative process. If the President withholds his assent to a bill and the Parliament chooses to pass the bill again without any changes, the bill can become stuck in a loop, with neither side willing to back down. This can delay the passage of important legislation and hinder the functioning of the government. However, the aspect to ponder is if the President exercises his veto power repeatedly on a particular bill that is passed by the Legislature, does it really satisfy the condition of being appropriate and in favour of the public interest?
Finally, the fact that the President is a political appointee can raise doubts about the impartiality of the decision to veto a bill. While the President is expected to act in the best interests of the country and uphold the Constitution, there have been instances in the past where the decision to veto a bill has been seen as politically motivated.
Limitations on the Veto Power of President of India
While the President of India has veto powers over bills passed by the Parliament, these powers are not absolute, and there are several limitations on the President’s veto power. Some of these limitations are as follows:
1. Limited scope: The veto power of President is limited to bills passed by the Parliament. The President does not have the power to veto other types of legislation, such as ordinances or executive orders.
2. Time limit: Although the Constitution does not specify any time limit within which the President must decide on a bill if the President returns a bill for reconsideration, the Parliament must take action within six months, failing which the bill will be deemed to have lapsed.
3. Non-justiciability: The exercise of the President’s veto power is a political decision and is not justiciable by the courts. This means that the courts cannot review or question the President’s decision to veto a bill.
4. The Advice of the Council of Ministers: The President is required to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers in exercising his veto power. The Constitution mandates that the President must act on the advice of the Council of Ministers, except in cases where the Constitution requires him to exercise his discretion.
5. Overriding of Veto: The Parliament can override the President’s veto by passing the bill again with a two-thirds majority in both houses. This means that if the Parliament is determined to pass a bill, it can do so even if the President has vetoed it.
6. Political implications: The exercise of the veto power of President can have political implications, and the President may need to consider the impact of his decision on his relationship with the ruling government, the opposition parties, and the public at large.
Overall, the limitations on the President’s veto power ensure that the power is not abused and is used only in exceptional circumstances. The President must exercise his veto power judiciously, taking into account the interests of the country and the Constitution.
In conclusion, the veto power of President of India is an important check on the power of the Parliament. It ensures that the legislative process is not abused and that the interests of the people are protected. The veto power also reflects the principle of separation of powers and helps to maintain the balance of power between the executive, legislature, and judiciary. This power, as a symbol of the dignity of the President’s office, ensures that the Constitution is upheld under all circumstances.
While there are criticisms of the veto power, its infrequent use is a testament to the responsible exercise of power by the President. It is important to strike a balance between the exercise of power and the smooth functioning of the government. Ultimately, the veto power of President is a crucial aspect of the Indian political system, and its significance cannot be overstated.