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President of India

The President of India or Rashtrapati (Hindi: राष्ट्रपति a Sanskrit neologism, lit. "lord of the realm") is the head of state and first citizen of India, as well as the Supreme Commander of the Indian armed forces. In theory, the President possesses considerable power. With few exceptions, most of the authority vested in the President is in practice exercised by the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister.

The President is elected by the elected members of the Parliament of India (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) as well as of the state legislatures (Vidhan Sabhas), and serves for a term of five years. Incumbents are permitted to stand for re-election. A formula is used to allocate votes so there is a balance between the population of each state and the number of votes assembly members from a state can cast, and to give an equal balance between State Assembly members and National Parliament members. If no candidate receives a majority of votes there is a system by which losing candidates are eliminated from the contest and votes for them transferred to other candidates, until one gains a majority. The Vice-President is elected by a direct vote of all members (elected and nominated) of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

The president of India resides in a mansion in New Delhi known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan (which roughly translates as President's Abode). The presidential retreat is The Retreat in Chharabra, Shimla and Rashtrapati Nilayam (President's Place) in Hyderabad.

The 12th President of India is Pratibha Patil, the first woman to serve in the office, who was sworn in on 25 July 2007.

History

India became formally independent from the United Kingdom on August 15, 1947. However, the country remained a Commonwealth realm, and continued in a personal union relationship with the other countries who each regarded the same person as their monarch and Head of State. The Monarch of India was represented by the Governor-General of India, now appointed by the Monarch of the United Kingdom upon the advice of the Prime Minister of India, instead of the British government.

This was a temporary measure, however, as the continued existence of a shared monarch in the Indian political system was not considered appropriate for a truly sovereign nation. The first Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten, was also the last British Viceroy of India before independence. He soon handed power over to C. Rajagopalachari, who became the first, last and only ethnically Indian governor general. In the meantime, the Constituent Assembly led by Dr. Rajendra Prasad . The drafting was finished on November 26, 1949, and the Constitution was formally adopted on January 26, 1950—a date of symbolic importance as it was on January 26, 1930, that the Congress Party had first issued the call for complete independence from Britain. When the constitution took effect, the Governor General and King were replaced by an elected president, with Rajendra Prasad serving as the first President of India.

The move ended India's status as a Commonwealth realm, but the republic remained in the Commonwealth of Nations. Nehru argued that a nation should be allowed to stay in the Commonwealth simply by observing the British monarch as "Head of the Commonwealth" but not necessarily head of state. This was a ground-breaking decision that would set a precedent in the second half of the twentieth century for many other former British colonies to remain in the Commonwealth after becoming newly-independent republics.

Qualifications required to become the President

A citizen of India who is of 35 years of age or above may be a Presidential candidate. The Presidential candidate should be qualified to become a member of the Lok Sabha and should not hold any office of profit under the government. Certain office-holders, however, are permitted to stand as Presidential candidates. These are:

In the event that the Vice President, a State Governor or a Minister is elected President, they are considered to have vacated their previous office on the date they begin serving as President.

Election of the President

Whenever the office becomes vacant, by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both houses of the Parliament and the elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies (Vidhan Sabha). The election uses the Single Transferable Vote method of proportional representation. Voting takes place by secret ballot.

Each elector casts a different number of votes. The general principle is that the total number of votes cast by Members of Parliament equals the total number of votes cast by State Legislators. Also, legislators from larger states cast more votes than those from smaller states. Finally, the number of legislators in a state matters; if a state has few legislators, then each legislator has relatively more votes; if a state has many legislators, then each legislator has fewer votes.

The actual calculation for votes cast by a particular state is calculated by dividing the state's population by 1000, which is divided again by the number of legislators from the State voting in the electoral college. This number is the number of votes per legislator in a given state. For votes cast by those in Parliament, the total number of votes cast by all state legislators is divided by the number of members of both Houses of Parliament. This is the number of votes per member of either house of Parliament.

Constitutional role

of the Indian Constitution states "There shall be a President of India". Article 53(1)vests in the President the executive powers of the Union which are exercised either directly or through subordinate officers in accordance with the Constitution. Although the Constitution explicitly says that the president is the executive head of the state, real executive power is exercised by the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. This is inferred from Article 74 of the Indian Constitution, providing for a "... council of ministers to aid and advise the President who shall, in exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice".

The president of India swears before entering the office of the president that he/she shall protect, preserve and defend the Constitution (Article 60), which provides for an executive head of state who is nominal or ceremonial. The powers of the President are intended to be similar to those of the British Crown, in that they would 'reign and not rule'.

Powers and functions

President of India used to receive per month as per constitution which was increased to in 1998 effective since 1996. On September 11, 2008 Government of India has increased the salary of President to effective since 2007. However, almost everything that the President does or wants to do is taken care of by the annual budget that the Government allots for the upkeep.

The President of India enjoys the following powers:

Executive powers

The Constitution vests in the President of India all the executive powers of the Central Government. The President appoints the Prime Minister the person most likely to command the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha (usually the leader of the majority party or coalition). The President then appoints the other members of the Council of Ministers, distributing portfolios to them on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The Council of Ministers remains in power during the 'pleasure' of the President. In practice, however, the Council of Ministers must retain the support of the Lok Sabha. If a President were to dismiss the Council of Ministers on his or her own initiative, it might trigger a constitutional crisis. Thus, in practice, the Council of Ministers cannot be dismissed as long as it commands the support of a majority in the Lok Sabha.

The President is responsible for making a wide variety of appointments. These include:

  • Governors of States
  • The Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts
  • The Attorney General
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General
  • The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners
  • The Chairman and other Members of the Union Public Service Commission
  • Ambassadors and High Commissioners to other countries.

The President also receives the credentials of Ambassadors and High Commissioners from other countries.

The President is the de jure Commander in Chief of the Indian Armed Forces.

The President of India can grant a pardon to or reduce the sentence of a convicted person, particularly in cases involving punishment of death.

The decisions involving pardoning and other rights by the president are independent of the opinion of the Prime Minister or the Lok Sabha majority. In most other cases, however, the President exercises his or her executive powers on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Judicial powers

The president appoints the Chief Justice of the Union Judiciary and other judges on the advice of the Chief Justice. In practice, these judges are actually selected by the Union cabinet. The President dismisses the judges if and only if the two Houses of the Parliament pass resolutions to that effect by two-thirds majority of the members present.

If they consider a question of law or a matter of public importance has arisen they can ask for the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court. They may or may not accept that opinion.

Legislative powers

The President summons both houses of the Parliament and prorogues them. He or she can even dissolve the Lok Sabha. These powers are formal, and by convention, the President uses these powers according to the advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

They inaugurate the Parliament by addressing it after the general elections and also at the beginning of the first session each year. Their address on these occasions is generally meant to outline the new policies of the government. This address is essentially identical in nature to a Speech from the Throne.

A bill that the Parliament has passed, can become a law only after the President gives their assent to it. They can return a bill to the Parliament, if it is not a money bill, for reconsideration. However, if the Parliament sends it back to them for the second time, they are obliged to assent to it.

When the Parliament is not in session and the government considers it necessary to have a law, then the President can promulgate ordinances. These ordinances are submitted to the Parliament at its next session. They remain valid for no more than six weeks from the date the Parliament is convened unless approved by it earlier.

Emergency powers

The President can declare three types of emergencies: national, state and financial.

National emergency

National emergency is caused by war, external aggression or armed rebellion in the whole of India or a part of its territory. Such an emergency was declared in India in 1962 (Indo-China war), 1965 (Indo-Pakistan war), 1975 and 1977 (declared by Indira Gandhi on account of "internal disturbance").

Under Article 352 of the India Constitution the President can declare such an emergency only on the basis of a written request by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. Such a proclamation must be approved by the Parliament within one month. Such an emergency can be imposed for six months. It can be extended by six months by repeated parliamentary approval.

In such an emergency, Fundamental Rights of Indian citizens can be suspended. The six freedoms under Right to Freedom are automatically suspended. However, the Right to Life and Personal Liberty cannot be suspended.

The Parliament can make laws on the 66 subjects of the State List (which contains subjects on which the state governments can make laws). Also, all money bills are referred to the Parliament for its approval. The term of the Lok Sabha can be extended by a period of up to one year, but not so as to extend the term of Parliament beyond six months after the end of the declared emergency.

State emergency

State emergency, also known as President's rule, is declared due to failure of constitutional machinery in a state.

If the President is satisfied, on the basis of the report of the Governor of the concerned state or from other sources that the governance in a state cannot be carried out according to the provisions in the Constitution, he/she can declare a state of emergency in the state. Such an emergency must be approved by the Parliament within a period of six months.

Under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, it can be imposed from six months to a maximum period of three years with repeated parliamentary approval every six months. If the emergency needs to be extended for more than three years, this can be achieved by a constitutional amendment, as has happened in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

During such an emergency, the President can take over the entire work of the executive, and the Governor administers the state in the name of the President. The Legislative Assembly can be dissolved or may remain in suspended animation. The Parliament makes laws on the 66 subjects of the state list (see National emergency for explanation). All money bills have to be referred to the Parliament for approval.

On October 9, 2007, the President's rule has been imposed on the south Indian State of Karnataka making it the latest state where the emergency has been imposed.

Financial emergency

If the President is satisfied that there is an economic situation in which the financial stability or credit of India is threatened, he/she can proclaim financial emergency as per the Constitutional Article 360. Such an emergency must be approved by the Parliament within two months. It has never been declared. On a previous occasion, the financial stability or credit of India has indeed been threatened, but a financial emergency was avoided through the selling off of India's gold reserves.

A state of financial emergency remains in force indefinitely until revoked by the President.

In case of a financial emergency, the President can reduce the salaries of all government officials, including judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. All money bills passed by the State legislatures are submitted to the President for his approval. They can direct the state to observe certain principles (economy measures) relating to financial matters.

Important presidential interventions

The President's role as defender of the Constitution, and their powers as Head of State, especially in relation to those exercised by the Prime Minister as leader of the government, have changed over time. In particular, Presidents have made a number of interventions into government and lawmaking, which have established and challenged some conventions concerning Presidential intervention. Some of the more noteworthy are documented here.

In 1979, the then Prime Minister, Charan Singh, did not enjoy a Parliamentary majority. He responded to this by simply not advising the President to summon Parliament. Since then, Presidents have been more diligent in directing incoming Prime Ministers to convene Parliament and prove their majority within reasonable deadlines (2-3 weeks). In the interim period, the Prime Ministers are generally restrained from making policy decisions.

The constitution gives the President the power to return a bill unsigned but it circumscribes the power to send it back only once for reconsideration. If the Parliament sends back the bill with or without changes, the President is duty bound to sign it. However, deliberately or inadvertently, the constitution does not set a time-limit in which the President is obliged to approve the bill, so they may withhold assent indefinitely. This has come to be known in legal and constitutional circles as the "Pocket Veto", and has been used on a number of occasions against controversial Bills.

  • In the mid-1980s, President Zail Singh withheld assent to a Bill passed by Parliament that gave sweeping powers to the State to intercept mail. This was considered by the President to be an encroachment on citizens' freedom of speech and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution.
  • In early 1990, President Venkataraman withheld assent to a Bill passed by the outgoing Parliament that gave pension benefits to themselves. This was interpreted by the President to be self-aggrandisement.

Since the nineties, Parliamentary elections have generally not resulted in a single party or group of parties having a distinct majority. In such cases, Presidents have used their discretion and directed Prime Ministerial aspirants to establish their credentials before being invited to form the government. Typically, the aspirants have been asked to produce letters from various party leaders, with the signatures of all the MPs who are pledging support to their candidature. This is in addition to the requirement that a Prime Minister prove he has the support of the Lok Sabha (by a vote on the floor of the House) within weeks of being sworn in to office.

In the late nineties, President Narayanan introduced the important practice of explaining to the nation (by means of Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqués) the thinking that led to the various decisions he took while exercising his discretionary powers; this has led to openness and transparency in the functioning of the President.

In mid-2006, President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam sent back a controversial bill regarding enlarging the scope of the offices of profit, which disqualify a person from being a member of parliament. The opposition combine, the NDA, hailed the move. The UPA chose to send the bill back to the president without any changes, and after 30 days Kalam gave the assent.

Removal of the President

The President may be removed before the expiry of his/her term through impeachment. A President can be removed for violation of the Constitution.

The process may start in either of the two houses of the Parliament. The house initiates the process by levelling the charges against the President. The charges are contained in a notice which has to be signed by at least one quarter of the total members of that house. The notice is sent up to the President and 14 days later, it is taken up for consideration.

A resolution to impeach the President has to be passed by a two-third majority of the total members of the originating house. It is then sent to the other house. The other house investigates the charges that have been made. During this process, the President has the right to defend himself/herself through an authorised counsel. If the second house also approves the charges made by two-third majority again, the President stands impeached and is deemed to have vacated his/her office from the date when such a resolution stands passed. Other than impeachment, no other penalty can be given to the President for the violation of the Constitution.

No President has faced impeachment proceedings. Hence, the above provisions have never been tested.

Succession

In the event of a vacancy created for the President's post due to death, resignation, removal, etc., Article 65 of the Indian Constitution says that the Vice President will have to discharge his duties. The Vice President reverts to his office when a new President is elected and enters upon his office. When the President is unable to act owing to his absence, illness or any other cause, the Vice President discharges the President's functions for a temporary period until the President resumes his duties.

When the Vice President acts as, or discharges the functions of the President, he has all the powers and immunities of the President and is entitled to the same emoluments as the President.

Parliament has by an enactment made provision for the discharge of the functions of the President when vacancies occur in the offices of the President and of the Vice President simultaneously, owing to removal, death, resignation of the incumbent or otherwise. In such an eventuality, the Chief Justice, or in his absence, the senior most Judge of the Supreme Court of India available discharges the functions of the President until a newly elected President enters upon his office or a newly elected Vice President begins to act as President under Article 65 of the Constitution, whichever is the earlier.

Rasthrapati Bhavan

The Presidential House or Rashtrapati Bhavan, is located in Prakash Vir Shastri Avenue, where its main entrance, Gate 35, is located. The home is in the urban district of New Delhi and was recently renamed from North Avenue in honor of the Member of Parliament who was killed during his tenure here as a representative of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

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References

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