Explain the significance of the concept of ‘separation of powers’ in a democracy. What can be the reasons for India not following the doctrine in the strict sense?
The doctrine of separation of powers is traceable to Aristotle, but the writings of Locke and Montesquieu gave it a base on which the modern attempt to distinguish between legislative, executive and judicial power is grounded.
According to this doctrine there should be a clear-cut division of power between the three organs of the state i.e. Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary in such a manner that:
- The same person should not form part of more than one of the three organs of the government. For e.g., ministers should not be a part of the Parliament.
- One organ of the government should not interfere with any other organ of the government. For e.g. the Judiciary should be independent of the Executive.
- One organ of the government should not exercise the functions assigned to any other organ. For e.g. the Ministers should not be assigned any legislative powers.
Its significance in a democracy:
- It ensures that power is not concentrated in a single person’s hand or a group of people.
- It ensures government of law rather than wills and whims of the officials.
- It ensures an independent judiciary and hence a fair government and proper justice to the people.
- It ensures checks and balances in the system.
In India, separation of powers has been considered as one of the basic features of Indian Constitution. Article 50 also puts an obligation over the state to separate judiciary from executive. However, functional and personnel overlap can be observed, such as:
- Executive is part of the Legislature and are responsible to its lower house.
- Judiciary can declare a legislation and an executive action as void or unconstitutional.
- Executive has a role to play in appointment of judges.
- Legislature may also perform judicial functions, for example if the President is to be impeached both houses of Parliament are to take an active participatory role.
This shows that instead of adopting a rigid separation of power like that in USA, India opted for a unique separation of power with sufficient checks and balances. The reason behind this are:
- Indian Constitution is pro-responsibility rather than having stability at the center. A non-parliamentary executive tends to be less responsible to the legislature. Thus, current scheme ensures a more responsible government.
- Functions of various organs of the government have been meticulously differentiated in the constitution and no organs can usurp the power of the other.
The doctrine of separation of powers in its true sense is very rigid and therefore, Indian constitution makers have made it more fluid by ensuring sufficient number of checks and balances on the powers of various organs of the government.