Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as the first President of India and held the office for two consecutive terms. Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil was the first woman to be elected as the President of India. She was the 12th President of India.
Election of the President
The President is indirectly elected by an Electoral College which consists of the elected members of both the Houses of Parliament as well as of State Legislative Assemblies. Moreover, the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of the Union Territories of Delhi and Puducherry also participate in this election. The voting is by secret ballot. The president is elected according to the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
Qualifications for election as President
In order to be qualified for election as President, a person must:
- be a citizen of India
- have completed the age of 35 years
- be qualified for being elected as a member of the House of the People (Lok Sabha)
- not hold any office of profit under the government of India, any State government or under any local authority or any other authority of the said government
Term of Office
The President is elected for a term of five years, but even after the expiry of the term, he or she may continue to hold office until his or her successor enters the office. There is a provision for the re-election of a person who is holding or who has held the office as President. A vacancy in the office of the President may be caused in any of the following ways:
- in the event of death
- if he or she resigns
- if he or she is removed from office by impeachment
As provided in the Constitution, in the event of the occurrence of any vacancy in the office of the President, the Vice President acts as President until the date on which a new President is elected. But the Vice-President can act as the President for not more than six months.
The emoluments, allowances and privileges of the President are determined by a law passed by the Parliament. The President used to get a monthly pay of Rs. 10,000 as per the Constitution. It was raised to Rs. 50,000 in 1998 and again to Rs. 1,50,000 in 2008. He or She also has other perks and allowances and lives in an official residence popularly known as Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi.
Powers of the President
The President is Head of the State. It is the highest public office in the country. All executive actions of the government of India are carried out in his or her name. The President has the following powers:
1. Executive Powers
The Constitution of India vests the executive powers of the Union in the President. He or She appoints the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party or group of parties having majority in the lower house, the Lok Sabha. He or She also appoints other members of the Council of Ministers on the recommendations of the Prime Minister.
Since the President is the formal head of the administration, all executive actions of the Union must be expressed to be taken in the name of the President. The executive power of the President includes the power of appointment of Governors in the States, the Attorney General of India, the Comptroller and the Auditor General of India, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners as well as the Administrators of the Union Territories.
He or She also appoints the Chairman and Members of the Union Public Service Commission as well as the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Moreover, the President is the supreme commander of the Armed Forces and appoints the Chiefs of the three wings, Army, Air force and Navy.
The President has the power to remove:
- a Minister
- the Attorney General of India
- Governors of the States
- the Chairman and Members of the Union Public Service Commission
- the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts
- the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners on an address of parliament
All diplomatic work is conducted and all international treaties and agreements are negotiated and concluded in his or her name.
2. Legislative Powers
The President is an integral part of the Parliament and in this capacity he or she enjoys many legislative powers. The President addresses the Parliament every year at the commencement of the first session and after each general election to the Lok Sabha. He or She summons and prorogues the sessions of Parliament and can dissolve the Lok Sabha on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
Without his or her assent no bill can become a law or an Act. If the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha fail to agree on the passage of any bill, the President can call a joint session to resolve the issue. Whenever Parliament is not in session, the President on the request of the Prime Minister, can issue an ordinance, which has the force of a law.
Summons the Parliament: The President gives a formal notice to the Members of Parliament that the Lok Sabha/the Rajya Sabha will begin its meetings on a particular date and continue to do so up to a particular date.
Prorogues the Parliament: The President issues a formal notice to the Members of Parliament that the Lok Sabha/the Rajya Sabha will discontinue its meetings on a particular date.
Dissolves the Lok Sabha: When the President dissolves the Lok Sabha, it means that the House ceases to exist till it is reconstituted after the next elections.
Ordinance: If there is immediate need of a law when the Parliament is not in session, it is done through an Ordinance which is issued by the President on the advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. It has all the effectiveness of a law. But as soon as the Parliament comes in to session, the ordinance has to be approved by it. In any case, if it is not approved by the Parliament within six weeks, the ordinance comes to an end.
3. Financial Powers
The President enjoys certain financial powers. No money bill can be introduced in the Lok Sabha without his or her prior recommendation. In other words, all the money bills are initiated in the Lok Sabha only with the assent of the President.
Budget is a document which contains the details of annual income and expenditure of the Indian government. The President gives his consent for it to be laid before the Lok Sabha before the beginning of every financial year.
4. Judicial Powers
The President of India, as Head of the State, possesses certain special judicial prerogatives. He or She has the power to grant pardon or reduce sentence of a person convicted of offence. For example, he or she can suspend, commit or reprieve the sentence of a criminal convicted by a court of law, or even by a military court.
The President and Emergency Provisions
The president has important powers that are exercised during abnormal situations. These are known as emergency powers. The Constitution has made provisions for these powers to meet three specific extraordinary or abnormal situations arising in the country. These situations may be:
- War or external aggression or armed rebellion
- Failure of the constitutional machinery in any State
- Deep financial crisis
1. War, External Aggression or Armed Rebellion
A ‘proclamation of emergency’ is made by the President, if he or she is satisfied that the security of India or any part thereof is threatened by war, external aggression or armed rebellion. However, the President issues such a proclamation, only when a decision of the Union Cabinet, (the Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Cabinet rank) to that effect is communicated to him or her in writing.
Every proclamation is to be laid before two Houses of Parliament and if it is not approved within one month, it automatically ceases to operate. With the proclamation of emergency, the Union government can give directions to the State governments in respect of their executive powers and the Parliament may assume legislative powers of State legislatures. The President may also order the suspension of the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Example: This category of emergency was declared in India for the first time in 1962 due to conflict and war between China and India; the second time it was done on account of Indo-Pak War in 1965. The third national emergency was declared in 1971 when India helped Eastern Pakistan to become an independent nation known as Bangladesh and for the fourth time, in 1975 when the Cabinet headed by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi recommended to the President on account of ‘internal disturbances’.
2. The second type of emergency relates to the situation in State. It may be proclaimed when the constitutional machinery of any State breaks down. If the President is satisfied on the basis of the report of the Governor or otherwise that the State cannot be administered in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, he or she can proclaim emergency. This is known as President’s Rule.
Such a proclamation must be approved by both the Houses of Parliament within two months. If the Parliament’s approval is not obtained, it ceases to operate at the expiry of two months. After Parliament’s approval it may continue for not more than six months at a time and by no means for more than three years. During this period the concerned State Assembly is either dissolved or remains suspended. The Governor of the State performs all the executive functions in the name of the President. The Parliament assumes legislative powers for that particular State.
Example: The imposition of the second category of emergency is considered to have provided extra-ordinary power to the Union government. The first such emergency was proclaimed in 1951 in the State of Punjab, and then in Kerala in 1959. With the passage of time, this power has been used with increasing frequency. It has been alleged that President’s Rule has been used to dislodge the State governments of parties other than the party in power at the Centre.
Article 356 deals with this type of emergency, which includes the imposition of President’s Rule over a State of India. When a State is under President’s Rule, the elected State government is suspended, and administration is conducted directly by the Governor of the State. Article 356 is controversial because some people consider it undemocratic, as its provides too much power to the Centre over the State governments. After the landmark case of S. R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the misuse of Article 356 was curtailed by the Supreme Court, which established strict guidelines for imposing President’s Rule.
3. The third type of emergency, which is called ‘financial emergency’ is declared when a situation arises whereby the financial stability or credit of India or of any part of the country is threatened. Like the other two emergencies, this proclamation also must be approved by Parliament within two months. Once it is approved by the Parliament, it may continue indefinitely until it is revoked.
In this situation, the President can reduce the salaries of all the government officials including the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. The financial emergency has not been proclaimed in India so far.
Position of the President
The President is a nominal executive or a constitutional Head of the State. No doubt the government is run in his or her name, but according to the Indian Constitution, the President has to exercise powers on the aid and advise of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. That is not a simple advice, but is binding.
This indicates that the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are the real rulers in the government. All decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The President has the right to be informed of those decisions. Similarly, the emergency provisions also do not grant any real powers to the President.
Some constitutional experts believe that the President can be compared with a ‘rubber stamp’. But this conclusion is also not true. The President has been given the task of preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution. He or She is the custodian of the democratic process as enshrined in the Constitution. In uncertain political situations, the President can play a decisive role in the formation of government.
There have been some occasions when the President has asserted his or her position. However, in practice the President acts as a nominal or constitutional head. It has rightly been stated that in our constitutional system the President enjoys the highest honour, dignity and prestige but not the real authority.