Mr. Pranab Mukherjee : President of India
Born: December 11, 1935 (age 77), Birbhum District
The President of India is the head of state of the Republic of India. The President is the formal head of the executive, legislature and judiciary of India and is the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces.
The President is indirectly elected by the people through 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. Historically, ruling party (majority in the Lok Sabha) nominees (for example, United Progressive Alliance nominee Shri Pranab Mukherjee) have been elected or largely elected unanimously. Incumbent presidents 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 the members of the Parliament of India. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, then there is a system by which losing candidates are eliminated from the contest and their votes are transferred to other candidates, until one gains a majority. The Vice-President is elected by a direct vote of all members (only elected) of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Although Article 53 of the Constitution of India states that the President can exercise his or her powers directly or by subordinate authority, with few exceptions, all of the executive authorities vested in the President are in practice exercised by popularly elected Government of India, headed by the Prime Minister. This Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister with the help of Council of Ministers.
The President of India resides in an estate in New Delhi known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan (which roughly translates as President's Palace). The presidential retreat is The Retreat in Chharabra, Shimla and Rashtrapati Nilayam (President's Place) in Hyderabad.
The 13th and current President is Pranab Mukherjee elected on 22 July 2012 and sworn-in on 25 July 2012. He is also the first Bengali to be elected as the president. He took over the position from Pratibha Patil who was the first woman to serve in the office.
India achieved independence from the United Kingdom, on 15 August 1947, as a Dominion within the Commonwealth of Nations. However, this status was only a temporary measure, as India's political leadership did not consider it appropriate for the new country to share a monarch with the former colonial power.
The monarch was represented in India by a Governor-General. The first person to hold this office was Admiral of the Fleet Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had also been the last British Viceroy of India. Mountbatten was soon replaced by C. Rajagopalachari, the only ethnic Indian to hold the office of Governor-General. In the meantime, the Constituent Assembly of India (under the leadership of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar) was in the process of drafting a completely new constitution for the country. The Constitution of India was eventually enacted on 26 November 1949, and came into force on 26 January 1950.
Under the new constitution, India became a republic. The office of Governor-General and role of the King were swept aside, being replaced by the new office of President of India. Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the first President.
Despite its changed status, India's leaders desired the country to remain a member of the Commonwealth. Previously a change to republican status had been seen as incompatible with continued membership, but negotiations with the other Commonwealth members resulted in recognition of the British monarch as a ceremonial Head of the Commonwealth, despite the end of the King's role in India's constitutional system. This precedent was followed in subsequent decades by other countries that achieved independence from the United Kingdom.
The Legislative power constitutionally vested in Parliament of India & the president is as apex of that. The President summons both the Houses (the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha) of the Parliament and prorogues them. He or she can 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.
The President inaugurates the Parliament by addressing it after the general elections and also at the beginning of the first session each year. Presidential address on these occasions is generally meant to outline the new policies of the government.
All bills passed by the Parliament can become laws only after receiving the assent of the President. The President can return a bill to the Parliament, if it is not a money bill or a constitutional amendment bill, for reconsideration. When after reconsideration, the bill is passed and presented to the President, with or without amendments, President is obliged to assent it. The President can also withhold his assent to the bill when it is initially presented to him (rather than return it to the Parliament) thereby exercising a pocket veto.
When either of the two Houses of the Parliament of India is not in session and if government feels the need for immediate procedure, President can promulgate ordinances which have the same force and effect as laws passed by Parliament. These are in the nature of interim or temporary legislation and their continuance is subject to parliamentary approval. Ordinances remain valid for no more than six weeks from the date the Parliament is convened unless approved by it earlier.
The Indian 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, other judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts of India
- The Attorney General of India
- 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 Commander in Chief of the Indian Armed Forces.
The powers to pardon and clemency are vested with the President of India. The President of India can grant a pardon to or reduce the sentence of a convicted person for one time, 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 and the cabinet.
All money bills originate in Parliament, but only if the President recommends it. He or she causes the Annual Budget and supplementary Budget before Parliament. No money bill can be introduced in Parliament without his or her assent. The President appoints a finance commission every five years. Withdrawal from the contingency fund of India is done after the permission of President. The Contingency Fund of India is at the disposal of the President.
The President appoints the Chief Justice of the Union Judiciary and other judges on the advice of the Chief Justice. He/she 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.
He/she has the right to grant pardon, to suspend, remit or commute the death sentence of any person.
He/she enjoys the judicial immunity:
- No criminal proceedings can be initiated against him/her during his term in office.
- She/he is not answerable for the exercise of his/her duties.
Basic terminologies used:
- Pardon: Completely absolves the guilt of the offender
- Reprieve: Temporary suspension of the sentence
- Respite: Awarding a lesser sentence on special ground
- Remission: Reducing the amount of sentence without changing its character
- Commutation: Substitution of one form a punishment for another form which is of a lighter character
All international treaties and agreements are negotiated and concluded on behalf of the President. However, in practice, such negotiations are usually carried out by the Prime Minister along with his Cabinet (especially the Foreign Minister). Also, such treaties are subject to the approval of the Parliament. The President represents India in international forums and affairs where such a function is chiefly ceremonial. The President may also send and receive diplomats, i.e. the officers from the Indian Foreign Service. The President is the first citizen of the country.
The President is the supreme commander of the defence forces of India. The President can declare war or conclude peace, subject to the approval of parliament only under the decision of the Council of the Armed Forces Chief staffs, Military Secretary and President's Officer (Deputy Military Secretary). All important treaties and contracts are made in the President's name. He also appoints the Judges of Supreme Courts and High Courts, the chairperson and the members of UPSC, and the heads of the armed forces. The President is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.
As mentioned in Article 72 of Indian Constitution, the President is empowered with the powers to grant pardons in the following situations:
- Punishment is for offence against Union Law
- Punishment is by a Military Court
- Sentence is a death sentence
The President can declare three types of emergencies: national, state, financial.
See also: The Emergency (India)
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), 1971 (Indo-Pakistan war), 1975 to 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 Cabinet 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, up to a maximum of three years.
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 President 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 President 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, also known as President's rule, is declared due to breakdown 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 2 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.
A State Emergency can be imposed via the following:
- By Article 356 – If that state failed to run constitutionally i.e. constitutional machinery has failed
- By Article 365 – If that state is not working according to the given direction of the Union Government.
This type of emergency needs the approval of the parliament within 2 months. This type of emergency can last up to a maximum of three years via extensions after each 6 month period. However, after one year it can be extended only if
- A state of National Emergency has been declared in the country or in the particular state.
- The Election Commission finds it difficult to organize an election in that state.
On 19 January 2009, President's rule was imposed on the Indian State of Jharkhand, making it the latest state where this kind of emergency has been imposed.
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 then proclaim a 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 revokes by the President.
The President can reduce the salaries of all government officials, including judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, in case of a financial emergency. All money bills passed by the State legislatures are submitted to the President for approval. They can direct the state to observe certain principles (economy measures) relating to financial matters.