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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

According to its constitution, India is a "sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic." Like the United States, India has a federal form of government. However, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and its central government is patterned after the British parliamentary system.

The government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. The president and vice president are elected indirectly for 5-year terms by a special electoral college. Their terms are staggered, and the vice president does not automatically become president following the death or removal from office of the president.

Real national executive power is centered in the Council of Ministers (cabinet), led by the prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The president then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the prime minister.

India's bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Lok Sabha.

The legislatures of the states and union territories elect 233 members to the Rajya Sabha, and the president appoints another 12. The elected members of the Rajya Sabha serve 6-year terms, with one-third up for election every 2 years. The Lok Sabha consists of 545 members; 543 are directly elected to 5-year terms. The other two are appointed.

India has 25 states and 7 union territories. At the state level, some of the legislatures are bicameral, patterned after the two houses of the national parliament. The states' chief ministers are responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to parliament.

Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local governments in India have less autonomy than their counterparts in the United States. Some states are trying to revitalize the traditional village councils, or panchayats, which aim to promote popular democratic participation at the village level, where much of the population still lives.

Source: U.S. Department of State
Courts & Judgments

India's independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 25 other justices, all appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister.

The Supreme Court has a very wide appellate jurisdiction over all Courts and Tribunals in India in as much as it may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or Tribunal in the territory of India.

The High Court stands at the head of a State's judicial administration. There are 18 High Courts in the country, three having jurisdiction over more than one state. Among the Union Territories, Delhi alone has had a High Court of its own. Other six Union Territories come under jurisdiction of different State High Courts. The Chief Justice of a High Court is appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Governor of the State.

Each High Court has power to issue to any person within its jurisdiction directions, orders, or writs including writs which are in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari for enforcement of Fundamental Rights and for any other purpose. This power may also be exercised by any High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for exercise of such power, notwithstanding that the seat of such Government or authority or residence of such person is not within those territories.

Each state is divided into judicial districts presided over by a district and sessions judge, who is the principal civil court of original jurisdiction and can try all offenses, including those punishable by death. Below him, there are courts of civil jurisdiction, known in different states as munsifs, sub-judges, civil judges and the like. Similarly, criminal judiciary comprises chief judicial magistrate and judicial magistrates of first and second class.

Sources: U.S. Department of State; Supreme Court of India
Human Rights

The Government of India generally respected the human rights of its citizens in some areas in 2001; however, numerous serious problems remain in many significant areas. Significant human rights abuses included: Extrajudicial killings, including faked encounter killings, deaths of suspects in police custody throughout the country, and excessive use of force by security forces combating active insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and several northeastern states; torture and rape by police and other agents of the Government; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast; continued detention throughout the country of thousands arrested under special security legislation; lengthy pretrial detention; prolonged detention while undergoing trial; occasional limits on freedom of the press and freedom of movement; harassment and arrest of human rights monitors; extensive societal violence against women; legal and societal discrimination against women; female bondage and forced prostitution; child prostitution and female infanticide; discrimination against persons with disabilities; serious discrimination and violence against indigenous peoples and scheduled castes and tribes; widespread intercaste and communal violence; religiously-motivated violence against Christians and Muslims; widespread exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labor; and trafficking in women and children.

Source: U.S. Department of State
Legal Profession

Law Schools

Common law education in India began in 1857, when three universities with Law Departments were established in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. Initially, students were free to study other disciplines - History, Geography, Science etc. - along with Law, which was a part-time course. This arrangement continued for about a century, during which period institutions such as the Government Law College in Bombay, the Law College in Poona, the Symbiosis College of Law also in Poona, the University College of Law in Calcutta and the Law College in Madras, all affiliated to their respective Universities, created their own Law-teaching traditions.

In 1961, the Parliament of India passed the Advocates Act, which amended and consolidated the law governing the Indian legal profession. The Act provided for the establishment of an All India statutory body called "The Bar Council of India". The Bar Council was made responsible for recognizing Universities whose degree in law would be qualification for a graduate's enrolment as an "advocate", a lawyer qualified to practice law in all courts and tribunals. In 1965 The Bar Council of India introduced stringent legal education standards - including curricular specifications - designed to prevent the mushroom growth of sub-standard law schools.

At present there are two educational options for would-be Law graduates in India. One is a five year program, to which one can be admitted after passing a school-leaving examination taken after completion of a 10+2 course of higher secondary education. The other is a three year program available only to those who are have already graduated with a degree in Arts, Science or Commerce. The five year program leading to a degree in Law includes courses in Language, Political Science, Economics, History, Sociology, Legal Language, History of the Courts and the Legal Profession in India. Compulsory Law subjects are Contract and Tort, Personal Law, Law of Crime, Constitutional Law, Property Law, Law of Evidence, Legal Theory, Civil Procedure, Limitation, Arbitration, Administrative Law and Public International Law. At present there are about 90 recognized universities in India providing legal education, with more being considered for recognition. Twenty-four universities offer the five year degree progam in addition to the three years degree program. Several universities also offer Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. Of the law students who graduate from these institutions every year, only about one third join the legal profession (considered to be overcrowded with approximately 1,000,000 members), with others going to industry and other economic sectors.

Pradip K. Ghosh
JURIST India Correspondent
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Pradip K. Ghosh
Senior Advocate, Calcutta