Discretionary Powers of President of India
The President of India is the first citizen of the country and the De Jure head of the state and he is also referred to as an emblem of unity, integrity, and solidarity of the nation. The prime responsibilities of the President are to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the Law of India (Article 60).
All important decisions of the country are taken in the name of the President of India. Most of the decisions taken by the President are based on the binding advice by the Council of Ministers (Article 74). There are however certain discretionary powers given to the President which he/she can exercise without the approval of the executive or the Council of Ministers. The president through the exercise of these powers controls the actions of the executive to a great extent.
The discretionary powers are as follows:
1. Veto powers exercised by the President: A bill cannot become an act of the Indian Parliament until it receives the assent of the President of India. The president is at his discretion to give his assent, or withhold his assent or return the Bill to the House for reconsideration (except in case of a money bill). The veto powers can be classified as:
- Suspensive veto: The president exercises his power of using a suspensive veto when he returns the bill to the two Houses to be reconsidered. This is however not applicable in cases of a money bill.
However if upon reconsideration the Parliament passes the bill again with or without any amendments by a simple majority, it is obligatory upon the President to promulgate the law. A suspensive veto was used for the first time by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam when he returned the ‘Office of Profit Bill, 2006’ to the Parliament.
- Pocket Veto: The President can give his assent to a bill passed by both the Houses of the Parliament or may choose to withhold his assent (Article 111). This provision allows the President to send the bill back to the two houses to be reconsidered, but there is no specific time frame within which the President must take an action. He is at his discretion to keep a bill pending for an indefinite period by neither ratifying it nor rejecting or returning the bill by the exercise of his pocket veto. The exercise of pocket veto however does not apply to constitutional amendment bills. The power of pocket veto was used by former President Giani Zail Singh in 1986 when he refused to grant assent to the Post Office (Amendment) Bill.
The President of India with the exercise of the suspensive veto and pocket veto establishes a substantial amount of control over the hasty and arbitrariness of the executive.
2. Hung Parliament: When no political party or a coalition of parties assumes a majority in the Lok Sabha post general elections, it leads to a hung parliament. The president at this time is at his discretion to take charge. By convention, the leader of the largest single party is called upon to form the government or the leader of the largest coalition is called upon by the President. If the President is convinced that the leader of the single largest party will not be able to garner the support of the majority in the House, he may exercise his discretion in selecting someone who in his opinion will be able to form a stable government. He invites the most capable leader to form the government.
The President may use his discretion in selecting the most capable leader thereby influencing the formation of the government to a considerable extent.
3. Discretion in appointing the Prime Minister: When a Prime Minister in office dies suddenly and there is no successor to replace him, the President has to take charge in the selection and appointment of the next Prime Minister. Mr. Gulzarilal Nanda was appointed as the caretaker Prime Minister twice by the then Presidents when Jawahar Lal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastry dies during their terms.
The discretion of selection and appointing a caretaker Prime Minister entrusts upon the President an enormous task of stabilizing the government in power after the death of a leader.
4. Seeking information from the Prime Minister: Article 78 of the Constitution empowers the President to seek information regarding the affairs of the Union Government from the Prime Minister. He can understand the decision-making process better, he may advise, encourage and warn the government regarding the administration. By the virtue of this power, he may keep a check on hasty legislation.
5. Responsibilities in a Caretaker Government: A Caretaker Government does not enjoy the majority of the House, as a result, it is unable to take a major policy decision. In this circumstance, it is the President who is at his discretion to decide whether such decisions should be taken or not.
The president wields a major responsibility in taking important administrative decisions in the governance of a caretaker government.
6. Summoning of Houses of the Parliament: According to Article 85, the President enjoys the discretion of summoning and proroguing both the Houses as he deems fit so that six months do not intervene between the last sitting of one session and the first sitting of the next session.
7. Dissolution of Lok Sabha: When a Council of Ministers loses majority in the Lok Sabha, it is the discretion of the President to decide if the house should be dissolved or not. Although this dissolution is done according to the advice of the Council of Ministers it is binding only if the government is a majority government.
The President assumes the true responsibility as the Head of the State with the exercise of his discretionary powers. The discretionary powers vested with the President empower him with the authority to check the arbitrariness of the executive and wield a substantial amount of control over them thereby protecting the interests of the vast majority in the country and fulfilling the responsibility of a true leader.