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Day 7 – Q 1.Explain the concept of ‘doctrine of separation of powers’. Also examine its significance in a parliamentary democracy.

1. Explain the concept of ‘doctrine of separation of powers’. Also examine its significance in a parliamentary democracy.

‘शक्तियों को अलग करने के सिद्धांत’ की अवधारणा की व्याख्या करें। संसदीय लोकतंत्र में इसके महत्व की भी जांच करें।

The term trias politica or separation of powers is coined by Montesquieu in his book “Spirit of Laws”. Separation of powers, therefore, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.  The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.  

According to Wade and Philips, the concept of Separation of power means three different things:

  • Same person should not form part of more than one of the three organs of the government. Example: Ministers should not be made to sit in the Parliament.
  • One organ of the government should not control or interfere with the exercise of its functions by another organ. Example: judiciary should be independent or the Ministers should not be made responsible to the Parliament.
  • One organ of the government should not exercise the functions of another. Example: Ministers not to have legislative powers.

Democratic government is characterised by the separation of powers:

  • There are ‘checks and balances’ within our political system that limit the power of each branch in order to prevent the abuse of power.
  • This system divides the state into three branches – the legislative, executive and judicial branch – and gives each the power to fulfil different tasks. These branches are also known as the ‘organs of government’.
  • Tasks are assigned to the different branches and their institutions in such a way that each of them can check the exercise of powers by the others. As a result, no one branch or institution can become so powerful as to control the system completely.

In Indian constitution, the separation of powers is supported through Article 50, Articles 121 and 211 and Article 361. Such steps, along with presence of checks and balances, help in creating a vibrant democracy in the following ways:

  • No single branch can act as hegemony over the others, by influencing their members.
  • No single branch can endanger the democratic principles of the country.
  • It provides a channel of grievance re-addresses for the citizens through an independent judiciary.
  • The executive remains accountable to the legislature for the implementation of policies and consequent results.
  • Helps in creating a feedback channel to the executive where the citizens can put forward their demands in the Assembly, without being afraid of the authorities.

The separation of powers is important because it provides a vital system of ‘checks and balances’:

  • Firstly, it ensures that the different branches control each other. This is intended to make them accountable to each other – these are the ‘checks’;
  • Secondly, the separation of powers divides power between the different branches of government – these are the ‘balances’. Balance aims to ensure that no individual or group of people in government is ‘all powerful’. Power is shared and not concentrated in one branch.

The separation of powers doctrine also intends to improve the energy and efficiency of government by allowing each branch to specialize, in effect, in order to fulfil its unique function. The main purpose of the separation of powers is therefore to prevent the abuse of power.

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