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Local Government

A new initiative was taken under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, when a committee headed by P.K. Thungon recommended that Panchayati Raj bodies should be constitutionally recognized and the Constitution should have a provision to ensure timely and regular election to these bodies and their term should be five years. In 1989, the Constitution 64th Amendment Bill was introduced in parliament. The Congress did not, unfortunately, have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and opposition parties, suspicious of Congress intentions that this was a new device for curbing the powers of the states, blocked its passage and prevented a good measure from becoming law. That there was no principled objection in mind became clear when the National Front government of V.P. Singh introduced the same bill with minor changes within a year of the old one being blocked. History has its ironies: V.P. Singh's government collapsed before the bills could be passed and it fell to the Congress's lot to finally see through the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendment Bills in 1993.

The 73rd Amendment provides for an elaborate system of establishing panchayats as units of self-government. For the first time in the constitutional history of India, the constitution of panchayats, the duration of their term, their membership, the constitution of a Finance Commission to review their financial position is detailed. It also adds a new Schedule to the Constitution, the Eleventh Schedule, which lists 29 subjects, which are to be handled by the panchayats. With this Amendment, Panchayati Raj institutions are as much a part of the structure of constitutional government in India as the Lok Sabha.

The Judiciary

Articles 124-147 and 214-237 of the Constitution lay down the entire framework of the system of justice in India. The judiciary was to be the upholder of the Constitution, after all, and no detail was too small for ensuring its independence and effectivity. The method of appointment, the years of service, qualifying conditions, powers of each court, size of the bench, pay and perquisites, and much more, all was specified in the Constitution.

The Indian judicial system consists of a single hierarchy of courts with the Supreme Court at its apex. Before the Supreme Court came into being in January 1950, India had a Federal Court and further appeals lay with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council was abolished in October 1949 and the Supreme Court of India replaced the Federal Court in January 1950.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and twenty-five other judges (seven in 1950, gradually increased by 1986 to twenty-five) appointed by the President after consultation with such of the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts as may be thought necessary. They hold office till the age of sixty-five. In the case of appointment of judges other than the chief justice, the chief justice shall always be consulted. (Article 124) By convention, the chief justice is always the senior most judge of the Supreme Court. In 1973 and again in 1976, Indira Gandhi flouted this convention when the senior most judges (three in 1973 and one in 1979) were superseded. This action was roundly condemned as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and no government since has dared to repeat the act.

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