Doctrine of separation of powers is structural rather than functional

Doctrine of separation of powers is structural rather than functional” examine its impact on development of administrative law India.


The separation of powers is a model for the governance of both democratic and federative states. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic. The doctrine of separation of powers has emerged in several forms at different periods. Its origin is traceable to Plato and Aristotle in the 16th and 17th centuries.

There are three distinct activities in every government through which the will of the people are expressed. These are the legislative, executive and judicial functions of the government. Corresponding to these three activities are three organs of the government, namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative organ of the state makes laws, the executive enforces them and the judiciary applies them to the specific cases arising out of the breach of law. Each organ while performing its activities tends to interfere in the sphere of working of another functionary because a strict demarcation of functions is not possible in their dealings with the general public. Thus, even when acting in ambit of their own power, overlapping functions tend to appear amongst these organs. The question which assumes significance over here is that what should be the relation among these three organs of the state. Whether there should be complete separation of powers or there should be co-ordination among them.

On a casual glance at the provisions of the Constitution of India, one may be inclined to say that that the doctrine of Separation of Powers is accepted in India. Under the Indian Constitution, executive powers are with the President, legislative powers with Parliament and judicial powers with Judiciary (Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts).

An analysis into these three organs and the relations between them is to be done with the experience in different countries along with India which will give a clear idea about this doctrine and its importance in different Constitutions.

Separation of powers under different Constitutions:

To understand the separation of power in India constitutionally and functionally we need to consider other separation of power in different Constitution. What is the state of this concept in theory and constitution and what its state in functionality.

Despite the safeguards it gives against tyranny, the modern day societies find it very difficult to apply it rigidly. In principle they go for separation of powers and dilution of powers simultaneously.


The doctrine of separation finds its home in U.S. It forms the basis of the American constitutional structure. Art. I vests the legislative power in the Congress; Art. II vests executive power in the President and Art. III vests judicial power in the Supreme Court. The framers of the American constitution believed that the principle of separation of powers would help to prevent the rise of tyrannical government by making it impossible for a single group of persons to exercise too much power. Accordingly they intended that the balance of power should be attained by checks and balances between separate organs of the government. This alternative system existing with the separation doctrine prevents any organ to become supreme.

Despite of the express mention of this doctrine in the Constitution, U.S. incorporates certain exceptions to the principle of separation with a view to introduce system of checks and balances. For example, a bill passed by the Congress may be vetoed by the President in the exercise of his legislative power. Also treaty making power is with the President but it’s not effective till approved by the Senate. It was the exercise of executive power of the senate due to which U.S. couldn’t become a member to League of Nations. The Supreme Court has the power to declare the acts passed by the congress as unconstitutional. There are other functions of an organ also which are exercised by the other. India, too, followed U.S. in adoption of the checks and balances which make sure that the individual organs doesn’t behold the powers absolutely.

This means that functioning of one organ is checked by the other to an extent so that no organ may misuse the power. Therefore the constitution which gives a good mention of the doctrine in its provisions also does not follow it in its rigidity and hence has opted for dilution of powers just like India.


Before we go to India, it’s important to know the constitutional setup of the country to which India was a colony and ultimately owes the existence of the form of government it has. U.K. follows a parliamentary form of government where the Crown is the nominal head and the real legislative functions are performed by the Parliament. The existence of a cabinet system refutes the doctrine of separation of powers completely. It is the Cabinet which is the real head of the executive, instead of the Crown. It initiates legislations, controls the legislature, it even holds the power to dissolve the assembly. The resting of two powers in a single body, therefore denies the fact that there is any kind of separation of powers in England.


Though, just like American constitution, in Indian constitution also, there is express mention that the executive power of the Union and of a State is vested by the constitution in the President and the Governor, respectively, by articles 53(1) and 154(1), but there is no corresponding provision vesting the legislative and judicial powers in any particular organ. It has accordingly been held that there is no rigid separation of powers. On a casual glance at the provisions of the Constitution of India, one may be inclined to say that that the doctrine of Separation of Powers is accepted in India. Under the Indian Constitution, executive powers are with the President, legislative powers with Parliament and judicial powers with Judiciary (Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts).The President’s function and powers are enumerated in the Constitution itself. Parliament is competent to make any law subject to the provisions of the Constitution and there is no other limitation on it legislative power. The Judiciary is independent in its field and there can be no interference with its judicial functions either by the Executive or by the Legislature. The Supreme Court and High Courts are given the power of judicial review and they can declare any law passed by the Parliament or the Legislature unconstitutional. Taking into account these factors, some jurists are of the opinion that the doctrine of Separation of Powers has been accepted in the Indian Constitution.

In a similar fashion certain constitutional provisions also provide for Powers, Privileges and Immunities to the MPs, Immunity from judicial scrutiny into the proceedings of the house, etc. Such provisions are thereby making legislature independent, in a way. The Constitution provides for conferment of executive power on the President. His powers and functions are enumerated in the constitution itself. The President and the Governor enjoy immunity from civil and criminal liabilities.

But, if studied carefully, it is clear that doctrine of separation of powers has not been accepted in India in its strict sense. The executive is a part of the legislature. It is responsible to the legislature for its actions and also it derives its authority from legislature. India, since it is a parliamentary form of government, therefore it is based upon intimate contact and close co-ordination among the legislative and executive wings. However, the executive power vests in the President but, in reality he is only a formal head and that, the Real head is the Prime minister along with his Council of Ministers. The reading of Art. 74(1) makes it clear that the executive head has to act in accordance with the aid and advice given by the cabinet.

Generally the legislature is the repository of the legislative power but, under some specified circumstances President is also empowered to exercise legislative functions. Like while issuing an ordinance, framing rules and regulations relating to Public service matters, formulating law while proclamation of emergency is in force. These were some instances of the executive head becoming the repository of legislative functioning. President performs judicial functions also.

On the other side, in certain matters Parliament exercises judicial functions too. It can decide the question of breach of its privilege, and in case of impeaching the President; both the houses take active participation and decide the charges.

Judiciary, in India, too can be seen exercising administrative functions when it supervises all the subordinate courts below. It has legislative power also which is reflected in formulation of rules regulating their own procedure for the conduct and disposal of cases

So, it’s quite evident from the constitutional provisions themselves that India, being a parliamentary democracy, does not follow an absolute separation and is, rather based upon fusion of powers, where a close co-ordination amongst the principal organs is unavoidable and the constitutional scheme itself mentions it. The doctrine has, thus, not been awarded a Constitutional status. Thus, every organ of the government is required to perform all the three types of functions. Also, each organ is, in some form or the other, dependant on the other organ which checks and balances it. The reason for the interdependence can be accorded to the parliamentary form of governance followed in our country. But, this doesn’t mean that this doctrine is not followed in India at all.
In I.C.Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, it was observed:

“The Constitution brings into existence different constitutional entities, namely, the Union, the States and the Union Territories. It creates three major instruments of power, namely, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. It demarcates their jurisdiction minutely and expects them to exercise their respective powers without overstepping their limits. They should function within the spheres allotted to them.”

If we study the constitutional provisions carefully, it is clear that the doctrine of Separation of Powers has not been accepted in India in its strict sense. In India, not only there is functional overlapping but there is personnel overlapping also. The Supreme Court has power to declare void the laws passed by the legislature and the actions taken by the executive if they violate any provision of the Constitution or the law passed by the legislature in case of executive actions. The executive can affect the functioning of the judiciary by making appointments to the office of Chief Justice and other judges. One can go on listing such examples yet the list would not be exhaustive.

In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, it was observed:

“That in the Indian Constitution there is separation of powers in a broad sense only. A rigid separation of powers as under the American Constitution or under the

Australian Constitution does not apply to India. Chandrachud J. also observed that the political usefulness of doctrine of Separation of Power is not widely recognized. No constitution can survive without a conscious adherence to its fine check and balance. The principle of Separation of Power is a principle of restraint which has in it the precept, innate in the prudence of self preservation, that discretion is the better part of valor.”

Thus doctrine of separation of powers is not fully accepted in the Indian Constitution. It can be said with the observation of Mukherjee, J. in Ram Jawaya v. State of Punjab: “The Indian Constitution has not indeed recognized the doctrine of separation of powers in its absolute rigidity but the functions of the different parts or branches of the Government have been sufficiently differentiated and consequently it can very well be said that our Constitution does not contemplate assumption, by one organ or part of the State, of functions that essentially belong to another.”

Thus referring to the above content it proves that Separation of Power is practiced in India but not that rigidly. It is not embodied in the constitution though practiced. The three main powers do cross their limit and interfere in each other’s task whenever necessary. It can be said it is rather structural than functional.


Administration of justice is a divine function. In fact a nation’s rank in the civilization is generally determined according to the degree in which s justice is actually administrated. This sacred functions are to be an institutions manned by men of high efficiency, honesty and integrity. As the old adages goes, “Justice delayed is Justice denied”. This phrase seems to be tune in so far as the administration of justice in India is concerned. While the people have reasons to feel disappointed with functioning of the legislatures and the executive, they have over the years clung to the belief that they can go to the courts for help. But unfortunately, the judiciary is fast losing its credibility in the eyes of the people for one of the main reasons that justice delivery systems have become costlier and highly time consuming. It is needless to say that the ultimate success of a democratic system is measured in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency of its administration of justice system. More rightly observed by Lord Bryce, “There is no better test of the excellence of a Government than the efficiency of its judicial system”.

Reference:, C.K.Takwani, Lectures on Administrative Law, (Lucknow: Eastern Book Company), 4th

Edition, p32,

Supra note 2 at p. 32

I.P.Massey, Administrative Law, (Lucknow: Eastern Book Company), 7th Edition, p38, visited on September 24,2010

Jain and Jain : Administrative Law