(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on June 28, 2012, retrieved from http://newindianexpress.com/education/school/article553026.ece)
On 22 July this year, we will have a new President – the 13th to take office in India. The elections will be held three days earlier.
While the actual power is exercised by the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, the President, as the nominal head of the Republic of India, has an important role.
He is the head of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, and also Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces. All Bills must be signed into Law by him, and the power of pardon and clemency rests with him.
Who can become President?
There are some important criteria that a person aspiring to be President of India must meet. These are listed in Article 58 of the Constitution. They are:
· He must be a citizen of India
· He must be at least 35 years of age
· He must not hold any office of profit under the Central or State government, or any authority subject to the control of the government. The only exceptions to this rule are: the serving Vice-President, the Governor of any state, any Union or State Minister (including the Prime Minister and all Chief Ministers); but they must vacate their offices before serving their Presidential term.
· He must fulfil the conditions of Membership to the Lok Sabha:
o Should be mentally sound
o Should not be bankrupt
o Should mention while filing the affidavit to the election commission if he is facing criminal proceedings in any court
o Should not have been criminally convicted
How is the President chosen?
The candidate must first have 50 electors as proposers and 50 electors as seconders, in order to be nominated for the office of President. Then, the candidate has to make a security deposit of Rs. 15,000 in the Reserve Bank of India, which will be forfeited if he fails to secure one-sixth of the votes polled.
The election of the President, unlike that of Member of the Lok Sabha, is indirect. He is chosen by an electoral college, made up by a group of nominees, members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, as well as the Vidhan Sabhas of the states.
But the election is not a simple one. Votes are allocated so that the number of votes cast from the Assembly of a state corresponds to the population of the state. First, the state’s population is divided by 1000. Then, this is further divided by the number of MLAs from that state voting in the electoral college. This number is the number of votes per legislator in that state.
For votes cast by those in Parliament, the total number of votes cast by all MLAs is divided by the number of MPs from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This is the number of votes for each MP. It must also be noted that most MPs and MLAs vote for the candidate favoured by the party they belong to. However, the election is by secret ballot, and legislators can vote however they wish to.
The President is then chosen by simple majority. Just in case no candidates receives a majority of votes, the losing candidates will eliminated from the contest and their votes transferred to other candidates, until one gains a majority.
Once the President is chosen, he will take an Oath of Affirmation in the presence of the Chief Justice of India or, in the absence of the CJI, the seniormost Judge of the Supreme Court.
How can the President be removed?
A President may be impeached for violation of the Constitution. In that case, either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha will initiate the process by levelling the charges against the President. The notice containing charges must be signed by at least 25% of the total members of that House of Parliament. The notice is then sent to the President and taken up for consideration 14 days later.
At the time of discussion, the resolution to impeach must be passed by a two-third majority of the total strength of the originating House. It is then sent to the other House, where it must also be passed by a two-third majority.
During this time, the President may defend himself through an authorised counsel. So far, no President has been impeached.
What happens if office is vacated early?
If the President is impeached, resigns, or dies, the Vice President will take over till a new President is elected. If the Vice President happens to be impeached, resigns or dies during this period, the CJI, or in his absence, the seniormost Judge of the Supreme Court will discharge the duties of the President, till a new President, or a new Vice President, is elected, whichever happens first.
Candidates for this election
Eighteen nominations have been filed this year, but it appears likely that the Congress candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, will be elected into the office of President. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who was declared a public favourite by several polls and was also supported by the BJP and Trinamool Congress, decided not to contest.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee were among other favourites. However, the only candidate who is contesting against Pranab Mukherjee is another former Lok Sabha Speaker, P A Sangma. He even resigned from his party, the NCP, after being threatened with sanctions, since the party has decided to back Mukherjee.
Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani has also announced his candidature.
WHAT DOES THE PRESIDENT GET?
Salary: Rs. 1,50,000 (was increased threefold from 2008, when it was Rs. 50,000, a fivefold increase from 1998, until when it was Rs. 10,000)
Budget: Rs. 22,50,00,000 allotted for the upkeep of the President by the Government of India
Official Residence: Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi
Rashtrapati Nilayam at Bolarum, Hyderabad
Retreat Building at Chharabra, Shimla
Car: Armoured Mercedes Benz S600 (W221)
Security: The President's Bodyguard, an elite household cavalry regiment of the Indian Army.
POWERS OF THE PRESIDENT:
- The President must make a wide range of appointments, including that of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. He will distribute portfolios to this Council, advised by the PM.
- The President may assign governors of States, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Chief Election Commissioner, Ambassadors and High Commissioners to other countries
- The President convenes both Houses of Parliament
- The President must sign a Bill into Law; if Parliament is not in session, he can promote Ordinances into Acts, if necessity demands it.
- The President can dissolve the Lok Sabha
Executive powers: The President may declare a State Emergency, National Emergency or Financial Emergency
Judicial powers: The President can commute the sentence of a convict, and this comes mainly into play in cases of capital punishment.