The concept of constitutional governance in a body polity like ours, where the Constitution is the supreme fundamental law, is neither hypothetical nor an abstraction but is real, concrete and grounded. The word ‘governance’ encapsulates the   idea   of   an   administration,   a   governing   body   or organization   whereas   the   word   ‘constitutional’   means something sanctioned by or consistent with or operating under the fundamental organic law, i.e., the Constitution.

Thus, the word ‘governance’ when qualified by the term ‘constitutional’ conveys a form of governance/government which adheres to the concept of constitutionalism. The said form of governances   sanctioned   by   the   Constitution   itself,   its   functions   are consistent with the Constitution and it operates under the aegis of the Constitution.

According   to   Encyclopaedia   Britannica,   “Constitutional Government” means: ¬

“…the existence of a constitution—which may be a legal instrument or merely a set of fixed norms or principles   generally   accepted   as   the   fundamental law   of   the   polity—that   effectively   controls   the exercise   of   political   power.   The   essence   of constitutionalism   is   the   control   of   power   by   its distribution among several state organs or offices in such   a   way   that   they   are   each   subjected   to reciprocal   controls   and   forced   to   cooperate   in formulating the will of the state….”

Constitution of India is the suprema lex

It   is   axiomatic   that   the   Constitution   of   India   is   the suprema lex, i.e., the paramount law of the land. All the three wings of the State, i.e., the legislature, the judiciary and the executive   derive   their   power   and   authority   from   the Constitution. It is the Constitution which endows the requisite amount   of   oxygen   and other   necessary supplies   which,   in turn, enable these organs to work for the betterment of the nation and the body polity. 

In the context of the supremacy of the Constitution, the Court in Kalpana Mehta and others v. Union of India and others[1] has laid down:¬

“The   Constitution   of   India   is   the   supreme fundamental   law   and   all   laws   have   to   be   in consonance or in accord with the Constitution. The constitutional   provisions   postulate   the   conditions for   the   functioning   of   the   legislature   and   the executive and prescribe that the Supreme Court is the   final   interpreter   of   the   Constitution.   All statutory   laws   are   required   to   conform   to   the fundamental   law,   that   is,   the   Constitution.  

The functionaries   of   the   three   wings,   namely,   the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, as has     been stated in His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru   v.   State   of   Kerala   and   another[2] derive   their   authority   and   jurisdiction   from   the Constitution.  The   Parliament   has   the   exclusive authority   to   make   laws   and   that   is   how   the supremacy   of   the   Parliament   in   the   field   of legislation   is   understood.   There   is   a   distinction between   parliamentary   supremacy   in   the   field   of legislation   and   constitutional   supremacy. 

The Constitution   is   the   fundamental   document   that provides   for   constitutionalism,   constitutional governance and also sets out morality, norms and values which are inhered in various articles and sometimes are decipherable from the constitutional silence.  Its   inherent   dynamism   makes   it   organic and,   therefore,   the   concept   of   —constitutional sovereignty   is   sacrosanct.  It   is   extremely   sacred and,   as   stated   earlier,   the   authorities   get   their powers from the Constitution. It is the source. Sometimes,   the   constitutional   sovereignty   is described as the supremacy of the Constitution.”

The writings of Locke and Montesquieu  

Thus,   the   concept   of   constitutional   governance   is   a natural   consequent   of   the   doctrine   of   constitutional sovereignty. The   writings   of   Locke   and   Montesquieu   also throw light on the concept of constitutional governance. Locke lays stress on the fiduciary nature of public power and argues that sovereignty lies with the people. Montesquieu, on the other hand, in his postulate of constitutional governance, has laid more stress on the system of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.

According to the ideas of Montesquieu, it can be said   that   constitutional   governance   involves   the   denial   of absolute power to any one organ of the State and a system of checks and balances is the basic foundation of constitutional governance. In constitutional form of Government, power is distributed amongst the three organs of the State in such a way that the constitutional goal as set out in the Preamble of our Constitution is realised.

The   postulates   laid   by   Locke   and   Montesquieu   are inherent   in   our   constitutional   scheme   and have   also   been recognized by the Court. Therefore, it can safely be said that the nomenclature of constitutional governance has at its very base a Constitution which is the supreme law of the land and the conception, in its width, embraces two more ideas, i.e., fiduciary nature of public power and the system of checks and balances.

The concept of constitutional governance

The Court, while interpreting various provisions of the Constitution on different occasions, has   always   been   alive   to   the   concept   of   constitutional governance.

In  B.R. Kapur v. State of T.N. and another[3] , the majority, while dealing with the issue of a writ of quo warranto, ruled that if a non-legislator could be sworn in as the Chief Minister under Article 164 of the Constitution, then he or she must satisfy the qualification of membership of a legislator as provided under Article 173.

The  provisions of  the  Constitution  need not  expressly stipulate   the   concepts   of   constitutionalism,   constitutional governance or constitutional trust and morality, rather these norms   and   values   are   inherent   in   various   articles   of   the Constitution   and   sometimes   are   decipherable   from   the constitutional silences as has been held in  Kalpana  Mehta (supra).

Having   discussed   about   the   concept   of   constitutional governance, in the obtaining situation, we may allude to the conception of legitimate constitutional trust. In this regard, the speech of Dr. Ambedkar reflects his concern:¬

“I feel that the Constitution is workable; it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime. Indeed, if I may say   so,   if   things   go   wrong   under   the   new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.”

In  Re:   Dr.   Ram   Ashray   Yadav,   Chairman,   Bihar Public Service Commission[4] , the Court discussed the role of the   members   of   Public   Service   Commissions   and,   treating them as constitutional trustees, observed that the credibility of the institution of Public Service Commission is founded upon the faith of the common man on its proper functioning. The faith would be eroded and confidence destroyed if it appears that the Chairman or the Members of the Commission act subjectively and not objectively.  

In Subhash  Sharma  and others  and  Firdauz  Taleyarkhan   v.  Union of   India and another[5] , in the context of appointment of Judges, it has been   stated   that   it   “is   essentially   a   discharge   of   a constitutional   trust   of   which   certain   constitutional functionaries are collectively repositories.”

The framers of the Constitution also did recognize that the adoption of the Constitution would not  ipso facto, like a magic   wand,   instill   in   the   countrymen   the   values   of constitutionalism.   The   founding   fathers   expected   that constitutional functionaries who derive their authority from the Constitution shall always remain sincerely obeisant to the Constitution.

The   Court   in  Manoj   Narula v. Union of India (2014),  while highlighting the responsibility conferred on the Prime Minister under   the   Constitution,   discussed   the   doctrine   of constitutional   trust   and,   in   that   context,   reproduced   what Edmund Burke had said centuries ago:¬

“All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with the idea that they act in trust: and that they are to account for   their   conduct   in   that   trust   to   the   one   great Master, Author and Founder of Society.”

Thereafter, the Court went on to state:¬

“This Court, in re Art. 143, Constitution of India and   Delhi   Laws   Act   (1912),   opined   that   the doctrine of constitutional trust is applicable to our Constitution   since   it   lays   the   foundation   of representative democracy. The Court further ruled that   accordingly,   the   Legislature   cannot   be permitted   to   abdicate   its  primary   duty,   viz.   to determine what the law  shall  be. Though  it was stated in the context of exercise of legislative power, yet   the   same   has   signification   in   the   present context,   for   in   a   representative   democracy,   the doctrine of constitutional trust has to be envisaged in every high constitutional functionary.”

The Court further observed:¬

“… we shall proceed to deal with the doctrine of “constitutional   trust”.   The   issue   of   constitutional trust   arises   in   the   context   of   the   debate   in   the Constituent   Assembly   that   had   taken   place pertaining to the recommendation for appointment of   a   Minister   to   the   Council   of   Ministers. Responding   to   the   proposal   for   the   amendment suggested  by  Prof. K.T.  Shah   with  regard  to  the introduction   of   a   disqualification   of   a   convicted person becoming a Minister, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had replied: ¬

“His last proposition is that no person who is convicted may be appointed a Minister of the State.   Well,   so   far   as   his   intention   is concerned, it is no doubt very laudable and I do not think any Member of this House would like to differ from him on that proposition. But the whole question is this whether we should introduce   all   these   qualifications   and disqualifications in the Constitution itself.

Is it not   desirable,   is   it   not   sufficient   that   we should   trust   the   Prime   Minister,   the Legislature and the public at large watching the actions of the Ministers and the actions of the Legislature to see that no such infamous thing is done by either of them? I think this is a   case   which   may   eminently   be   left   to   the good¬ sense of the Prime Minister and to the good sense of the Legislature with the general public holding a watching brief upon them. I therefore   say   that   these   amendments   are unnecessary.”

And again:¬

“98. From the aforesaid, it becomes graphically vivid that the Prime Minister has been regarded as the repository of  constitutional  trust.  The  use  of  the words “on the advice of the Prime Minister” cannot be allowed to  operate in  a vacuum to lose  their significance. There can be no scintilla of doubt that the   Prime   Minister’s   advice   is   binding   on   the President   for   the   appointment   of   a   person   as   a Minister to the Council of Ministers unless the said person   is   disqualified   under   the   Constitution   to contest the election or under the 1951 Act, as has been held in B.R. Kapur case. That is in the realm of disqualification.  

But,   a   pregnant   one,   the   trust reposed in a high constitutional functionary like the Prime Minister under the Constitution does not end there.   That   the   Prime   Minister   would   be   giving apposite   advice   to   the   President   is   a   legitimate constitutional   expectation,   for   it   is   a   paramount constitutional concern. In a controlled Constitution like ours, the Prime Minister is expected to act with constitutional   responsibility   as   a   consequence   of which   the   cherished   values   of   democracy   and established norms of good governance get condignly fructified.

The Framers of the Constitution left many a thing unwritten by reposing immense trust in the Prime   Minister.   The   scheme   of   the   Constitution suggests   that   there   has   to   be   an   emergence   of constitutional   governance   which   would   gradually grow to give rise to constitutional renaissance.

x x x x x

100. Thus, while interpreting Article 75(1), definitely a disqualification cannot be added. However, it can always be legitimately expected, regard being had to the role of a Minister in the Council of Ministers and keeping in view the sanctity of oath he takes, the Prime Minister, while living up to the trust reposed in him, would consider not choosing a person with criminal   antecedents   against   whom  charges  have been   framed   for   heinous   or   serious   criminal offences   or   charges   of   corruption   to   become   a Minister of the Council of Ministers.

This is what the   Constitution   suggests   and   that   is   the constitutional expectation from the Prime Minister. Rest   has   to   be   left   to   the   wisdom   of   the   Prime Minister. We say nothing more, nothing less.”

The Constitution of India, as stated earlier, is an organic document that requires all its functionaries to observe, apply and protect the constitutional values spelt out by it. These values constitute the constitutional morality. This makes the Constitution of India a political document that organizes the governance of Indian society through specific functionaries for requisite ends in an appropriate manner. The constitutional culture stands on the fulcrum of these values. 

The element of trust is an imperative between constitutional functionaries so that Governments can work in accordance with constitutional norms. It may be stated with definiteness that when such functionaries exercise their power under the Constitution, the sustenance   of   the   values   that   usher   in   the   foundation   of constitutional   governance   should   remain   as   the   principal motto. There has to be implicit institutional trust between such functionaries.


Govt of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India (2023)

[1] (2018) 7 SCALE 106

[2] AIR 1973 SC 1461 : (1973) 4 SCC 225

[3] (2001) 7 SCC 231

[4] (2000) 4 SCC 309

[5] 1990 (2) SCALE 836