The Parliament – Multifunctional Role of Parliament -8


In the ‘Indian politico-administrative system’, the Parliament occupies a central position and has a

multifunctional role. It enjoys extensive powers and performs a variety of functions towards the

fulfilment of its constitutionally expected role. Its powers and functions can be classified under the

following heads:

  1. Legislative Powers and Functions
  2. Executive Powers and Functions
  3. Financial Powers and Functions
  4. Constituent Powers and Functions
  5. Judicial Powers and Functions
  6. Electoral Powers and Functions
  7. Other powers and functions.

1.Legislative Powers and Functions

The primary function of Parliament is to make laws for the governance of the country. It has exclusive

power to make laws on the subjects enumerated in the Union List (which at present has 100 subjects,

originally 97 subjects) and on the residuary subjects (that is, subjects not enumerated in any of the

three lists). With regard to Concurrent List (which has at present 52 subjects, originally 47 subjects),

the Parliament has overriding powers, that is, the law of Parliament prevails over the law of the state

legislature in case of a conflict between the two.

The Constitution also empowers the Parliament to make laws on the subjects enumerated in the State

List (which at present has 61 subjects, originally 66 subjects) under the following five abnormal


(a) when Rajya Sabha passes a resolution to that effect.

(b) when a proclamation of National Emergency is in operation.

(c) when two or more states make a joint request to the Parliament.

(d) when necessary to give effect to international agreements, treaties and conventions.

(e) when President’s Rule is in operation in the state.

All the ordinances issued by the president (during the recess of the Parliament) must be approved by

the Parliament within six weeks after its reassembly. An ordinance becomes inoperative if it is not

approved by the parliament within that period.

The Parliament makes laws in a skeleton form and authorises the Executive to make detailed rules

and regulations within the framework of the parent law. This is known as delegated legislation or

executive legislation or subordinate legislation. Such rules and regulations are placed before the

Parliament for its examination.

  1. Executive Powers and Functions

The Constitution of India established a parliamentary form of government in which the Executive is

responsible to the Parliament for its policies and acts. Hence, the Parliament exercises control over

the Executive through question-hour, zero hour, half-an-hour discussion, short duration discussion,

calling attention motion, adjournment motion, no-confidence motion, censure motion and other

discussions. It also supervises the activities of the Executive with the help of its committees like

committee on government assurance, committee on subordinate legislation, committee on petitions, etc.

The ministers are collectively responsible to the Parliament in general and to the Lok Sabha in

particular. As a part of collective responsibility, there is individual responsibility, that is, each

minister is individually responsible for the efficient administration of the ministry under his charge.

This means that they continue in office so long as they enjoy the confidence of the majority members

in the Lok Sabha. In other words, the council of ministers can be removed from office by the Lok

Sabha by passing a no-confidence motion. The Lok Sabha can also express lack of confidence in the

government in the following ways:

(a) By not passing a motion of thanks on the President’s inaugural address.

(b) By rejecting a money bill.

(c) By passing a censure motion or an adjournment motion.

(d) By defeating the government on a vital issue.

(e) By passing a cut motion.

Therefore, “the first function of Parliament can be said to be to select the group which is to form the

government, support and sustain it in power so long as it enjoys its confidence, and to expel it when it

ceases to do so, and leave it to the people to decide at the next general election.”23

  1. Financial Powers and Functions

No tax can be levied or collected and no expenditure can be incurred by the Executive except under

the authority and with the approval of Parliament. Hence, the budget is placed before the Parliament

for its approval. The enactment of the budget by the Parliament legalises the receipts and expenditure

of the government for the ensuing financial year.

The Parliament also scrutinises government spending and financial performance with the help of its

financial committees. These include public accounts committee, estimates committee and committee

on public undertakings. They bring out the cases of illegal, irregular, unauthorised, improper usage

and wastage and extravagance in public expenditure.

Therefore, the parliamentary control over the Executive in financial matters operates in two stages:

(a) budgetary control, that is, control before the appropriation of grants through the enactment of

the budget; and

(b) post-budgetary control, that is, control after the appropriation of grants through the three

financial committees.

The budget is based on the principle of annuality, that is, the Parliament grants money to the

government for one financial year. If the granted money is not spent by the end of the financial year,

then the balance expires and returns to the Consolidated Fund of India. This practice is known as the

‘rule of lapse’. It facilitates effective financial control by the Parliament as no reserve funds can be

built without its authorisation. However, the observance of this rule leads to heavy rush of

expenditure towards the close of the financial year. This is popularly called as ‘March Rush’.

  1. Constituent Powers and Functions

The Parliament is vested with the powers to amend the Constitution by way of addition, variation or

repeal of any provision. The major part of the Constitution can be amended by the Parliament with

special majority, that is, a majority (that is, more than 50 per cent) of the total membership of each

House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting in each House.

Some other provisions of the Constitution can be amended by the Parliament with simple majority,

that is, a majority of the members present and voting in each House of Parliament. Only a few

provisions of the Constitution can be amended by the Parliament (by special majority) and with the

consent of at least half of the state Legislatures (by simple majority). However, the power to initiate

the process of the amendment of the Constitution (in all the three cases) lies exclusively in the hands

of the Parliament and not the state legislature. There is only one exception, that is, the state legislature

can pass a resolution requesting the Parliament for the creation or abolition of the legislative council

in the state. Based on the resolution, the Parliament makes an act for amending the Constitution to that

effect. To sum up, the Parliament can amend the Constitution in three ways:

(a) By simple majority;

(b) By special majority; and

(c) By special majority but with the consent of half of all the state legislatures.

The constituent power of the Parliament is not unlimited; it is subject to the ‘basic structure’ of the

Constitution. In others words, the Parliament can amend any provision of the Constitution except the

‘basic features’ of the Constitution. This was ruled by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda

Bharati case (1973) and reaffirmed in the Minerva Mills case (1980)24.

  1. Judicial Powers and Functions

The judicial powers and functions of the Parliament include the following:

(a) It can impeach the President for the violation of the Constitution.

(b) It can remove the Vice-President from his office.

(c) It can recommend the removal of judges (including chief justice) of the Supreme Court and the

high courts, chief election commissioner, comptroller and auditor general to the president.

(d) It can punish its members or outsiders for the breach of its privileges or its contempt.

  1. Electoral Powers and Functions

The Parliament participates in the election of the President (along with the state legislative

assemblies) and elects the Vice-President. The Lok Sabha elects its Speaker and Deputy Speaker,

while the Rajya Sabha elects its Deputy Chairman.

The Parliament is also authorised to make laws to regulate the elections to the offices of President

and Vice-President, to both the Houses of Parliament and to both the Houses of state legislature.

Accordingly, Parliament enacted the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Election Act (1952), the

Representation of People Act (1950), the Representation of People Act (1951), etc.

  1. Other Powers and Functions

The various other powers and functions of the Parliament include:

(a) It serves as the highest deliberative body in the country. It discusses various issues of national

and international significance.

(b) It approves all the three types of emergencies (national, state and financial) proclaimed by the President.

(c) It can create or abolish the state legislative councils on the recommendation of the concerned

state legislative assemblies.

(d) It can increase or decrease the area, alter the boundaries and change the names of states of the Indian Union.

(e) It can regulate the organisation and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and high courts and can

establish a common high court for two or more states.


The parliamentary control over government and administration in India is more theoretical than

practical. In reality, the control is not as effective as it ought to be. The following factors are responsible for this:

(a) The Parliament has neither time nor expertise to control the administration which has grown in

volume as well as complexity.

(b) Parliament’s financial control is hindered by the technical nature of the demands for grants.

The parliamentarians being laymen cannot understand them properly and fully.

(c) The legislative leadership lies with the Executive and it plays a significant role in formulating policies.

(d) The very size of the Parliament is too large and unmanagable to be effective.

(e) The majority support enjoyed by the Executive in the Parliament reduces the possibility of effective criticism.

(f) The financial committees like Public Accounts Committee examines the public expenditure

after it has been incurred by the Executive. Thus, they do post mortem work.

(g) The increased recourse to ‘guillotine’ reduced the scope of financial control.

(h) The growth of ‘delegated legislation’ has reduced the role of Parliament in making detailed

laws and has increased the powers of bureaucracy.

(i) The frequent promulgation of ordinances by the president dilutes the Parliament’s power of legislation.

(j) The Parliament’s control is sporadic, general and mostly political in nature.

(k) Lack of strong and steady opposition in the Parliament, and a setback in the parliamentary

behaviour and ethics, have also contributed to the ineffectiveness of legislative control over administration in India.