Separation of Powers: Define, Features, History, Importance

By meenakshi|Updated : July 14th, 2022

Separation of Powers is the vesting of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the Government in separate bodies to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. Although, all these three bodies are set to function distinctly, sometimes their scope overlaps thus, the doctrine of separation of powers was introduced in the Indian Constitution.

The Separation of Powers is included in the basic structure of the constitution of India, but it is not specifically mentioned. Separation of power UPSC is a cardinal topic in view to the IAS exam point of view. A lot of questions have been asked about this topic. Below you will get to know all the essential information about the Separation of Powers, its importance, and the relationship between the three arms of the government.

Table of Content

What Separation of Powers?

The Doctrine of Separation of Powers among the three arms of the Indian government was introduced to maintain the balance of power. There is a separation of function among the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary to prevent misuse of power and create a balance in the administration of the country.

  • The separation of powers seems to be an impractical concept and that is why there are no strict actions of separation of powers between the three organs of the government by most constitutional systems in the classical sense.
  • So, in order to maintain the equity of powers, a system of checks and balances has been put in place.
  • This system of checks and balances justifies the judicial power to strike down any unconstitutional laws passed by the legislature.

Below are the functions performed by the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary bodies of the Indian government.

Functions of Legislature

The legislature forms the basis for the smooth functioning of the other two bodies. The legislature is responsible for enacting the laws. It is considered to be one of the major bodies because if there would be no one to enact the laws, these laws will not be executed properly.

Functions of Executive

The executive is the administrative head of the government that is responsible for implementing the laws enacted by the legislature and enforcing the will of the state. The members of the Executive include President/Governors and Prime/Chief Ministers.

Functions of Judiciary

The governmental body that is responsible for the settlement of disputes, administrating justice to all the citizens, and maintaining laws is the Judiciary. It comprises the district courts, high courts, Supreme courts, and subordinate courts. The Judiciary is set to watchdog the democracy. Along with the protection of democracy, the judiciary is also considered the safeguard of the Indian constitution.

The doctrine of Separation of Power

The doctrine of Separation of power refers to the model that was set by the government where the three bodies, i.e, the executive, legislative, and the judiciary are divided into different branches instead of working as a single unit. However, this is not mentioned in the Indian constitution clearly.

The Separation of power is aided by the following articles of the Indian constitution.

  • Article 50- According to Article 50 of the Indian constitution, the state can take necessary steps for separating the executive power from the judiciary. This separation is required to ensure that the judiciary works independently.
  • Article 53 and 154- It states that the executive power of the state shall be vested with the governor. In the case of the Union, the President shall vest the executive powers. Both enjoy immunity from criminal and civil liability.
  • Article 122 and 212- As per these articles, the proceedings of the legislatures and the parliament cannot be questioned in any court. Also, the parliamentary statement cannot be used against the legislature in any case.
  • Article 121 and 211: Article 121 and 211 of the Indian constitution state that the Parliament and Supreme court is not subjected to the judicial conduct of a high court or supreme court’s judge.
  • Article 361- For performing and exercising the powers and duties of the office, neither the Governor nor the President is answerable to any court.

Features of Doctrine of Separation of power

There have been a lot of authors that have defined the doctrine as per their understanding. In general, the doctrine of Separation of power can have the following features-

  • There must be a separate member in capacity in each body. This means that one person with a particular role in one organ cannot be a part of the rest of the two organs.
  • There must be zero interference in the functioning of the three organs.
  • There should be zero imposition of function among the organs.

History of Separation of Power

The original concept of the separation of powers can be seen back in the work done by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE. At that period, Aristotle described the three functioning bodies of the government as-

  • General Assembly
  • Public Officials
  • Judiciary.

This concept was followed by the Ancient Roman Republic as well. However, this idea was developed by a French philosopher named Montesquieu in the 18th century. He came up with his book De l’esprit des Lois wherein he mentioned the concept of doctrine as a highly systematic and scientific one. His understandings were influenced by the English system in which he found the propensity towards a greater distinction between the three organs of government. Perhaps the idea was later modified by John Locke.

Importance of Separation of Power

Since the Indian constitution provides its constituents with certain rights and powers, individuals or group can make unnecessary use of their powers. So, the concept of separation of powers was created with the sole purpose of preventing the abuse of power. It will guard society against the state's tyrannical, irrational, and arbitrary powers.

Along with this, it is responsible for safeguarding the freedom of all and allocates each function to the suitable organs of the state for effective discharge of their respective duties.

The significance of the separation of powers can be summarized as follows-

  • It keeps a check on autocracy.
  • It helps in creating a better administration that works efficiently.
  • It maintains the independence of the three organs.
  • It safeguards the liberty of an individual.
  • It prevents the legislature from enacting unconstitutional laws and arbitrary.

Judicial Cases Upholding Separation of Powers Doctrine

There have been two cases and these were-

  • Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973)- In this case, the supreme court held that the Parliament’s amending power is subject to the basic features of the Indian Constitution. So, if there will be any amendment that violates the basic features, it will be declared unconstitutional.
  • Swaran Singh Case (1998)- In this case, the Supreme Court using the separation of power held the UP Governor’s pardon of a convict unconstitutional.

Separation of Powers UPSC

Separation of Powers UPSC is one of the critical topics for the UPSC Syllabus. It holds significant importance in the IAS Exam and many questions have been raised in the UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains exam.

You can check out the UPSC Study Material to prepare for the UPSC Exam in a better way. Also, you can download the NCERT Books for UPSC for understanding all the related topics in a detailed manner.

Separation of Powers UPSC Questions

A lot of questions have been asked from the Separation of Powers in the UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains exam. Here are a few of them-

Question- Division of powers and independent Judiciary are the two important features of

  • A. Unitary form of government
  • B. Democratic form of government
  • C. Federal form of government
  • D. Socialist form of government

Answer - C. Federal form of government

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Make in IndiaDholavira
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FAQs on Separation of Powers

  • Separation of powers refers to the division of authorities, responsibilities, and powers between groups of Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary bodies rather than being centrally held.

  • Initially, the concept of separation of powers was introduced by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE. This concept was followed by the Ancient Roman Republic as well. However, later, this idea was developed by a French philosopher named Monstesquieu in the 18th-century.

  • In order to maintain the equity of powers among the three bodies, a system of checks and balances has been put in place. This system of checks and balances justifies the judicial power to strike down any unconstitutional laws passed by the legislature thus ensuring that one body doesn’t become too powerful among all. 

  • Following Articles of the Indian Constitution aids the Separation of powers:

    • Article 50
    • Article 53 and Article 154
    • Article 122 and 212
    • Article 121 and 211
    • Article 361

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