Journal Articles

The End of the Separation of Powers

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Journal of Democracy

April 2, 2007

The Indian Supreme Court’s chief duty is to interpret and enforce the Constitution of 1950. Running to more than a hundred-thousand words in its English-language version, this document is the longest basic law of any of the world’s independent countries. It contains, at latest count, 444 articles and a dozen schedules. Since its original adoption, it has been amended more than a hundred times, and now fills about 250 printed pages. It is fair to say that the Supreme Court, operating under the aegis of this book-sized liberal constitution, has by and large played a significant and even pivotal role in sustaining India’s liberal-demo- cratic institutions and upholding the rule of law.1 The Court’s justices, who by law now number twenty-six, have over the years carved out an independent role for the Court in the matter of judicial appointments and transfers, upheld extensive judicial review of executive action, and even declared several constitutional amendments unconstitutional. The Court upon which they sit is one of the world’s most powerful judicial bodies, and yet precisely because of this its career has been and remains shadowed by irony and controversy, with implications for democracy that are both positive and problematic.