Dr. Ambedkar described the role of the President of India thus:
The constituent assembly debate on this clause clarifies this, as some of the excerpts show:
H. V. Kamath: I move: “That in the proposed clause (1) of article 42 in amendment No. 418 of List XVIII, the ‘either directly or through officers subordinate to him’ be deleted.”
H. V. Kamath: Sir, while this article was under discussion, it was made clear that the President would not exercise his executive power personally or directly, but certainly only in accordance with the Constitution. The President is only the symbol of executive authority. It does not mean that he will sit in Delhi and order the arrest of so and so and things like that. The Ministers or officers working with him or under him will exercise the executive power in accordance with the Constitution and the law. I fail to see why my honourable Friends Dr. Ambedkar and Shri T. T. Krishnamachari, with the acumen that they possess, still feel it necessary to bring in an amendment of this nature. This is redundant and I submit to the House that the words beginning with “either” and ending with “him” may be deleted, so that the article will read as follows:– “The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”
H. V. Kamath: That is sufficient for our purpose.
Mr. President: I was going to call upon Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar to explain the position. But before doing so, I want to put him one question which strikes me also. It is said, ‘through officers subordinate to him’. Does it mean that it is contemplated that the President will have officers in the provinces on behalf of the Union, or does it mean that there will be only provincial officers who will act as subordinates to the President? Is it contemplated, as in America, to have two separate sets of officers, one belonging to the Union and the other belonging to the provinces?
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: In regard to purely federal Subjects you can have purely federal official agency; but in regard to concurrent subjects you can utilise the provincial agencies. If the Federal Government is not satisfied with the provincial agencies, the Constitution provides that the Federal Government may have its own agency in regard to concurrent subjects. It is only in regard to provincial subjects that the entire provincial agency is entrusted with the task. There you use the officers subordinate to you, though they may not be directly subordinate. There is power of intervention even when the provincial agency is utilised. Inasmuch as it is for the enforcement of the Federal subjects, he will have the right to utilise the provincial agency.
Shibban Lal Saxena: Sir, the question is, if this amendment is not made, what harm would accrue? If I see it from that point of view, I think that this amendment is not only redundant, but it is positively injurious. In fact, nobody thought so far that this article 42 was incomplete. It says that the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and may be exercised by him in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Now the amendment says that that power shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him. Is it necessary? ...
N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar: Sir, I feel some difficulty in appreciating the objection which has been raised to this particular amendment. Article 42 says that the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President. We all know or lots of powers which are vested in the President but actually he does not exercise those powers. He simply exercise them at the dictation of other people who are responsible to the legislature. That is point number One which I should like the House to appreciate.
N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar: The Second thing is that the Constitution itself contemplates that executive action, which is really the exercise of executive power cannot as a matter of fact be done by the President directly. Look at article 64(1). It says: “All executive action of the Government of India shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the President.” (Note: This is now in Article 77 of the indian constitution).
N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar: So, the actualities of the case require that in innumerable matters the Constitution or the law vests the power in the President, but the actual exercise of it is to be left to other people who are held to be responsible to him. No doubt, he takes the responsibility for action taken by these officers. It is impossible as a matter of practical administration for the President to exercise all the powers that are vested in him by the Constitution. Take, for instance, even the powers which relate to the exercise of his functions in relation to legislation. On a number of matters, for instance, the power of summoning the Assembly, dissolving the Assembly and so on, he takes action, but the exercise of that power is on the advice of his constitutional advisers. And in the ordinary course he cannot really exercise all the powers that are vested in him. What is the objection to his asking officers subordinate to him, who owe responsibility to him, to exercise such powers? As it is absolutely unnecessary for him even to look at them before those orders issue, we ought to give him the latitude to select such officers in whom he can have confidence and who may be trusted to exercise this power.
H. V. Kamath: Is not the purpose that my Friend Mr. Gopalaswami Ayyangar has in view sufficiently met by the phrase “in accordance with the Constitution and the law?” Whatever is delegated to other persons or agents will be done by the President in accordance with the Constitution and the Law.
N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar: In that case we shall have to go to Parliament for a law in every case he wants to authorise an officer to do so. But if Parliament can authorise it, why not the Constitution do so ?
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: So far as the general executive power is concerned, it is vested in the President. So far as the responsibility for carrying on the executive administration is concerned it is vested in the Ministers. So far as the question of utilisation of official agencies is concerned, it is implicit in the very foundation of the Constitution. I should think that even under a provision as it stands without the amendment, it would be perfectly competent for the President to institute any official agency, though the ultimate responsibility for the acts of any official agency, would be that of the President advised by his Cabinet ...
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: ... Therefore, I submit, Sir, that in making quite clear what is implicit, there is nothing wrong. “Official” is the word used there. Whatever objection you may have in regard to the Government of India Act of 1935, generally, there can be no objection to adopting this wording here. I would also go further and urge the necessity for such a provision from a constitutional point of view. The question as to the exact extent to which the President can delegate his function has been debated in America. If, for example a power is vested in the President, questions might arise as to whether it is possible at all to delegate his authority or whether in every case issue should come up before the President. We are told that in fact nearly 2,000 signatures have to be obtained form the President almost every day so far as the presidential system is concerned. That has been pointed out recently in a book published in regard to the American Constitution as to the necessity of Presidential signature in regard to very many Acts of which he may know nothing.
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: Therefore, we have to divorce these two questions: the question of the ultimate responsibility and the question of the particular agency which may be employed in the working of any governmental institution or any structure. Therefore, a statute might provide that a particular agency may carry out orders. Even there it does not mean that the Government of the country is not responsible for the proper functioning of the statutory agency. The agency may be a statutory agency or it may be an administrative agency. In all these cases there is nothing to prevent the executive from employing any particular official agency; by putting in the word “officers” all the theory of delegation which has loomed large in the American Constitution will be set at rest.
H. V. Kamath: It is a stupid provision.
Mr. President: I will put this to vote. Mr. Kamath’s amendment is really a negative of this.
H. V. Kamath: No, Sir.
Mr. President: Very well, I will put yours to vote first. The question is: “That in amendment No. 418, in the proposed clause 1 of article 42, the words ‘either directly or through officers subordinate to him’ be deleted.” The amendment was negatived.
Mr. President: Then, I will put the proposition moved by Mr. Krishnamachari. The question is: “That in clause (1) of article 42, for the words ‘may be exercised by him’ the words ‘shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him’ be substituted.” The amendment was adopted.