Our Indian constitution is a sacred book shaped by the efforts of some of the most prominent people involved in our freedom struggle. We owe it to our founding fathers for upholding the spirit of democracy by bringing in that sacred book with utmost consideration and deliberation. It took 2 years, 11 months and 17 days to complete the drafting of the constitution and even then, it was made with the consideration that some aspects of the constitution may not be relevant in the coming years. Thus, by providing a constitution that is rigid but at the very same time flexible, they laid down the foundation of constitutional amendments. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once stated in the constituent assembly:
“While we want this Constitution to be as solid and as permanent a structure as we can make it, nevertheless there is no permanence in Constitutions. There should be a certain flexibility. If you make anything rigid and permanent, you stop a nation’s growth, the growth of a living, vital, organic people. Therefore, it has to be flexible.… In any event, we should not make a Constitution, such as some other great countries have, which are so rigid that they do not and cannot be adapted easily to changing conditions. Today especially, when the world is in turmoil and we are passing through a very swift period of transition, what we may do today may not be wholly applicable tomorrow. Therefore, while we make a Constitution which is sound and as basic as we can, it should also be flexible….”
Thus, one can understand what was in the minds of these people when it came to constitutional amendments. But what were the reasons that led to India’s first constitutional amendment? What were the aspects of the constitution that were felt to be needing a change?
STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS
According to the statement of Objects and Reasons which was given for the Constitution (First Amendment) Bill, 1951 which enacted the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, some challenges were being faced in regard to some of the judicial decisions and pronouncements, especially concerning the fundamental rights. In many cases, the right to freedom of speech and expression were being taken for granted as the courts were not considering the guilt of a person even if he advocates murder or other crimes on the pretext of their right to speech and expression. Hence, they felt that this fundamental right needs to be regulated and some reasonable restrictions are needed to be imposed. They stated the example of other countries in saying that, in the constitutions of other countries ‘the freedom of speech and of the press is not regarded as debarring the State from punishing or preventing abuse of this freedom.’ Thus they felt the need to include this idea of the state being able to impose some reasonable restrictions “in the interests of the general public” in the constitution.
It was also stated that “ Another article in regard to which unanticipated difficulties have arisen is article 31. The validity of agrarian reform measures passed by the State Legislatures in the last three years has, in spite of the provisions of clauses (4) and (6) of article 31, formed the subject-matter of dilatory litigation, as a result of which the implementation of these important measures, affecting large numbers of people, has been held up.”
Thus, the main objective to introduce this bill was to amend article 19 and to bring in some extra provisions for securing the constitutional validity of zamindari abolition laws in general and certain specified State Acts in particular.
However, some other changes were also suggested-
“It is laid down in article 46 as a directive principle of State policy that the State should promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and protect them from social injustice. In order that any special provision that the State may make for the educational, economic or social advancement of any backward class of citizens may not be challenged on the ground of being discriminatory, it is proposed that Article 15(3) should be suitably amplified. Certain amendments in respect of articles dealing with the convening and proroguing of the sessions of Parliament have been found necessary and are also incorporated in this Bill. So also a few minor amendments in respect of articles 341, 342, 372 and 376.”
Firstly, there were some amendments made in Clause (2) of Article 15 by adding the words “or for the educational, economic or social advancement of any backward classes of citizens” at the end whose main purpose was to expand the scope of clause (3). The aim was to help the state in making the advancement of these classes by restricting the scope of challenges that can be made on the grounds of discrimination when any special provisions are given to them. And thus, clause (2) was modified and a new clause (4) was introduced.
With regard to changes made in Article 19(2), three new grounds of restrictions were included which were: Friendly relations with a foreign state, Public order and Incitement to offence and the ground of “tends to overthrow the State” was removed. The words “in the interests of the security of the State” was brought in place of “any matter which offends or undermines the security of the state”. While words like “libel, slander” was removed remaining only the specific word “defamation”, the general expression “reasonable restrictions” were to govern all these grounds and was made to be given retrospective effect. New grounds for restrictions on trade were also introduced by clause (6) of this Article.
Other than these, new Articles 31 A and 31 B were also inserted and Article 87, 176 and 376 were amended. Another significant feature of this act was the addition of a new Ninth Schedule in the constitution.
While the reasons cited for the introduction of the first amendment bill was given to be for the benefit of the people of India, there were many other assumptions made regarding this bill. The prominent one being political parties using the changes made through this amendment to strengthen their power and political standing in the legislature. Tripurdaman Singh in his book ‘Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment to The Constitution of India’ describes how the judiciary was proving to be a hurdle for the political parties at that time (Congress in particular) especially with cases such as Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi (1950) and Romesh Thappar v. The State of Madras (1950) where the judiciary struck down the restrictions on free speech which were being imposed on the citizens by the various statues introduced by the state. Thus by bringing in the first amendment bill and introducing changes such as the ninth schedule, they were able to support their political agendas, especially at a time when the elections were looming ahead.
The first amendment can be looked at from various different angles when it comes to the question of its validity or requirement at that point in time. While some believe it was a necessary step in the up-gradation of the constitution, others feel that it was just another attempt by some of the political figures to gain power. Whatever one might feel, one thing is for sure, this amendment was one of the most important changes made to the constitution which laid down the precedent for further such amendments in the future.
Aastha Verma, Christ University, Bangalore.