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Issue No 34, 20-26 November 2021

Of The People, For The People, By The People Constitution Day

26 November marks Constitution Day, also known as 'Samvidhan Divas'. Starting 2015, this day is observed every year to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution of India and to promote Constitution values among citizens.

The Indian Constitution, the longest of any sovereign nation in the world, provides a comprehensive framework to guide and govern the country, keeping in view her social, cultural and religious diversity. It establishes the main organs - executive, legislature and judiciary, defining their powers, demarcating their responsibilities and regulating the inter-se relationship. It inter alia lays down the basic structure of governance and the relationship between the government and the people.

The Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950 after 2 years 11 months and 18 days of hardwork.

Formation of the Constitution

The Constitution of India was framed by a Constituent Assembly set up under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. Its members were chosen by indirect election by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, according to the scheme recommended by the Cabinet Mission. The arrangement was:

(i)  292 members were elected through the Provincial Legislative Assemblies

(ii)  93 members represented the Indian Princely States

(iii)  4 members represented the Chief Commissioners' Provinces.

The total membership of the Assembly thus was to be 389. However, as a result of the partition under the Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947, a separate Constituent Assembly was set up for Pakistan and representatives of some Provinces ceased to be members of the Assembly. As a result, the membership of the Assembly was reduced to 299.

The Constituent Assembly met for the first time in New Delhi on December 9, 1946 in the Constitution Hall which is now known as the Central Hall of Parliament House, and elected Dr Sachhidan Sinha, the oldest member of the Assembly as the Provisional President. On December 11, 1946, the Assembly elected Dr Rajendra Prasad as its permanent Chairman.

On August 29, 1947, the Constituent Assembly set up 13 committees for framing the Constitution which provides a comprehensive and dynamic framework to guide and govern the country, including a Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. On the basis of the reports prepared by these committees, a draft of the Constitution was prepared by a seven-member Drafting Committee.

 During this period, it held eleven sessions covering a total of 165 days. Of these, 114 days were spent on the consideration of the Draft Constitution. While deliberating upon the draft Constitution, the Assembly moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635 tabled.

The Constitution of India was adopted on November 26, 1949 and the Hon'ble members appended their signatures to it on January 24, 1950. In all, 284 members actually signed the Constitution. The Constitution of India came into force on January 26, 1950. On that day, the Assembly ceased to exist, transforming itself into the Provisional Parliament of India until a new Parliament was constituted in 1952.

Fundamental Rights and Duties

 The people of India are the ultimate custodians of the Constitution. It is in them that sovereignty vests and it is in their name that the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution empowers the citizen, but the citizens too empower the Constitution - by following it, by adhering to it, by protecting it, and by persevering to make it more meaningful with words and deeds.

The Constitution makes it mandatory to protect and promote freedoms, and to assure every citizen a decent standard of living. It makes a strong commitment to promoting the wellbeing of all citizens without any discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, community or gender. Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to Indian citizens. While these fundamental rights are universal, the Constitution provides for some exceptions and restrictions.

 When the Constitution was adopted, there were no provisions regarding Fundamental Duties to the Citizens. The Fundamental Duties of citizens were added to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, upon the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee that was constituted by the Government. The Committee suggested that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the individual did not overlook his duties while in the exercise of his Fundamental Rights.

 By way of the 42nd Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1976, a Code of Ten Fundamental Duties for citizens was added. Fundamental duties are intended to serve as a constant reminder to every citizen that while the constitution specifically conferred on them certain Fundamental Rights, it also requires citizens to observe certain basic norms of democratic conduct because rights and duties are correlative. The inclusion of Fundamental Duties brought our Constitution in line with Article 29 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with provisions in several modern Constitutions of other countries.

The Fundamental duties are essentially taken from the Indian tradition, mythology, religions and practices. Essentially these were the duties that are the codification of tasks integral to the Indian way of life. Originally ten fundamental duties were listed. Later on, by virtue of 86th Constitution Amendment in the year 2002, 11th duty was added.

 AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION

One of the features of the Constitution is that it is neither rigid nor flexible. India adopted the combination of the 'theory of fundamental law', which underlies the written Constitution of the United States with the 'theory of parliamentary sovereignty' as in the United Kingdom, the Constitution of India vests constituent power upon the Parliament subject to the special procedure laid down therein.

The Constitution of India provides for three categories of amendments. Firstly, those that can be effected by Parliament by a simple majority such as that required for the passing of any ordinary law. Secondly, those amendments that can be effected by Parliament by a prescribed 'special majority'; and Thirdly, those that require, in addition to such 'special majority', ratification by at least one half of the State Legislatures. The last two categories being governed by Article 368, which is the specific provision in the Constitution dealing with the power and the procedure for the amendment of the Constitution.

 Modernisation of a Constitution and amending it as per the situation is essential in a democracy to protect the rights of citizens and to ensure that no injustice happens. These factors have made our Constitution a living document rather than a closed and static rulebook. On the journey of making the Indian Constitution modern, our constitution was amended on May 10, 1951 for the first time adding special provisions for the socially economically and educationally backward population of the country.

 The original text of the Constitution contained 395 articles in 22 parts and eight schedules. The number of articles has since increased to 470 due to 105 amendments. Some of the important amendments have been as follows:

24th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1971

According to this amendment, "Parliament may in exercise of its constituent power amend by way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of this Constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in this article" (Article 368).

 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976

This amendment proposed to amend the Preamble to spell out expressly the words "SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC" in place of "SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC" and replace "unity of the Nation" with "unity and integrity of the Nation". It also proposed to specify the fundamental duties of the citizens and make special provisions for dealing with anti-national activities, whether by individuals or associations.

44th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1978

 Since the Right to Property created a lot of problems in the way of attaining the goal of socialism and equitable distribution of wealth, under this amendment, the Right ceased to be a fundamental right. However, it was given express recognition as a legal right with the provision that no person shall be deprived of his property save in accordance with law. 61st Constitutional Amendment Act, 1988 This amendment brought a change in the voting age in India bringing it down from 21 years to 18 years.

61st Constitutional Amendment Act, 1988

This amendment brought a change in the voting age in India bringing it down from 21 years to 18 years.

73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992

This amendment proposed to add a new Part relating to Panchayats in the Constitution to provide for among other things, Gram Sabha in a village or group of villages; constitution of Panchayats at village and other level(s); direct elections to all seats in Panchayats at the village and intermediate level, if any; reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population for membership of Panchayats and office of Chairpersons in Panchayats at each level; and reservation of not less than one-third of the seats for women.

86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002

A new article 21A was inserted below Article 21 which made Right to Education a Fundamental Right for children in the range of 6-14 years. The article reads:

 “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine." A new Fundamental Duty under Article 51 A was added - " It shall be the duty of every citizen of India who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or ward between the age of six and fourteen years."

101st Constitutional Amendment Act, 2017

This amendment made provision for the Goods and Services Tax to be levied on supplies in the course of InterState trade or commerce which would be collected by the Government of India and be apportioned between the Union and the States in the manner provided by Parliament by law on the recommendations of the Goods and Services Tax Council.

103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019
Under this amendment, special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections (EWS) citizens related to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State was created by way of 10 per cent reservation.

(Compiled by Annesha Banerjee & Anuja Bhardwajan)

 Source: Lok Sabha/DESL/NIOS/ NCERT