A hundred years ago Dec. 30, 1919 | Archives

The Reform Act.

(From an Editorial)

We Publish elsewhere extracts from the address of Sir P.S. Sivaswamy Iyer as President of the Moderates’ Conference and a fuller report of the portion of Pandit Motilal Nehru’s address as President of the Congress, relating to the Reform Act, so that the public may be able to judge for themselves as to which of the two views better appeals to the country. It will be noticed that one fundamental difference of opinion in regard to the Act is that relating to the Declaration of Rights. Pandit Motilal Nehru attaches the greatest importance to such a declaration, while Sir P.S. Sivaswamy Iyer assigns a very subordinate place to it and dismisses it in a few words stating that there is no no precedent for it in the Empire and that the restriction it will place on the powers of the Indian legislature will be inconsistent with our true goal. The question of the absence of precedent is examined clearly by Pandit Motilal Nehru and the conclusion he reaches regarding that point ought to be accepted by all clear-thinking men. In the first place, it is not the fact that there is no precedent. The latest pre-war Irish Home Rule Act contained provisions which were in the nature of a declaration of rights and which guaranteed that the civil liberties of the subject would not be unjustly and illegally interfered with. If there is any one feature of that British constitution which is more striking than another, it is the extraordinary power of adaptability that it exhibits; it is the least rigid of constitutions; and wherever a necessity for change based on experience is patent, its tendency is to invite that change and not to resist it. We do not suppose that Sir Sivaswamy Iyer or his party will deny that our past experience has shown the necessity for statutory protection and if the test of experience be in our favour, British constitutional precedents are also essentially in our favour. The Irish Home Rule Act clearly demonstrates that, Sir Sivaswamy Iyer’s second objection is equally futile. An addition of a clause constituting a declaration of rights in the Act need no more restrict the powers of the Indian legislature than the American Constitution does that of the Congress and the State Constitutions. And even if it does, we do not think the want of an omnipotent legislature will be seriously detrimental to the interests of the country. Sir Sivaswamy Iyer’s plea to preserve the powers of the Indian legislature unimpaired seems to be more or less based on sentimental considerations; but, in the nature of things, the Indian legislatures are subordinate, non-sovereign bodies and it will add little to their position, if they have what we consider the superfluous power of having arbitrary control over the life and liberty of the subject.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 2:24:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/archives/the-reform-act/article30426924.ece

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