The changing Constitution since Independence

As India celebrates its 75th Independence Day, the Opposition has touted itself as the ‘protector of the Constitution’ and the fundamental identity of India.

August 15, 2022 04:50 pm | Updated August 23, 2022 11:52 am IST

Representational image with the Indian Constitution

Representational image with the Indian Constitution | Photo Credit: Lakshmiprasad S

The current ruling BJP government and India’s longest-ruling party — Congress — are engaged in shows of patriotism ahead of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (the platinum jubilee of Independence.) While the Centre has launched the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ movement to instil nationalism and patriotism in Indian youth, Congress has called for the ‘Azadi Ka Gaurav Yatra’ (Independence Pride March) – asserting that it would restore constitutional rule in India if voted to power.

With India’s constitutional values being hotly debated, here is a look at major amendments made to the Indian Constitution since Independence. To date, there are 105 amendments made by the Parliament to the original 395 articles of the Constitution.

First Amendment

Passed under India’s first Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951, the first amendment to the Constitution altered articles 15, 15 (3), 46, 341, 342, 372 and 376, empowering States to ‘make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes’.

Post the Amendment, the state is prevented from enacting laws curbing citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and to practise any trade, occupation or business. It also prevents States from making laws permitting them to acquire any citizen’s estate. The amendment also added a ninth schedule to the Constitution, listing a number of State laws which cannot be challenged in courts.

But, the amendment also introduced three new exceptions to the right to free speech. Now, citizens did not have the right to speak freely if their words imperilled “public order”, incited the commission of an offence, or affected “friendly relations with foreign States”.

Other changes brought in by this amendment are - empowering the President/Governor to summon or prorogue each House for a session in an interval of less than six months, disallowing judges who are not Indian citizens from being appointed as Chief Justices of any High Court or judges of any other court and disallowing the President from modifying any law within three years from the commencement of the Constitution.

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, delivers his famous 'Tryst with Destiny' speech on August 15, 1947 at Parliament House in New Delhi.

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, delivers his famous "Tryst with Destiny" speech on August 15, 1947 at Parliament House in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: STR

Fourth and Twenty-fifth Amendment

Passed by the Nehru government in 1955, the fourth amendment alters articles 31, 31A, 305 and the ninth schedule of the Constitution, ratifying citizens’ right to property. It states that no property shall be compulsorily acquired by the state or a state-owned corporation unless it is for a public purpose and by authority of a law which provides for compensation.

However, the twenty-fifth amendment passed in 1975 adds several caveats to the fourth amendment restricting land acquisition. It allows the state to compulsorily acquire land of an educational institution administered by a minority if a proper amount of compensation is fixed.

In another landmark step, the right to property as a fundamental right under Article 31 was omitted by Parliament via the forty-fourth Amendment in 1978 - making it a constitutional right instead.

Seventh Amendment

, In 1956, the Nehru government passed the seventh amendment which abolished the distribution of States into classes A, B, C and D, and introduced the Union territories of India.

This Act listed out all the states — Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Mysore, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir— and divided them on a linguistic basis as per the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. It also specified the boundaries of each of these States and what territories they incorporated.

The Act also created six Union territories – Delhi, Himachal, Manipur, Tripura, Andaman and Laccadive— and specified their boundaries under their respective Chief Commissioner’s Province.

Moreover, the Act split up 220 seats between the States and Union territories in the Rajya Sabha – Andhra Pradesh (18), Assam (7), Bihar (22), Bombay (27), Kerala (9), Madhya Pradesh (16), Madras (17), Mysore (12), Orissa (10), Punjab(11), Rajasthan (10), Uttar Pradesh (34), West Bengal (16), Jammu and Kashmir (4), Delhi (3), Himachal Pradesh (2), Manipur (1) and Tripura (1).

The Act also fixed the number of representatives elected to the Lok Sabha at 500 from States and 20 from the Union territories. The number of seats for each State was fixed in such manner that the ratio between the population of each constituency and the number of seats allotted was same throughout the State. Similar limits were applied to State legislatures too – fixing 500 as the upper limit for the House and 60 for the Council. It also empowered the President with powers of administration of Union territories via a Governor

Other clauses in the Act included – disallowing the appointment of the same person as Governor for two or more States, fixing sixty as the upper age limit for Chief Justices and additional judges of High Courts, disallowing permanent judges of High Courts from practising except in the Supreme Court and the other High Courts, fixing salaries of judges, providing for the annual payment to certain Devaswom Funds, and empowering States and the Union government to carry out trade, make contracts and hold/dispose of properties.

Fifty-second & Ninety-first amendment

Cracking down on political defections, the Rajiv Gandhi government passed the fifty-second amendment in 1985, which disqualified a member of either House of Parliament, Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a State under provisions of the Tenth Schedule. This schedule disqualified elected members if –

  • he has voluntarily given up his membership of his political party
  • he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs
  • he joins any other political party after his election to any House
  • A nominated member of either House shall be disqualified if he joins any political party after the expiry of six months from the date on which he takes his seat

Disqualification on grounds of defection was not applicable in case of a split, that is, if members of a party claim to represent a faction comprising not less than one-third of the members of such legislature party; or if a member’s original party merges with another political party with at least two-thirds of the members agreeing to such a merger.

This Act was further strengthened by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003 with the ninety-first amendment, which stated that any disqualified member cannot hold any remunerative political post from his disqualification date to the expiry of his office term or the date on which he is re-elected to a House, whichever is earlier.

The ninety-first amendment also fixed the total number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, in the Council of Ministers to 15 per cent of the Lok Sabha’s strength. A similar limit was applied to State cabinets too.

Sixty-first amendment

Passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988, the sixty-first amendment reduced the voting age from 21 years to 18 years, making the right to vote a constitutional right.

101st amendment

Considered to be the biggest constitutional change in Indian polity in modern times, the Narendra Modi government in 2016 passed the 101st amendment, altering article 246 to empower the Parliament to make laws with respect to goods and services tax (GST) in inter-State trade or commerce, while State legislatures can make laws with respect to goods and services tax imposed by the Union or any State.

Under Article 246, the Union government was restricted to making laws in matters enumerated in List I in the Seventh Schedule – i.e. the Union list— while the State legislature was empowered to make laws enumerated in List III in the Seventh Schedule – i.e. the Concurrent list.

Amending articles 246, 248, 249, 250, 254, 268, 269, 270, and 271, this Act constituted the Goods and Services Tax Council— headed by the Union Finance Minister and having the Union Minister of State Revenue/Finance and Finance/Taxation Minister of each State government as members. This Council makes recommendations to the Union government and the States on –

  • taxes, cesses and surcharges levied by the Union, the States and the local bodies to be subsumed under GST
  • goods and services to be subjected or exempted from GST
  • Goods and Services Tax Laws
  • Threshold limit of turnover for exemptions from GST
  • floor rates with bands of GST and other special rates
  • date on which GST be levied on petroleum crude, high speed diesel, petrol, natural gas and aviation turbine fuel.

The Act also states that every decision of the GST council shall be taken as per the majority of not less than three-fourths of the weighted votes cast– the vote of the Central government has the weightage of one-third weightage of the total votes cast and the votes of all State governments taken together have a weightage of two-thirds of the total. This Council also establishes the mechanism for disputes between the Union government and any State/s or between two States.

Per the amended provision, Parliament is empowered to provide for compensation to the States for loss of revenue due to the implementation of GST, if the GST Council so recommends.

States can either repeal State tax laws inconsistent with these provisions, or they will no longer be in force a year after the amendment.

103rd Amendment

Three years later in 2019, the Modi government also passed the 103rd amendment allotting a maximum of 10 per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of citizens who do not fall under clauses (4) and (5) of Article 15 i.e - socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC), Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). This definition for EWS quota has been challenged in the Supreme Court which is set to hear the pleas soon.

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