King’s Constitution

Print edition : August 05, 2016
On the similarities of the Constitutions of princely Tripura and India.

IN 1939, Majaraja Manikya Bir Bikram Kishore Dev Barman, the last ruler of the princely State of Tripura, promised his subjects a Constitution. A committee of experts was formed, and the Constitution of Tripura came into force in July 1941. Commentaries on Constitution of Princely Tripura State by Sankari Das is an important book for any researcher or student interested in the history of the hilly State of Tripura.

A striking feature of the book is that it highlights the fact that the conception of a modern constitution took root in Tripura while it was still a princely State. The Constitution came into force when India was still under British rule and nine years before India’s own Constitution came into effect. When India’s independence became imminent, the king of Tripura decided to become a part of the Indian Union. On September 9, 1949, the Regent Maharani Kanchan Prava Devi (the king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya having died in 1947 and his son and heir still a minor) and the Government of India signed an agreement for the merger of Tripura.

Interestingly, the Constitution of Tripura provided for separation of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, even though it was a monarchy. Executive authority lay with the king, but the Legislative Assembly, or the Vyavasthapak Sava, could make laws for the whole State, though there were certain limitations on its powers. The judiciary was kept separate, with the king as the ultimate appellate authority. One of the most striking features of the Tripura Constitution was the Privy Council, or Raj Sava, established to advise and assist the king in matters relating to judicial appeals.

The author points out remarkable similarities between the Tripura Constitution and the Indian Constitution. For example, Section 11(b) of the Tripura Constitution, which provides for the activities of the Council of Ministers, states: “The Mantri-Parishad (Council of Ministers) shall consist of a Chief Minister and not more than four other Ministers as his colleagues whose actual number shall be specified by His Highness from time to time in his discretion.” The author points to what she calls the “Parallel provision” in Article 163 (1) of the Indian Constitution, which says that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except insofar as he is by or under this Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion.

The Tripura Constitution also imposed restrictions on the legislature, laying down that no member shall have the power to “move, introduce, interpellate on, or otherwise discuss any matter affecting or relating to the ruling family of Tripura (including the ruler’s near relations) or the personal affairs of the Ruler of Tripura or any other Indian state; the military forces of the state; the Civil List of the Ruler and his household; matters governed by treaties and conventions, and other clauses”. Interestingly, the list also included “the conduct of any judge of the High Court in the discharge of his duties”. The author points out the parallel provisions in the Indian Constitution, where Article 211 clearly states: “No discussion shall take place in the Legislature of a State with respect to the conduct of any judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in discharge of his duties.”

The book also points out the common privileges guaranteed to the members of the Legislative Assembly by the two constitutions—the most important privilege being freedom of speech while performing legislative duties. Both constitutions grant immunity to a member from any proceedings in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislative Assembly.

Though separated by almost a decade, the author observes in conclusion, “many provisions of the Indian Constitution look like a replica of the provisions of the Constitution of Princely Tripura—the purpose is same, even words are same”. It is worth noting that the framers of both the constitutions had drawn upon the same sources and hence the similarities.

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