A response in an earlier era

Print edition : September 23, 2005

Jawaharlal Nehru. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

LEGISLATION as a response and a corrective to a Supreme Court judgment - seen by the political class as a regressive one - is not new. Indeed, the very first amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 1951, included a provision to ensure reservation in educational institutions, following a judgment of the Supreme Court.

In State of Madras v.Champakam Dorairajan, the Supreme Court struck down a Madras government order that had fixed the proportion of students from various communities, including the Scheduled Castes, who could be admitted to the State's medical and engineering colleges. The object was to help the backward classes. The Supreme Court held that the Directive Principles of state policy had to conform to and run as subsidiary to the chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Constitution, because the latter were enforceable in the courts, whereas the Directive Principles were not.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, while introducing the First Amendment Bill in Parliament, on May 21, 1951, said: "So far as the interpretation of the Constitution is concerned, it is the right and privilege of the highest court of the land to do it, and it is not for us as individuals or even as a government to challenge that right... . But it becomes our business as Parliament to see whether the purpose we aimed at is fulfilled, because if it is not fulfilled, then the will of the community does not take effect. Therefore, while fully respecting what the courts of the land have laid down and obeying their decisions, nevertheless it becomes our duty to see whether the Constitution so interpreted, was rightly framed and whether it is desirable to change it here and there so as to give effect to what really in our opinion was intended or should be intended."

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.-

While moving Clause 2 of the First Amendment Bill amending Article 15, the Law Minister, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, said in Parliament on May 18, 1951, that he found the Supreme Court judgments in the Champakam case and in another case, in which it had held Article 16 (4) to be discriminatory, utterly unsatisfactory. Article 16 (4) enabled the state to make provisions for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens.

When Ambedkar's remark drew protests from other Members and from the Chair, Ambedkar apologised, but added: "I have often in the course of my practice told the presiding Judge in very emphatic terms that I am bound to obey his judgment, but I am not bound to respect it. That is the liberty which every lawyer brings in telling the Judge that his judgment is wrong and I am not prepared to give up that liberty. Under Article 46, an obligation has been laid upon the government to do everything possible in order to promote the welfare and the interest of weaker sections of the public... . I cannot see how one can escape an amendment so as to prevent Article 29(2) and Article 16(4) being interpreted in a way in which it has been interpreted to block the advancement of the people who are spoken of as the weaker class. That is the necessity for amending Article 15."

The First Amendment, enacted in 1951, in subsequent years even led to a change in the attitude of the Supreme Court to such issues. Justice S.R. Das, who wrote the Champakam judgment, spoke of harmony between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles later when he became the Chief Justice of India. In the Minerva Mills case (1980), the Supreme Court held that harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles was an essential feature of the basic structure of the Constitution.

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