The Constitution was written and enacted on 26th November, 1949. The Indian Constitution, the longest written constitution in the world was written with great detail and clarity by the Constitution makers. They ensured that the constitution was flexible enough to accommodate the changes and improvements in the future. The Constitution has been amended several times since, and as of 2019 has 103 Constitutional Amendments. Amending the Constitution is not an easy procedure, that is what gives strength and authority to it. But, it is also crucial that the Constitution adapts to the changing needs of the time. Here are listed some of the major Constitutional Amendments:
- The Constitution( First Amendment) Act, 1951 – Protecting Legislation from Judicial Review
Just a year after the Constitution was enacted, the parliament passed the first amendment in June, 1951. This amendment set a precedent for legislative action against overcoming judicial pronouncements to implement government policies and plans. The government was not able to push through agrarian and land reforms because of the pending court cases, therefore it brought in this constitutional amendment to protect land reform laws and other legislations from judicial reforms. It inserted the Ninth schedule in the Constitution to include all the legislations it wanted to protect from judicial review. It put reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights, and added 3 additional restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression, such as public order, friendly relations with foreign states and incitement to an offence.
After this amendment, laws included in the 9th schedule became outside the scope of judicial review. The Act empowered the State to fulfill the Directive Principles such as promoting equitable distribution of wealth and ensuring social welfare. But, it vested enormous power with the State regarding acquisition of land and nationalisation of industries. The government has at times misused this excessive power by pushing in legislations under the 9th schedule to save them from judicial scrutiny.
- The Constitution( 7th amendment) Act, 1956 – Reorganisation of States on Linguistic Basis
This was one of the major reforms regarding reorganisation of states and boundaries. It abolished classification of states into classes and introduced Union Territories. It completely revised the boundaries of states as set in the First schedule and reorganised the states on linguistic basis. The Fourth schedule which deals with the allocation of seats for Council of States( Rajya Sabha) was also revised under this amendment.
- The Constitution( 24th amendment) Act, 1971 – Giving Parliament Absolute Power to Amend Constitution
The amendment overruled the verdict of the Supreme Court in the Golaknath case, where it was held that Parliament cannot amend fundamental rights, ie Part III of the Indian Constitution under any circumstances. After this judgement, the Parliament considered it necessary to expressly declare its power to be able to amend any part or provision of the constitution including Part III. It restored the State’s absolute power to amend the constitution.
It amended Article 13 (which defines law) of the Constitution and made it inapplicable to the Constitutional amendments passed by the Parliament under Article 368. It also made the President duty bound to give assent to a bill, when members of both Houses have passed it. This meant that the Courts will not have the power to review Constitutional Amendments. The Amendment aimed at strengthening the power and authority of the legislature over the judiciary. This power of the Parliament was later reduced and balanced.
- The Constitution (42nd amendment) Act, 1976 – The Mini Constitution
This is one of the most comprehensive and important constitutional amendments so much so that this amendment act in itself is called the mini-constitution. Indira Gandhi’s government tried to push in a lot of changes and revisions through this amendment such as:
- It inserted the words ‘Socialist’, ‘Secular’, and ‘Unity and integrity of the nation’ in the Preamble
- It gave preponderance to Directive Principles over Fundamental Rights.
- It inserted Article 51A to incorporate fundamental duties in the Indian Constitution. (Inspired from the erstwhile USSR Constitution)
- It gave power to the President to declare emergency (under Article 352) in any part of the country.
- It put limits on the power of judiciary by inserting Article 132B and increased the terms of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.
The main purpose of this Act was to strengthen the power of the state, giving it more legislative freedom against judiciary. It gave primacy to Directive Principles over fundamental rights, increasing State’s power to pass reforms in public welfare and on socialistic principles. It also attacked the federal structure of our Constitution and tried to Centralize authority. It is through this Amendment Act that Indira Gandhi had the machinery to proclaim the infamous National Emergency in 1976. Most of the arbitrary, unconstitutional and obnoxious provisions of the amendment were later removed or altered through subsequent amendments.
- The Constitution (52nd Amendment)Act, 1985 – Controlling Defection
The government through this amendment tried to address the problem of defectors and migrators in political parties, an issue which became problematic after the 1967 elections. Through the 52nd amendment, a provision for disqualification of ministers on ground of defection was introduced in the 10th schedule of the Constitution. The problem of defection has still not been solved even after the 91st amendment where the parliament tried to introduce stricter laws.
- The Constitution (61st Amendment) Act, 1988 – Reducing Voting Age
This amendment was a positive step towards promoting Universal Adult Franchise, as it lowered the voting age to 18 years from 21 years for elections. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said that through this act, the government expressed its full faith in the youth of the country.
- The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 – Introducing Local Self Government
This amendment was passed by the government as an attempt to decentralize power and promote local self-government as per Gandhian principles(enumerated in Part IV of the Constitution). The amendment introduced the system of Panchayati Raj as a local self-government in Part IX of the Constitution. The act provides for creation of Gram Sabha, reservation of seats for SCs & STs in proportion and reservation of 1/3rd of seats for Women in the institutions. It was enumerated in 11th Schedule and Article 243A of the Constitution. This was done by the government to promote Decentralisation of powers in the country for greater autonomy and efficiency in governance.
- The Constitution (86th Amendment)Act, 2002 – Providing Right to Education
One of the most important amendments, it provided for free and compulsory education to all children. The government realised its role in providing compulsory elementary education to all children and is responsible for the same. It introduced Article 21A (fundamental right) which made right to free and compulsory education a fundamental right for children aged 9 to 14. The government directed private schools to take 25% of their class strength from economically weaker or disadvantaged groups of society through a random selection process with the help of the government funding. It also laid emphasis on Local and State governments to ensure its proper implementation.
It also amended Article 51A and Article 45 by introducing provisions for providing education, care and support to children in Part IV(DPSP) and in Article 51A (fundamental duty) of parents towards their children.
- The Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016 – Goods and Service Tax
The Act introduces Goods and Service Tax(GST) as a comprehensive, multistage indirect tax regime. GST was a revolutionary step for tax reforms in the country. It did away with the system of multiple and varied taxes. The consumers will now be subjected to only a single tax in the form of GST. All the taxes imposed will include both Central Government’s (CGST) and State government’s (SGST) share. It amended the sixth and seventh schedule of the Constitution and reformed the complete indirect taxation system. This was also an attempt to digitise and formalise the economy by the government. It is intended to relax and ease the pressure of taxation on consumers and tax collection on producers.
- The Constitution(103rd Amendment) Act, 2019 – Reservation on Economic Grounds
The amendment passed by the Narendra Modi government makes a distinctive change in the reservation system of the country. It provides for 10% reservation in public offices, educational institutions, etc. to the economically weaker section irrespective of their caste or religion. The Act amended Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution to introduce this new criterion for reservation. The Constitution never provided for reservation on economic grounds, therefore this was a major change. The amendment attempts to promote the interests of the economically weaker sections of the society and providing them support for development. The amendment has been challenged in courts, as it exceeds the 50% cap for reservation provided by the Supreme Court.