Salient features of the Constituent Assembly
Exactly 70 years ago the Constituent Assembly of India sat for the first time on December 9, 1946. Thus started a historical journey which saw India attainting independence, deciding on its national flag, national insignia, national anthem; and ultimately adoption of the Constitution which made our country a democratic republic. On this occasion, Down to Earth is putting together a special package in collaboration with Jana Vidhi Muhim, which is working on spreading constitutional literacy; especially on countering ignorance and misinformation. It is desirable that Constitution becomes accessible by common citizen and doesn’t just remain preserve of lawyers and scholars. We present this package with a hope that more and more people will realise that the Constitution is not a holy book but a functional manual.
SALIENT FEATURES OF CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY OF INDIA
- The Constituent Assembly of India came into existence as per the provisions of Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946. Its task was to formulate constitution/s for facilitating appropriate transfer of sovereign power from British authorities to Indian hands.
- The Assembly was to have proportional representation from existing provincial legislatures and from various princely states. Bulk of these elections was completed by the end of July 1946, under the supervision of Reforms Office under Governor General (Viceroy).
- The Assembly was to have three sections: Punjab & North-West, Bengal-Assam and Rest of India. The Constitutions were to be formulated for Indian Union, each Section and for each of the Provinces therein. The Muslim League, which had won bulk of the 80 Muslim seats and dominated two smaller Sections, chose not to participate so the Assembly never convened separately in sections.
- Assembly held 12 sessions, or rounds of sittings:
- December 9-23, 1946,
- January 20- 25, 1947,
- April 28- May 2, 1947,
- July 14- 31, 1947,
- August 14- 30, 1947,
- January 27, 1948,
- November 4, 1948-January 8, 1949,
- May 16- June 16, 1949,
- July 30-September 18, 1949,
- October 6-17, 1949,
- November 4-26, 1949,
- January 24, 1950.
- Membership of the Assembly kept varying for different reasons, other than resignation and death. Many public figures showed keenness to enter the Assembly but its membership was also denounced by certain groups like Muslim League, Communists and Socialists. These attitudes changed too. After passage of the Indian Independence Act by British Parliament it was decided that those members who wish to retain their seats in provincial legislature would vacate their seats in the Assembly. But several members of provincial legislature continued to come and partake in the Assembly until the provision against this was made in the Constitution itself. Biggest change in membership was caused by the declaration of Partition of India. Certain members like Dr. Ambedkar, who were elected from territories assigned to Dominion of Pakistan, lost their seats. Muslim League members elected from United Provinces, Bihar and elsewhere came to occupy their seats after partition. Such members were humiliated on many occasions and Patel even told them to go to Pakistan. After initial disinterest, the princely states started negotiating with a committee of the Assembly for their representation. Over a period, hundreds of princely states were grouped into larger associations and provisions were made for them to elect their representatives to the Assembly. Till the last day of the Assembly, new members kept joining in. Hyderabad did not send any representative till the end. The total number of people who sat as members of the Assembly at any time has not been calculated by any official or scholar. Records show that maximum membership towards the end of tenure of Assembly was 307.
- The Assembly took help of several non-members in formulation of the Constitution. Eminent public figures outside the Assembly were requested to work as members of committees formed by the Assembly for focused deliberations on specific features or segments.
- Much of constitution-making took place in these committees, both from procedural and substantive viewpoint. Till date, no official report has appeared in public domain on the exact number of committees formed by the Constituent Assembly. Resolutions were moved for setting up committees as and when the need arose, and adopted after discussion. Depending on swiftness of nomination or election of members of respective committees, their formal appointment took few hours, days or weeks from the adoption of resolution.
- Some of the known committees were:
- Organisational Committees
1.1- Rules of Procedure Committee (appointed on December 11, 1946. 15 members, Chairperson- Rajendra Prasad, ex-officio. Worked till 20 Dec. 1946)
1.2- Steering Committee (appointed on January 21, 1947. 19 members, Chairperson- Rajendra Prasad, ex-officio. Worked till the end.)
1.3- Staff and Finance Committee (appointed on December 23, 1946. 11 members, Chairperson- Rajendra Prasad, ex-officio. Worked till the end.)
1.4- Credentials Committee (appointed on December 23, 1946. 5 members, Chairperson- A.K. Ayyar. Worked till the end.
1.5- Order of Business Committee (appointed on January 25, 1947. 3 members, Chairperson- K.M. Munshi. Worked till July 14, 1947)
1.6- States (Negotiating) Committee (appointed on December 21, 1946. 6 members, Chairperson- J.L. Nehru. Worked till June 5, 1947)
1.7- Flag Committee (appointed on June 23, 1947. 12 members, Chairperson- Rajendra Prasad, ex-officio. Worked till July 22, 1947)
1.8- Committee on Functions of Constituent Assembly, under the Indian Independence Act (appointed on August 20, 1947. 7 members, Chairperson- G.V. Mavlankar. Worked till August 25, 1947)
- Principal Committees and their sub-committees
2.1- Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, Tribal Areas and Excluded Areas (appointed on 24 Jan. 1947. 57 members, Chairperson- Sardar Patel. Worked till 26 May 1949)
2.2- Union Powers Committee (appointed on 25 Jan, 1947. 12 members, Chairperson- J.L. Nehru. Worked till 26 Aug. 1947)
2.3- Union Constitution Committee (appointed on 4 May. 1947. 12 members, Chairperson- J.L. Nehru. Worked till 31 July, 1947.)
2.4- Provincial Constitution Committee (appointed on 4 May. 1947. 21 members, Chairperson- Sardar Patel. Worked till 21 July, 1947.)
2.5- Drafting Committee (appointed on 29 Aug. 1947. 8 members, Chairperson- Dr. Ambedkar. Worked till 17 Nov. 1949)
- Other Sectoral Committees
3.1- Ad-hoc Committee on Citizenship (appointed on 30 April, 1947. 7 members, Chairperson- S. Varadachariar. Worked till 12 July. 1947)
3.2- Committee on Chief Commissioner’s Provinces (appointed on 31 July, 1947. 7 members, Chairperson- N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar. Worked till 21 Oct. 1947)
3.3- Experts Committee on Financial Provisions of Constitution (appointed in Nov. 1947. 3 members, Chairperson- N.R. Sarkar. Worked between 17 Nov.- 5 Dec. 1947)
3.4- Sub-Committee on Minority safeguards for West Bengal and East Punjab (appointed on 24 Feb. 1948. 5 members, Chairperson- Sardar Patel. Worked till 23 Nov., 1948.)
- Curiously, the so-called Special Committee was constituted to decide the future course of action after comments had arrived in response to the Draft Constitution of February 1948. Neither a resolution for its constitution existed, nor anybody cared to inform the Assembly later on how and why this committee of great consequence was formed. In all, 32 members attended meetings of Special Committee on April 10-11, 1948, which were chaired by JL Nehru.
- Rajendra Prasad was the elected President of Constituent Assembly while VT Krishnamachari and HC Mookerji served as Vice-Presidents. HVR Iyengar was the secretary general of the Assembly, and SN Mukherji was the Chief Draftsman.
- After authentication of copies of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly got naturally dissolved with its Chairperson having been elected the President of India, and its staff diverted to other avenues. But bulk of the Assembly continued functioning as provisional Parliament of India till first general elections were held. Indeed the first amendment to the Constitution of India was made by this provisional Parliament in the summer of 1951.