The Constitution (First Amendment) Act 1951 was drafted and enacted in the context of early troubles with the interpretation of the Constitution- specifically with the formidable provisions it made for the protection of Fundamental Rights. These protections were used by litigants and enforced by courts to challenge many early attempts at State action. Article 19 was a particular point of early Constitutional tension, and this Act sought to significantly amend the freedoms it granted.
Freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) was interpreted widely by the Supreme Court, which struck down the Government’s attempt to ban the publishing of the RSS-affiliated Organiser for inflammatory speech. The Act addresses this, stating that this right cannot be so comprehensive that the State cannot punish its abuse, referring to examples in other jurisdictions.
Article 19(1)(g) enshrines the right to practice any profession, occupation, trade, or business. This right was used by litigants to challenge the State’s attempts at nationalisation of services such as transport, arguing that these attempts violated rights of private traders and service providers under Article 19(1)(g). To this, the State responds that while the Constitution subjects this right to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed in public interest, there needs to be more protection accorded to the Government’s projects of nationalisation, so as to place these outside the realm of Constitutional challenges.
One of the Government’s priorities was land reform and zamindari abolition. Towards executing such reform successfully, and achieving its goals fully, the government was not willing to pay full compensation to richer zamindars. This faced Article 14 challenges, despite the provisions of Article 31 that granted the Government powers in this regard.
Therefore, through this Amendment Act, the State sought to amend Article 19 to deal with these challenges, and also sought to insert constitutional provisions that rendered valid the zamindari abolition laws it was attempting to implement.
The Amendment Act also proposed some other amendments to bolster the power of the State to enact legislation or make provisions to ensure the economic and social interests of weaker sections of society, and to place such attempts outside the realm of Article 15 discrimination challenges. Further the Act included other minor amendments in relation to the sessions of Parliament and the prorogation of Parliament.
Perhaps most significantly, particularly in the contemporary context, the Act also recommended the creation of the Ninth Schedule by Article 31B, which demarcated a group of laws which would then be shielded from judicial review. The Ninth Schedule was originally composed of 13 laws, but it now contains 284 laws with which the judiciary may not interfere.
All these amendments, and particularly the Ninth Schedule, reflect the early tensions between the Parliament and the Courts over the meaning of the Constitution.