Today, 12 March marks the 91st anniversary of the Gandhi led Salt March. We have already looked at the Salt March through the lens of historical constitutions in the This Month in Constitution-Making post for March 2021. In this brief we look at a short debate in the Constituent Assembly in which members invoked the Salt March.
On 5 August 1949 during discussions around Article 253, Mahavir Tyagi introduced an amendment to delete Clause 1. Tyagi told the Assembly that while he was a participant in the Salt Satyagraha and was aware of the effect that a salt tax could have on the poor, he did not want to ‘tie down the hands of future generations’; whether the production salt had to be taxed or not was a decision that the State or future Parliaments had to take, not the Assembly. Tajamul Hussain, Naziruddin Ahmad and Nicholas Roy supported Tyagi’s amendment.
Members who opposed Tyagi’s amendment included Raj Bahadur, Shibhan Lal Saxena and the President of the Constituent Assembly – Rajendra Prasad. These members invoked the sentimental and symbolic upshots of including Clause 1 which for them was far more important than any concern of binding future Parliaments: a provision in the Constitution that banned the State from taxing salt was a ‘memento’ to the Salt Satyagraha, to Gandhi and the freedom movement.
B.R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, said that if Clause 1 remained, it would lead to a situation where the government would not be able to control the import of salt, which may destroy the salt industry in India. He agreed with Tyagi and felt it was best to leave the decision of taxing the production of salt to future Parliaments.
Jawaharlal Nehru made the last intervention in the debate. He acknowledged the historical symbolism around the taxation of salt but suggested that this must not inform India’s constitutional future because:
‘… if we put this clause in as it was it would certainly come in our way. For instance, as it is drafted, it would obviously prevent us even from dealing with foreign salt which may be dumped into this country…’
When Tyagi’s amendment was put to vote – the Assembly voted in its favour, and Clause 1 was deleted from the Constitution.