Most of us know that the Constituent Assembly of India sat on 165 days to draft India’s Constitution over a period of 2 years and 11 months. But did you know that the members of the Assembly met on 169 days for something other than constitution-making?
From 1937 onwards, legislative authority in India was vested with the Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of States. As per the provisions of the Indian Independence Act 1947, India became an independent dominion on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947. At the stroke of midnight, the Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of States were dissolved, and legislative authority was transferred to the Constituent Assembly.
Between 1947 and 1950, the Constituent Assembly did not just draft India’s Constitution – it also acted as India’s Parliament. In some weeks, the Assembly debated the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution; in others it functioned as a typical parliament, discussing statutory laws and putting questions to government ministers.
India was not the only country whose constitution-making body also acted as the national legislature. The Assemblies of Pakistan (1947), Poland (1921) and France (1789) also did the same. Such dual-purpose Assemblies have caught the attention of scholars: some argue that the legislative work of these Assemblies did not affect the constitution-making work, while others argue the opposite.
Not much attention has been given specifically to the legislative role of the Indian Constituent Assembly - possibly because this was overshadowed by its momentous constitution-making work. Another explanation could be that the transcripts of the legislative proceedings were, until recently, not easily available.
A number of questions can be asked about the Constituent Assembly’s legislative work that may help us learn more about the founding of the Indian Republic. How much of the legislative work affected the constitution-making work and vice-versa? What administrative and other steps did the Assembly take to draw a line between constitution-making and legislative work? In the following weeks, the CADIndia team will delve more into these questions.
The Constituent Assembly has received criticism of various types – one of them being that the Assembly took too long to draft the Constitution. In light of the added legislative function of the Assembly, the bite of such criticism appears to be substantially diminished.
Historical Constitution: Indian Independence Act 1947
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