Image Credits: Wikipedia

90 years ago on March 12, 1930, M.K. Gandhi along with his followers walked 100 miles to the coastal village of Dandi, Gujarat and made salt from sea-water thereby breaking British salt laws. Gandhi and his followers did this to protest and give resistance to the British legal and economic policies that governed the production of salt. Salt produced by Indians was heavily taxed for decades and was the cause of discontent that had been simmering for a long time. The  Purna Swaraj Declaration 1930 said:

“…India has been ruined economically. The revenue derived from our people is out of all proportion to our income. Our average income is seven pice (less than two pence) per day, and of the heavy taxes we pay, twenty per cent are raised from the land revenue derived from the peasantry and three per cent from the salt tax, which falls most heavily on the poor…” 

The declaration mounted a fierce attack on the policies of the British government that, it claimed, wrecked socio-economic havoc in the country. The specific mention of taxation of salt is telling: Indians singled out the salt tax and identified it as a key cause for India's economic oppression. 

Soon after the 1930 declaration was made, the civil disobedience movement was launched. The Indian National Congress authorised Gandhi to execute the first act of civil disobedience: Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha. Millions of Indians broke salt laws across the country. The British were rattled and forced into political negotiations with Indian leaders.

On 5th March 1931, the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended after an agreement between Gandhi and the then Viceroy Lord Irwin (Gandhi-Irwin Pact) in return for some concessions that included the release of Indian political prisoners and the promise of dropping salt taxes. Later in the month, the Indian National Congress at its Karachi session endorsed the Gandhi-Irwin pact. It also passed the Karachi Resolution 1930 – a historic document that is considered to be one of the first articulations of socio-economic rights for Indians; Clause 18 of the resolution tersely called for ‘No Duty on Salt’, once again reiterating that Indians must be free from salt taxes.

None of these developments however made any difference: British salt laws continued to be in force until independence. During the framing of India’s Constitution, the Constituent Assembly considered including a provision that barred the State from taxing salt. But this was not adopted by the Constituent Assembly. 

To learn why the Assembly took this decision, watch out for our Desk Brief this week. If you arent on the mailing list, click here to join.