To Tide Economic Crisis, Constituent Assembly Made Temporary Exception To India’s Federal Structure

The abrogation of Article 370 has generated some attention over the Part 21 - Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisionsof the Constitution. The framers of this Constitution felt that such a Part was required for India to smoothly transition from a dominion into a Constitutional republic, and to deal with certain political and economic circumstances of the time.

In this post, we take a look at how the framers debated Article 306 of the Draft Constitution 1948. In the late 1940s, India, and indeed the world, was facing an economic crisis – arguably the result of the afterglow of world war II. During the constitution-making process, the framers had decided that India would be a federal republic – the Constitution would clearly define the distinctions between powers of the Union and State governments. However, in light of the economic crisis, the Constitution added Draft Article 306 that made an exception to this federal scheme.

On 7th October 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India took up Draft Article 306 (Article 369Constitution of India, 1950) for debate. The Draft Article gave the Union government the power to make laws on certain matters that were in the State List for a transitional period of five years from the commencement of the Constitution. These matters included the production of essential items – like cotton, coal, steel etc. – that were critical to the economy.

Brajeshwar Prasad argued that the Drafting Committee had underestimated the scale of the economic crisis and the measures required to face it. He believed that the crisis was ‘…not only of a national character. It has international bearing.’ and identified the emergence of capitalism and the after-effects of the second world war as root causes. Prasad, considering the magnitude of the problem, felt that a transitional period of five years not sufficient –  he wanted it had to be increased to fifteen years and then moved an amendment to this effect.

Further, Prasad argued that the production of essential commodities should have been under the domain of the Union government in the first place; the Draft Constitution’s federal scheme which gave the Union government limited power over certain State subjects was ‘not desirable’ and was insufficient to circumvent ‘fissiparous forces’.

Hridaynath Kunzru, referring to the list of essential commodities mentioned in Draft Article 306, wanted to replace ‘coal’ with ‘charcoal, firewood’. He argued that in prior legislation like the Defence of India Act, charcoal and firewood were regulated by the Central government and these were critical items which must be included in the Draft Article. He remarked that ‘high prices of charcoal and firewood are matters of as much anxiety to the poor man as the high prices of food stuffs’.

B.R. Ambedkar said that he was not able to accept Prasad’s amendment but did not provide any explanation. On Kunzru’s point, Ambedkar promised that he would consult with the Ministry of Industry and Supply and the Ministry of Agriculture on the question of including firewood and charcoal. However, he requested the Assembly to, for the time being, pass the Draft Article with his minor amendments. The Constituent Assembly then rejected Prasad’s amendment, accepted Ambedkar's, and adopted Draft Article 306