The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—
(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;
(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;
(d) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women;
(e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength;
(f) that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.
Draft Article 31 was taken up for debate in the Constituent Assembly 22 November 1948. It directed the State to protect and promote the economic welfare of citizens with special emphasis on weaker sections.
The debate was dominated by the Assembly’s socialists who felt that the Draft Article’s clauses did not do enough to encode socialism in the Constitution. They pointed out that the language of clause gave room to capitalists and private interests to obtain the ‘ownership and control of material resources’ which was antagonistic to the economic welfare of citizens. These members moved amendments that aimed to give specificity to the clauses; they specified what came under ‘material resources’, and explicitly stated that it was the State, and no else, acting on behalf of the people, that should have control over material resources.
Another member was worried about clause 3 that directed the State to prevent the concentration of wealth and moved an amendment. It was argued that unless the Assembly had plans to install a communist state, the concentration of wealth and inequities would be inevitable. Therefore, the problem was not really the concentration of wealth, but the ‘undue’ concentration of wealth.
At the end of the debate, it was clarified that the clauses of the Draft Article were ‘deliberately’ worded in a general and extensive manner; the economic system that the socialists were arguing for was compatible with the Draft Article – there was no need for the relevant amendments.
During another debate, we find that the reason for the Assembly to adopt a general and extensive approach to the Draft Article’s clauses was because it did not want the Constitution to prescribe an economic model for India; it was up to the future parliaments and governments to decide on the question as long as the Draft Article’s principles were honoured.
The Assembly adopted the Draft Article with one minor amendment: ‘that the strength and health’ was replaced with ‘that the health and strength’. It rejected all other amendments.