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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 was passed by the Indian Parliament on June 18, 1951.
  • Several changes were introduced to the Constitution through this amendment. Fundamental rights clauses were amended and restrictions on freedom of speech and expression were provided. The amendment also encouraged the abolishment of the Zamindari system which prevailed back then. It held that the right to equality doesn’t prevent the government from making laws for the protection of weaker sections of society. 
  • The First Amendment was enacted in response to the landmark case, State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan (1951).
  • Brij Bhushan v State of Delhi (1950) and Romesh Thappar v State of Madras (1950) are two other judgments that heavily prompted the first amendment to the Constitution.

INTRODUCTION

"Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of...social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life..." – BR Ambedkar

The Indian Constitution is the framework that outlines the structure, powers, and procedures of government and defines citizens' rights, duties, and liberties. It came into force on 26 January 1950. One of the salient features of the Indian Constitution is its combination of rigidity and flexibility. The amendment procedures are specific and stiff in a rigid constitution, whereas in a flexible constitution, amendments can be made in the same manner as ordinary laws. Indian constitution is an exceptional blend of both. On June 18, 1951, the parliament of India passed The Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 which was put forth by a motion by Jawaharlal Nehru on May 10, 1951. This article seeks to understand the circumstances that led to the 1st amendment's passing, along with the substantial changes it introduced.

 BACKGROUND OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT

A chain of events led to the passing of the 1st amendment to our constitution. State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan [AIR 1951 SC 226] is the first landmark judgment regarding reservations, and the first amendment was made in response to this judgment. In this case, a communal order issued by the province of Madras in the 1950s, allowed a person to admit to any government educational institution or employment. This was based on caste reservation. Even after independence, the Madras government enforced the communal order because it was established under Article 46 of the directive principles of state policy to enhance the education of weaker classes of society. Shrimathi Champakam Dorairajan challenged this system, as she could not get admitted to a medical college despite her qualifying marks since she was a Brahmin. In this historic judgment, it was held that the reservation system violates Article 29(2) of the constitution and that fundamental rights will always prevail whenever there exists a conflict between the DPSP and fundamental rights. The communal order was struck down by Madras High Court as it was against the constitution. This judgment led the parliament to modify any laws that conflicted with the DPSP through the First Amendment.

Press freedom in the 1950s was another paramount factor that influenced the government to amend the Constitution. The government faced heavy criticism and backlash from the media, owing to events such as extra-judicial killings of communists in Madras, refugee inflow in West Bengal, etc. The government deemed it vital to suppress the rights and freedom of the press.

Romesh Thapar v State of Madras [(1950) S.C.R. 594] is one of the earliest cases regarding freedom of the press in India. In this case, Mr. Thapar published weekly articles voicing his personal opinions and skepticism regarding Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies in the magazine "Crossroads". In March 1950, the Government of Madras prohibited the circulation of this magazine in certain areas. The ban was imposed according to Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949 that granted power to the government to prohibit the circulation, sale, or distribution of the journal for ‘public safety’ or preserving ‘public order.’ Mr. Thapar approached the supreme court of India, arguing that the action of the Madras government was infringing his fundamental rights. The Supreme Court defined the terms “public safety” and “public order”, and tested whether they fall under the reasonable restrictions given in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. The court held the government order unconstitutional as it infringed on freedom of speech and expression.

In the landmark case of Brij Bhushan vs. the State of Delhi [(1950) SCR 605], the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right that the state cannot suppress unless it incites violence or amounts to defamation. The press has the right to criticize government and officials as long as it is done reasonably and decently.

CHANGES INTRODUCED BY THE AMENDMENT

  • First Amendment to the constitution amended Articles 15, 19, 85, 87, 174, 176, 341, 342, 372 and 376.
  • Clause (4) was added to Article 15 which acted as a non-discrimination clause. It empowered the government to make laws for the upliftment of the backward classes.
  • Clause (2) of Article 19 was altered. It provided reasonable restrictions against the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).
  • Ninth Schedule was inserted into the constitution which excluded all laws from the scope of judicial review. Currently, 284 Acts are included in the ninth schedule which cannot be challenged.
  • Article 31A and Article 31B were inserted into the constitution. Article 31A provided that five categories of laws would be saved from being invalidated because they were against the guaranteed fundamental rights of the Constitution. However, in the case of I.R. Coelho (dead) by L.Rs. v. State of Tamil Nadu and others [(1999) 7 SCC 580], the supreme court ruled that even the laws under the ninth schedule will be subject to judicial scrutiny if it is against the constitution or its basic structure.
  • Article 85 and Article 174 were modified to include provisions related to Parliament/ State Legislature sessions, prorogation, and dissolution.
  • Article 87 and Article 176 were modified to change the occasions where special addresses should be made by the President/Governor.
  • Articles 341 and 342 were amended to empower the President to specify castes, races, and tribes concerning any state.
  • Clause (2) was inserted into Article 372 which gave the President the power to modify the existing laws for a certain period after the commencement of the Constitution.
  • Article 376 was amended to provide that High Court judges of any province can be eligible for appointment as Chief Justices of High Courts.

CONCLUSION

The first amendment to the Constitution has unceasingly been the topic of many debates and discussions. The ninth schedule, which exempts all the laws included in it from judicial review, has been conceived as controversial due to its blatant misuse. In November 2022, the supreme court of India agreed to hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that challenged the changes brought about by the First Amendment Act, of 1951. The examination of reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2) is the primary subject of the petition


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