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Monday, November 30, 2015



November 30, 2015

This series endeavors to trace the trajectory of the evolving democracy in India, with the Constitution of India 1950 being the beacon-light.  The youth, particularly those competing for  the IAS etc., may benefit by the Montesquieu’s Separation of Powers -India Version.

Piloting the Article 19 in 1947, Sardar Patel wanted us to move with the times, shed the irrelevancies and put forth: ‘Land will be required for many public purposes, not only and but so many other things may have to be acquired And the State will acquire them after paying compensation and not expropriate them. That is the real meaning of the clause...’.

Barely four years later and within fifteen months of the working of the Constitution, Prime Minister Jawahrlal Nehru moved the Constitution (First Amendment) Bill, which was enacted as the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951.  He worried about dilatory litigation stalling agrarian reforms, thereby affecting large numbers of people. He was, perhaps, impatient as is his wont. The crux of the matter was that of enabling the Parliament to amend the Constitution, by a clarificatory Article 19 (6). His reference to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1)(a) was beside the point and that to the article 46 about the special care [educational and economic]  of the weaker sections of the people and protecting them from social injustice was mere rhetoric, in this context. One is reminded of Shakespeare’s

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Nehru was barking at the wrong tree.!
A dispassionate study of the implementation of the four cardinal recommendations of the the Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee under the Chairmanship of J C Kumarappa goes to show that the landlords adroitly used loopholes in the enacted law [not in the Constitution] to escape. Legal loopholes, indifferent implementation, political interference at State and Central levels enjoined with negligence of rules caused the turmoil. All this, when  Zamindari abolition was top agenda of Independent India!
Of the three land tenure systems in India on the eve of Independence (viz,. the zamindari system, ryotwari system, and mahalwari) the zamindari system covered 57 percent of cultivated land in British India. The zamindar’s estates ranged in size from a few acres to tens of thousands of acres. Layers and layers of intermediaries thrived by collecting more and remitting less -rackrenting. This caused distress to the poor, the creamy layers of unearned income contributing to the income inequality. The ryotwari system recognized individual cultivators (ryots or raiyats) as proprietors of their land with generally recognized rights to sell, lease, mortgage, and otherwise transfer their land. Nonetheless, informal intermediaries of the zamindari type emerged even in areas where the ryotwari (and mahalwari) systems had strongholds. While some raiyats were owner-cultivators, many rented out part or all of their land to tenants, mostly sharecroppers. It was usury in the extreme. Whatever the rationalizations dot the history books, the truth of the matter is that the erstwhile princelings were lent large sums of money by the colonial government, offsetting it by taking over land revenue collection thorugh agents. This is best illustrated by the folklore about the tension between Collector Jackson and Veera Pandia Kottabommen.

I am afraid that the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951and its bete noir Shankari Prasad vs Union of India (AIR 1951 SC 455) will have to wait for the next round.