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  • Writer's pictureRitik Agrawal

Tracing the Evolution of India's 1950 Constitution: A Comprehensive Exploration of the Welfare State

Updated: Jan 16

Author: Divya Mehta,

IOL, Nirma University

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND MAKING OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION

The evolution of representative institutions in India may be traced back to the country's war for independence from British rule, as well as the push of the princely kingdoms for accountable and constitutional governance. These activities have been ongoing for several decades prior to India's official Republic Day on January 26, 1950.

Several legislative measures contributed to the gradual establishment of representative institutions. The Charter Act of 1853 created a 12-member Legislative Council, which served as a precursor to a separate legislature. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 is seen as a watershed moment in India's legislative devolution, and it was followed by Acts of 1892 and 1909. The Morley-Minto Reforms included an element of election and representation in the Legislative Council at the Union in the Act of 1909. Native elements still didn't have a lot of influence over legislative and administrative decisions, nevertheless.

The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were put into effect by the Government of India Act of 1919, which was a notable advancement. It established a bicameral legislature at the federal level and gave the provinces some elements of responsible governance. Indian national leaders demanded that the British Parliament speed the construction of a fully accountable government in India that upheld the idea of self-determination despite these reforms being judged insufficient and unacceptable.

Following the Central Legislative Assembly's approval of the 'National Demand' resolution, the call for an early reform of the Government of India Act, 1919 gathered pace. This resolution pushed for increased Indian input into the creation of the country's future constitution and emphasised the importance of an Indian-made document.

The future of India should be decided by its own people, not as a gift from the British Parliament, Mahatma Gandhi emphasised in 1922. He believed that the proclamation of Swaraj (self-rule), which would be made through a Parliamentary Act, would be a respectful affirmation of the desires of the Indian people. The Indian representatives were chosen voluntarily, and the British Parliament would participate in the pact as a party, supporting their wishes.

The Government of India Act was passed in 1935 in an effort to provide India a codified constitution. However, the absence of liberation fighters or people's representatives in this tremendous progress had negative consequences. Despite the Act's intent to create a federal government, the federal component was never implemented, and the Central Government mostly remained intact from the Act of 1919 with the exception of a few procedural changes brought on by the establishment of province-level autonomy.

As a result of the 1942 Quit India Movement, numerous initiatives to transfer sovereignty and create a constitutional framework for a free India were made. On March 24, 1946, a British Cabinet Mission landed in India as part of these efforts.

The Mission's main objective was to assist the viceroy in setting up a system in India that would enable Indians to write their own Constitution. The Mission emphasised throughout the negotiations the fundamental values of Independence and an independent Constituent Assembly to write the future Constitution. The Cabinet Mission presented its plan, defining the guiding principles and steps for drafting the Indian Constitution, on May 16, 1946.

The Plan proposed the following measures to speed up the procedure: (i) Allocating seats to each Province based on its population, roughly one seat per million people, in lieu of adult suffrage representation; (ii) Distributing the provincial seats among the major communities in proportion to their populations; and (iii) Ensuring that representatives for each community within a Province would be chosen by members of that community in the Legislative Assembly.

As a result, in July 1946, the members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen. The India Independence Act of 1947 gave the Constituent Assembly free power to create and ratify any constitution, even one that directly overrode the India Independence Act, all without further British Parliament legislation. The British Parliament's authority to pass laws for the Dominion on or after August 15, 1947, was expressly terminated by this Act.

The Constituent Assembly thus had full authority, was free from outside interference, and represented all of India's States and Provinces. It accomplished the mission of drafting the Indian Constitution as a sovereign body, putting the needs of the populace first and avoiding any outside intervention.

The Drafting Committee, led by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, was chosen by the Indian Constituent Assembly on 29th August, 1947, to create a draught Constitution for the newly independent country. Remarkably, the Constituent Assembly completed the monumental work of creating the Constitution, consisting of 90,000 handwritten words, in less than 3 years—exactly 2 years, 11 months, and 7 days. The Constituent Assembly triumphantly announced the adoption of the Constitution on behalf of the Indian people on 26th November, 1949, and 284 members signed the finished product.

A Preamble, 395 Articles, and 8 Schedules comprised the first Constitution. Citizenship, elections, a provisional parliament, and temporary and transitional measures were all implemented immediately. Following that, on January 26, 1950, the remaining articles of the Constitution went into effect, officially establishing India as a republic. The Constituent Assembly completed its duties on this day, becoming the Provisional Parliament of India until the creation of the new Parliament in 1952. Since then, the Constitution has served as the guiding structure for India's governance, reflecting the nation's goals and democratic principles.

TRANSITION OF THE DOCTRINE OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE TO THE WELFARE STATE IN INDIA

The welfare state idea first surfaced in the historical context of Britain, when liberalism, socialism, and conservatism were all present. Empirical data and ideological tenets were used to address the issue of poverty during its formative years. The welfare state tried to create a social agreement on a variety of socioeconomic issues within the liberal framework. The population's rising aspirations as a result of rising wealth and the hope and dread surrounding the expansion of the right to vote to men were two key sociological elements that contributed to its growth.

The welfare state was founded on the premise in gradual social engineering without inflexible doctrines. This approach boosted municipal operations and the government's interest in social reforms. However, this beginning came with difficulties and uncertainty.

The debate over the welfare state centred on the balance between state assistance and individual self-help. Though commonly misunderstood as being opposed to the welfare state, Herbert Spencer's liberalism really supported the idea of public assistance supplementing self-help. Spencer's concept of non-intervention and positivism did not oppose the operations of the welfare state, but rather promoted the idea of the state assisting people in need.

The British political system retained its liberal identity and resisted the impact of French and German socialism despite the creation of the welfare state. By renouncing utopian ideas, the British shown extraordinary adaptation to new problems and obligations. Democratic imperatives forced political leaders to reframe their objectives and take a practical approach to issues involving labour and the poor.

The development of the welfare state resulted in a significant amount of regulation in a number of economic sectors, including banking, transportation, agriculture, business, and commerce. The state assumed responsibility for upholding ethical standards, defending the rights of the weak, and advancing social welfare.

Therefore, the British welfare state was created by combining empiricism and ideology to combat poverty. It attempted to establish a balance between state assistance and individual self-help, while also fostering social consensus behind various socioeconomic policies. Despite difficulties, the British political system preserved its liberal essence while adjusting to new obligations. The advent of the welfare state indicated a trend towards greater government intervention and regulation to ensure the well-being of its citizens.

Case Laws on the Concept of Laissez-Faire

The provided legal cases and philosophical concepts demonstrate India's transition from a laissez-faire economic strategy to the establishment of a welfare state. Laissez-faire, taken from 18th-century France, expressed a desire for the state to refrain from interfering in economic affairs. This theory, however, has been challenged and weakened by constitutional safeguards that demand equal treatment of individuals, particularly in the case of public employment.

The development of the welfare state in India is founded on the political premise that the government should intervene to promote better economic and social well-being for the majority. The landmark case of Modern Dental College and Research Centre v. State of Madhya Pradesh shows India's economic policy transition from laissez-faire to a welfare state and, eventually, a liberalised economy. The key policy reforms that resulted in this transformation were liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation.


According to the basic principles of a welfare state, the phrase "Salus populi est suprema lex" highlights that people's happiness and well-being should be the supreme law. The Charanlal Sahu v. Union of India case highlighted the state's obligation to protect and represent nationals who are victims of international irresponsibility. The idea of parens patriae allows the state to act as a guardian for those who are unable to care for themselves.

Empiricism mixed with other ideologies, such as liberalism, socialism, and conservatism, to create the concept of the welfare state. It was developed in a free society where socioeconomic problems were addressed through open dialogue and empirical investigation. The growth of the welfare state was a response to the shifting nature of the economy, problems with laissez-faire, and a rising consciousness of enlightened self-interest.

Nonetheless, India's transformation from a laissez-faire to a welfare state shows a paradigm shift in governance ideology, with more government intervention to safeguard its residents' economic and social well-being. The welfare state's evolution has been affected by constitutional ideas, legal precedents, and a response to the country's changing socioeconomic environment.

ENVISIONING A WELFARE STATE: PREAMBLE AND DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY

Preamble towards the Welfare of the State

The Preamble to the Indian Constitution is praised as reflecting the core principles and goals that establish and sustain the Constitution's value and serving as its most precious and fundamental essence. It acts as the heart and spirit of the Constitution, encapsulating its guiding principles and serving as a measure to assess its importance.

Sovereignty: The opening statement, "We the People of India," proclaims the people's ultimate sovereignty and makes it clear that the only source of power for constitutional authorities and governmental bodies is the people of India.

Socialism: In order to end exploitation in all facets of society, the Constitution maintains the principles of a welfare state. The State has a responsibility to uphold a just social structure by guaranteeing that everyone has access to resources for the common benefit and avoiding wealth concentration. For the benefit of everyone, social control of resources, worker welfare, and land reforms are encouraged. A fundamental minimum is prioritised in public policies.

Secularism: The secular ideal of India guarantees that the State is unbiased towards religions and protects everybody equally. The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and forbids discrimination based on religion. It ensures freedom of conscience, the right to practise one's religion openly, and the right to spread that religion. It also defends minority interests and their freedom to found and run educational institutions, as well as cultural and educational rights.

Democracy: The Preamble places emphasis on a broad definition of "democratic" that includes political, social, and economic facets. With the adoption of parliamentary democracy, India would have a capable government that is answerable to the people. Regular elections are guaranteed by universal adult franchise, strengthening public support. Democracy promotes fundamental rights-based constitutional government, peaceful power transitions, stability, and tolerance. A fundamental constitutional obligation is to promote a democratic culture.

Republic: Our nation has changed from a Dominion to a "Republic," denoting an elected Head of State with a set tenure, since the Constitution's foundation. The executive branch is led by India's President. A republic assures that all individuals have equal access to public offices without favour or prejudice and that political sovereignty resides in the people, not in a single person like a king.

Justice: With the support of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, the Preamble encompasses justice in its three manifestations of social, economic, and political. The Founding Fathers emphasised political freedom's good aspects in order to create a new system based on socioeconomic fairness since they understood that it cannot resolve fundamental socioeconomic problems on its own. The main purpose of our Constitution is to create a just and egalitarian society; hence the Constitution prohibits untouchability, the exploitation of weaker groups, protects the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, and encourages affirmative action.

Liberty: The Founders understood that certain fundamental freedoms are vital for democracy to thrive in order to guarantee a life of liberty and civility. Thought, expression, belief, faith, and freedom of worship are all fundamental rights guaranteed by the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. This freedom, though, does not provide a "permission" to act however one pleases; instead, it is subject to the reasonable limitations set forth in Article 19 of the Constitution.

Equality: A basic principle supported by the Constitution is equality, which enables every person to fully enjoy their natural dignity. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth while guaranteeing equality of status and opportunity to all citizens. Untouchability and honorific titles are eliminated, and equality before the law and equal protection under the law are all guaranteed.

Fraternity: In a diverse culture like India, fraternity, or the spirit of common brotherhood, is essential. It promotes harmony in diversity and gives justice, liberty, and equality purpose. The Constitution creates single citizenship and lists Article 51A as a Fundamental Duty, emphasising the development of unity and brotherhood regardless of differences in religion, language, location, or social class.

The dignity of the Individual: By providing equal access to fundamental rights and requiring the State to uphold Directive Principles such as a sufficient standard of living, equal remuneration for comparable work, and reasonable and humane working conditions, the Constitution upholds the dignity of every person, regardless of gender.

Unity and Integrity: All Indian nationals have a responsibility to preserve and maintain the nation's unity and integrity. In order to promote national unity and prevent secession, the Constitution emphasises brotherhood and makes it clear that India is a "Union of States," eradicating obstacles to national integration such regionalism, communalism, linguism, and casteism.

Directive Principles towards Welfare of State

The authors of India's Constitution understood that without economic democracy, political democracy would be useless. They adopted DPSP targeted at enhancing the socio-economic circumstances of the general populace in order to address this. Although not enforceable by courts, these concepts are essential to the nation's governance, and the state is required to use them when passing legislation. Critics have referred to them as "bank cheques issued on the bank payable at the bank's convenience," underlining their lack of enforceability.

The Directive Principles have been put into practise through a variety of initiatives, including the Land Reform Acts, the nationalisation of banks and industries, welfare programmes for underprivileged groups, the Panchayati Raj system, equal pay laws, environmental protections, mandatory education for kids, and more.

It has been necessary to change the Constitution multiple times in order to strike a balance between fundamental rights and Directive Principles, which has made it difficult to implement agrarian, economic, and social reforms. Resource limitations, a lack of political will, and lack of foresight have all hindered the application of Directive Principles. The directives have not had a significant impact in the areas of eradicating poverty, educating people, or improving the lives of people from the lower socioeconomic groups.

Despite flaws, the state has demonstrated a real commitment to execute Directive Principles, as no government can afford to disregard welfare-oriented policies concerning public health, education, economic equality, women's status, children, and the poor. While the ideas work well in the planning process, full translation into action has yet to be achieved, despite attempts by numerous administrations in this direction.

The Directive Principles of State Policy were designed to support socialism and the agrarian economy, and this was the intention of the laws enacted to put them into practise, particularly those described in Articles 38, 39, and 46 of the Constitution. In accordance with the ideas of social fairness, Article 39(b) encouraged legislation to establish land ceilings, eliminate middlemen like Zarnindars, and grant land ownership to tillers. Significant initiatives were taken to put the Directive Principles into practise on a larger scale, such as passing the Hindu Succession Act (1950) and the HMA (1955), which were essential in moving towards the creation of a Uniform Civil Code.

The constitution's Article 40 placed a strong emphasis on the establishment of village Panchayats and giving them the authority necessary for self-governance. This Directive Principle was implemented by the 73rd Amendment, which has been in effect since 24 April 1993. It created a self-contained code for the Constitution that addresses Panchayat elections, powers, authority, and seat reservations. Furthermore, Article 48A emphasised the State's duty to preserve forests and wildlife, protect the environment, and enhance the environment, reflecting the importance of environmental preservation in the Directive Principles.

Despite not being explicitly stated as a basic right, the idea of "equal pay for equal work" was seen as a constitutional objective. Equal remuneration for equal work for men and women was officially proclaimed as a Directive Principle of State Policy in Article 39(d). Even though it was originally included in Part IV of the Constitution (DPSP), it has been acknowledged as having a fundamental nature and has been construed to be in line with Fundamental Rights. The Equal Remuneration Act was enacted by Parliament in 1976 to put the idea of equal pay for equal labour into practice. This act also ensured pay parity for men and women.

In accordance with the Directive Principle set forth in Article 45 of the Indian Constitution, all children up to the age of 14 were to get free and compulsory education within ten years of the Constitution's publication. This objective, meanwhile, was not achieved even after fifty years. Although problems continued, the 1986 National Policy of Education (NPE) pushed attempts to attain universal and high-quality education. In response, Article 21A of the Constitution was revised to add the Right to Education as a Fundamental Right. The State is required to offer children ages 6 to 14 free and required education. The State is therefore required by the Constitution to provide for this age group's education.

In addition, India was the first nation to make environmental conservation a constitutionally recognised state objective. The provisions of Articles 48A and 51-A(g) provided a solid framework for environmental protection. The most recent ruling highlighted the application of key constitutional principles while recognising their importance. Achieving social, economic, and political equality is the goal of the Preamble's and Directive Principles' guiding principles, which include social justice (Articles 38, 42, 43, and 46). They act as a tool to lessen the suffering of disadvantaged and marginalised groups in society and give them the ability to live honourably.

Therefore, the Indian Constitution has developed to address important social and environmental challenges. The nation's dedication to promoting an open and sustainable society is highlighted by the inclusion of environmental conservation as a governmental aim and the Right to Education as a fundamental right. The Preamble and Directive concepts' guiding concepts direct the country towards pursuing social justice and equality for all citizens.

ROLE OF THE JUDICIARY IN UPHOLDING WELFARE PRINCIPLES

A society's welfare principles are upheld in large part by the judiciary. The judiciary has a crucial role in ensuring that the rights, welfare, and interests of the populace are safeguarded. Promoting social justice, equality, and the general improvement of individuals and communities is at the heart of the welfare principles notion.

Interpreting and executing laws intended to advance citizen welfare is one of the judiciary's main duties in preserving welfare principles. This includes regulations governing labour rights, health care, education, social security, and numerous other areas that affect the population's general welfare.

The judiciary evaluates the legality of laws and government activities through its power of judicial review, making sure that they adhere to welfare ideals contained in the constitution. This procedure ensures that policies and legislation put the needs and rights of the populace above special interests and helps prevent the abuse of power.

Additionally, the judiciary defends people's freedoms and rights. It settles disagreements between people, businesses, and the government, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and that the weak and marginalised are not unfairly disadvantaged.

The judiciary can intervene to hold the government responsible when its acts or policies are harmful to the welfare of the populace. The judiciary contributes to the upkeep of a system where public authorities are held accountable for their choices and acts by offering checks and balances.

The judiciary also has a significant impact on social policies and community standards. Supreme Court rulings that set a precedent may have an impact on public attitudes and future legislation. The judiciary contributes to the development of a more inclusive, just, and compassionate society by consistently enforcing welfare values.

As a result, the judiciary's contribution to preserving welfare principles is complex. It protects individual liberties, serves as a check on governmental power, ensures that laws are in line with citizen rights and welfare, and has an impact on the formulation of social policy. The judiciary makes a substantial contribution to a country's overall prosperity and well-being through these actions.

Conclusion

Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a new constitution for India built on fundamental principles and tailored to the country's particular circumstances. His ideal India was one without favouritism or servitude, where even the most marginalised people had a substantial influence on its development. He yearned for an India without high and low classes, where all communities coexisted peacefully and free from the untouchability blight. This Constitution, which is now widely praised, gives the people power while also receiving power from the people. The Constitution's authors understood that a well-written document would only be significant if the appropriate individuals stood up for its principles. We are proud of India's Constitution today because it promotes an inclusive social structure and is known for its democratic, secular values.

References

1. Legal Service India, “Concept of welfare State and its relevance in Indian scenario”.

2. “The Welfare State in Historical Perspective”, JSTOR.

3. Asthana, S. (2022, January 25), “Directive Principles of State Policy: An Explanation of Part IV of Constitution”, iPleaders.

4. “The Evolution of India’s Welfare System, 2008 to 2023”, The Wire.

5. “Social policy, the welfare state, and social exclusion” (2022), Cambridge University Press eBooks (pp. 141–160).

6. “History and Development of the Constitution of India”.

7. “Constitutional history of India”, ConstitutionNet.

8. Balakrishnan, U. (2020, January 23), “The origin of the Constitution”.

9. George, A. A. (2020, April 9), “Historical Background of Indian Constitution”, ClearIAS.

10. Shani, O. (2022, January 31), “The People and the Making of India’s Constitution”, The Historical Journal, Cambridge University Press.

11. Aspalter, C. (2010, December 14), “The State and the Making of the Welfare System in India”, ResearchGate.

12. Chaurasia, A. (2023, February 20), “‘Freebies’ and Welfare Schemes: Setting a Framework for the Debate in India”, ORF.

13. Chandrachud, C. (2020, January 26), “The four phases of constitutional interpretation”.

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