Both Houses of Parliament have cleared the Narendra Modi government’s Bill proposing the 124th amendment to the Constitution ushering in a new quota of 10 per cent reservation for the economically weak sections (EWS) among the general category in government jobs and admission to higher educational institutions. The historic Bill was cleared with unprecedented speed in Parliament: A day after it was cleared by the Cabinet, it was introduced in the Lok Sabha and passed; the Rajya Sabha passed it the very next day. Now it has to be ratified by the President.
The Indian Constitution makes space for its amendment from time to time to take care of the evolving socio-economic needs of the country. However, the procedure laid down for carrying out a Constitutional amendment is both flexible and rigid. Accordingly, an amendment can be initiated by the introduction of a Bill in either House of Parliament. The Bill must then be passed by majority of each House and by no less than two-third of the number present and voting. Once passed by both Houses, it is then presented to the president for his approval.
Given the complexity of the procedure required to amend the Constitution, it is unsurprising that most important amendments have taken at least a few months to be carried out.
Here is a list of four major Constitutional amendments and the time it has taken for it to be passed.
Extension of period for reservation of SCs, STs, and representation of Anglo Indians
Article 334 of the Constitution had stated that the reservation of SCs, STs and representation of Anglo Indians in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies of the states would cease to have effect on the expiration of ten years since the date of the commencement of the Constitution, that is in 1960. However, November 16, 1959 the 8th Amendment Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of Home Affairs, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant seeking an extension in the period of reservation of seats by another 10 years. The bill was adopted in the Lok Sabha on December 1, 1959. It was cleared in the Rajya Sabha a week later on December 7. Finally it received the nod of president Rajendra Prasad on January 5, 1960 and came into effect on the same date.
Considered to be one of the most controversial issues during the Indira Gandhi regime, the 42nd Amendment sought major changes in almost every part of the Constitution including its Preamble. The changes introduced were such that they stripped the Supreme Court of majority of its powers and transferred more responsibilities from the state to the central government thereby eroding the federal structure of the government. The Bill for the amendment was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the then Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, H.R.Gokhale on September 1, 1976. After much discussion and debate, the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha two months later on November 2. Consequently it was debated in the Rajya Sabha for the next few days and passed by the House on November 11. President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed gave his nod to the bill on December 18, 1976 and majority of the amendments were brought into effect on February 1, 1977.
The 42nd amendment was one of the most controversial issue during the Emergency era as it resulted in severe clampdown on civil liberties by the government. When the Janata party won in the elections in 1977, they tried to repeal the amendment, but was unsuccessful in their attempts. Later in 1979, the government introduced the 43rd and 44th amendment to restore the Constitution in the form it was it before the Emergency. However, it was not fully successful in achieving its objective.
Amendment to reduce voter age from 21 to 18
The Bill to amend the voting age from 21 to 18 was passed by the two Houses of the Parliament at a relatively higher speed but was delayed when it came to getting the nod of the president. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 13, 1988, seeking the amendment of Article 326 of the Constitution. The Lok Sabha passed the bill two days later on December 15. The Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, passed it five days later on December 20. Finally, it received ratification from president Ramaswamy Venkatraman on March 28, 1989, and came to force on the same day.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)
Believed to be one of the biggest tax reform measures carried out by the government, the GST is a comprehensive indirect tax on goods and services at the national level, replacing all indirect taxes levied by state and central governments. The reform was proposed to be carried out through the 101st amendment of the constitution. While the discussion to bring about the GST had been ongoing since the early 2000s, the Bill for the amendment was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 19, 2014 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. It was passed by the House five months later on May 5, 2015. Further, the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on August 8, 2016 after a Select Committee submitted to it a report on the Bill. President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent on September 8, 2016 and the GST officially came to effect on July 1, 2017.