Saturday, January 29, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Govt allays fears on review panel
Says Constitution’s basic features sacrosanct
From Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 28 — Affirming that there is no move to tinker with the basic features of the Constitution, the government today said a committee of experts for reviewing the Constitution would be constituted shortly.

The Union Law Minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani, and the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, in separate statements defended the move for review of the Constitution and clarified the aim was neither to create a “new Constitution” or to change the basic features.

The Law Minister virtually outlined the terms of reference of the proposed committee, which he said would be set up in a “week or 10 days”: empowerment of women; power to sack a state government under Article 356; Centre-state financial relations and removal of just grievances of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Mr Jethmalani said these were the “obvious areas” which needed constitutional amendments.

“There is no conflict of any kind between the President and the Prime Minister on this issue”, the Law Minister said. The Home Minister asserted that as constitutional review was part of the National Democratic Alliance manifesto, it had the “people’s mandate”.

The Congress opposed the move. Congress Working Committee member Pranab Mukherjee, who briefed the press on behalf of his party today, said the President had given “correct advice” to the Prime Minister and the government, instead of rushing to set up a committee with “half-baked ideas”, should refrain from initiating the move.

Referring to the ruling National Democratic Alliance’s penchant for the need for statutory changes to deal with the question of instability, Mr Mukherjee said: “Problem does not lie with the Constitution but with the political parties’ inability to get a clear majority”.

Mr Mukherjee pointed out that the basic features of the Constitution were yet to be codified and the Supreme Court yet to give an authoritative interpretation on the subject.

The opposition from the Left parties was based on the premise that the move was aimed at altering the basic features of the Constitution. In separate statements, the CPI and the CPI(M) alleged the BJP had been advocating constitutional changes with the objective of “crippling” the parliamentary form of government.

The CPM Politburo statement said while the Constitution was not “immutable”, the government should respect the President’s advice. The Politburo, however, said there had been amendments to the Constitution in the past and if necessary more amendments could be made.

The party’s senior leader and West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, in a statement from Calcutta, welcomed President K.R. Narayanan’s opposition to the Vajpayee government’s effort to review the Constitution and said “we have been advocating for quite a long time that there is no needs for a review of the Constitution and we do not think there is any necessity for it now”.

The CPI central secretariat said: “It is not usual in our political system for the President to speak out critically about government policies.

It is the BJP which has to thank itself for creating such a situation, where the constitutional head could no longer keep quiet”.

The CPI alleged that to constitute a review commission to put a question mark on the Constitution itself. The President had put forward timely and cogent arguments against such attempts, it said.

In a statement from Bhubaneshwar, former Lok Sabha Speaker Rabi Ray also opposed the move for a review, saying “there would be total opposition to any such move by the present government to amend the Constitution to enable it to stay for a full five-year term”.

Mr Ray said that it was unbecoming on the part of Prime Minister Vajpayee to raise contentious issues and said the recent experience of political instability at the Centre could not be a sufficient reason to “denigrate the parliamentary system of government”.

The Union Law Minister, in his statement, said the review committee would be appointed “within a week or 10 days”. “This government has no intention, whatsoever, to tinker with the basic features of the Constitution... the President is absolutely right that no review can recommend tinkering with the basic features of the Constitution”, he said and added, “there is no conflict of any kind between the President and the Prime Minister on this issue”.

Mr Advani also maintained there was no difference of perception between the President and the Prime Minister Mr Vajpayee had merely “reaffirmed” what President Narayanan had said in his address to the joint session of Parliament after the Vajpayee government came back to power.

It may be recalled after including the setting up of a constitutional reform panel in the NDA manifesto, the new government had included the agenda in the President’s Address to the joint session of Parliament for inaugurating the 13th Lok Sabha, a speech which, as per protocol, was drafted by the Union Cabinet.

“We have been given the mandate to rule. It is not related merely to numbers but to implement the NDA manifesto of which review of the Constitution is an important item”, Mr Advani said.

Defending the proposal for setting up a review panel, the Law Minister remarked: “What is wrong in introspection? The committee will find out whether the constitutional objectives have been achieved and if not who is to be blamed for it”. Echoing this sentiment, the Home Minister said getting the issue examined by a committee of experts qualified for the purpose would be worthwhile. “What happens after that is for Parliament to consider”.

Stating that an unseemly controversy was being raised over the issue, Mr Jethmalani said: “If the President was opposed to any amendment in the Constitution per se, he would have been highly critical of what has been done to the Constitution almost 80 times in a span of 50 years”, referring to the 79 amendments already carried out to the Constitution by Acts of Parliament.


Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | In Spotlight |
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
119 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |