As with the origins of most Articles of the Constitution of India, 1950, the education provisions can be traced to the Committee stages of the Constituent Assembly. In February 1947, at its first sitting, the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights asked its members to submit draft Articles that they would like to see included in the Constitution’s fundamental rights section.

Three proposals – from B.R. Ambedkar, Sardar Harnam Singh and K.M. Munshi – contained substantive provisions on education. The emergence of education in the proceedings of the Sub-Committee indicate that the articulation of education as a ‘right’ that was prevalent in the Historical Constitutions (See the previous post in this series), continued into the formal constitution-making process.

Ambedkar’s provisions were reminiscent of the Poona Pact 1933 and the Political Demands of Scheduled Castes 1944 – he played a key role in drafting both these documents. His proposal did not have any universal right to education type provision It did, however, contain a section titled ‘Provisions for Higher Education’ and a subheading ‘That the United States of India shall undertake the following special responsibilities for the betterment of the Scheduled Castes:...

As the title and sub-heading suggest, education in Ambedkar’s proposal was related to the protection and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes. The section contained provisions that made it obligatory on the central and state governments to raise and allocate funds for the primary, secondary and higher education of the Scheduled Castes.

On the other hand, Singh’s and Munshi’s proposals contained a universal right to education type provision. Singh’s provision read:

20. Sciences and Arts and the teaching thereof are unrestricted in the Republic of India. Elementary Education is obligatory and free in primary schools. Instruction in their mother tongue is guaranteed to religious minorities.

It is interesting to note here that Singh’s education provision is nestled within a larger idea of the free operation of the sciences and arts. Also, note that there is a mention of minority interests too, reminiscent of the education provision of the Nehru Report 1928.

Munshi’s proposal contained the following clauses:  

1. Every citizen is entitled to have free primary education, and it shall be legally incumbent on every unit of the Union to introduce free and compulsory primary education up to the age of 14 years and in the case of adults up to the standard of literacy.

2. The duration, limits, and method of primary education shall be fixed by law.

3. Every citizen is entitled to have facilities provided for learning the national language in the variant and script of his choice.

4. The opportunities of education must be open to all citizens upon equal terms in accordance with their natural capacities and their desire to take advantage of the facilities available.

It seems like the Sub-Committee preferred and was influenced by Munshi draft Article, specifically the first clause. In its report to its parent committee - the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minorities etc. - the Committee settled on the following form:

Every citizen is entitled as of right to primary education and it shall be the duty of the State to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years

In April 1947, the Advisory Committee sat to consider the Sub-Committee’s report. When the education provision was taken up, a member of the Committee, M Ruthnaswamy seemed startled and asked ‘Is this a justiciable right? Supposing the government have no money?’. Alladi Krishnaswamy, who incidentally was part of the Sub-Committee that drafted this provision, then demanded: ‘I want the deletion of this clause’. The Committee then dispatched the provision to the non-legally enforceable Directive Principles of State Policy.

While the education was seen as a fundamental right in the initial stages of constitution-making, concerns over practicality – the availability of resources – of implementation, finally decided the fate of a justiciable right to education – at least at the committee stages. But the story was not over yet. The provision still had to be taken up and discussed in the Constituent Assembly’s plenary debates – the subject of the next post in this series.

Next - #3: Constituent Assembly Takes up Free and Compulsory Education for Debate

Previous - #1: How did the Historical Constitutions Treat Education?