In Part I of this post, we viewed the Salt March through the lens of certain constitutional antecedent documents. Today, we will look at how the Salt March was invoked by members of the Constituent Assembly while they framed the Constitution
On 5th August 1949 during discussions around Article 253, Mahavir Tyagi introduced an amendment to delete Clause 1. Tyagi told the Assembly that while he was a participant in the Salt Satyagraha and was aware of the effect that a salt tax could have on the poor, he did not want to ‘tie down the hands of future generations’; whether the production salt had to be taxed or not was a decision that the state or future parliaments had to take, not the Assembly. Tajamul Hussain, Naziruddin Ahmad and Nicholas Roy came in support of Tyagi’s amendment and the rationale behind it.
Several Assembly members opposed the dropping of Clause 1 that included: Raj Bahadur, Shibhan Lal Saxena and the President of the Constituent Assembly – Rajendra Prasad. The arguments that they put forward centred on the sentimental and symbolic upshot of including Clause 1 which for them was far more important than any concern of binding future parliaments: a provision in the Constitution that banned the State from taxing salt was a ‘momento’ to the Salt Satyagrah, to Gandhi and to the freedom movement.
B.R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, argued that if Clause 1 remained, it would lead to a situation where the government would not be able to control the import of salt, which may destroy the salt industry in India. He too felt it was best to leave the decision of taxing the production of salt to future parliaments.
‘… if we put this clause in as it was it would certainly come in our way. For instance, as it is drafted, it would obviously prevent us even from dealing with foreign salt which may be dumped into this country…’
He ended his speech reiterating the argument that members who wanted to drop Clause 1 kept invoking: if something has to be done about salt taxation – its best do it through parliamentary law - ‘To put it in the Constitution may tie our hands up and create difficulties in future.’
When the Tyagi’s amendment was put to vote – the Assembly voted in its favour, and Clause 1 was deleted from the Constitution. The Salt March played a significant role in resisting British government’s policies in the context of India’s freedom movement. While the Constituent Assembly acknowledged the significance of the Salt March, it felt that it was not necessary for the Indian Constitution and its provisions to pay tribute to or draw upon the Salt March; other considerations were more important.