Kashmir’s Constitutional Reforms 1939

The assembly in Jammu and Kashmir is one of the many outcomes of the July 13, 1931 massacre. Recommended by a British officer JB Glancy, the initial assembly, the Parja Sabha had more nominated members from the darbar than the elected ones. The right to vote was restricted to adult males, a candidate had to prove he can read and write before being permitted to contest and the entire seat adjustment was on a communal basis. Right now, a new delimitation process is underway. This write-up by Prof Gulshan Rai from The Tribune, then published from Lahore, on February 18, 1939, offers some basic ideas about the pre-partition constitutions, assembly and the delimitation process in Kashmir. This opinion also offers an idea about how the Maharaja was loved by the subcontinent’s English media

Funeral prayers being offered to the martyrs of the July 13, 1931 massacre in the compound of Jamia Masjid Srinagar

The existing constitution in Kashmir State is based on the Report of the Kashmir Constitutional Reforms Conference presided over by Mr BJ Glancy. The recommendations of this Conference were accepted by His Highness on 31st May 1932 and a Franchise Committee, with Sir Baijor Dalal as Chairman, was appointed to settle the qualifications of voters. The voters’ qualifications as fixed by this Committee were very much lower than what at the time existed in the British territory of Punjab. It is interesting to note that the Kashmir rules require a literacy test from a candidate who stands for election. This is not so in Punjab.

Under these proposals the State Legislature was to consist of two kinds of members, viz., the Sabhasads and the State Councillors. There are at the present moment 59 Sahbasads, and 16 State Councillors. Out of the 59 Sabhasads, 33 are elected from the various constituencies, 14 are nominated non-officials to represent such interests as cannot come through election, and 12 are officials including the ministers. Among the Sabhasads therefore there is already a majority of elected members. The 16 State Councillors are supposed to be eminent persons in the State summoned by name by His Highness the Maharaja. In this way, the total strength of the State Legislature is 75.

The Intention

It was originally intended that the State Councillors would form a nucleus of the future second chamber, when on the grant of more extended and responsible powers to the legislature, it would be decided to establish an Upper House. The new proclamation that has been issued by His Highness the Maharaja provides for the election of 7 out of 16 eminent persons in the State. These seven are to represent Tazimi Sardars, Jagirdars, big landlords, and retired officers enjoying a pension of more than Rs 100 per mensum. The remaining nine State Councillors will continue to be summoned by name by His Highness the Maharaja. In this way, the total strength of the elected element has been increased from 33 to 40 in a House of 75. There will in future be an elected majority in the State Legislature.

Old and New Constitution

Next, we come to the functions of the State Legislature. Under the existing constitution, the Praja Sabha possesses the power to make Regulations (or laws) for all persons, for all courts, and for all places and things, within the State. But in cases of emergency or where immediate legislation is required in any matter affecting the peace and good government of the State, the Council of Ministers can submit to His Highness an Ordinance, which, when approved by him, has the force of law for a period not exceeding six months.

Tara Devi with Maharaja Hari Singh

Bills can under this Constitution be promoted not only by Government members but also by private non-official members as well. These powers are quite on a par with what are possessed by legislative bodies in British India. Like British Legislative bodies, the Kashmir State Assembly does not possess the power to change the Regulation under which the existing Constitution has been established. It cannot also repeal or alter any law made by the Council of Ministers with regard to Public Debt.

Powers

The Praja Sabha at the present moment possesses no power to amend or alter ‘any Regulation concerning Public Revenues of the State including the imposition of any charge thereon, or the maintenance, alteration, or imposition, of any tax or duty’. Under the existing Constitution, all new proposals of the Cabinet with regard to taxation are placed before the Praja Sabha for discussion. If, they pass any resolutions on these proposals, they are considered by the Council of Ministers.

But the actual responsibility for money bills is with the Executive and not with the legislature. This has now been changed by the new proclamation of His Highness the Maharaja. He directs that, in modification of the existing provisions, legislation regarding taxes, as distinguished from fees and penalties, should in future be passed by the Praja Sabha.

Under the existing constitution a copy of the detailed statement of the estimated annual Revenue and Expenditure of the State and the ilaqas exercising civil and criminal jurisdiction, is laid on the table of the Praja Sabha on the first day of the session to be held in each year in the month of October. The members of the Praja Sabha can ask questions or more resolutions regarding any appropriation of revenues or money proposed in the statements. If such resolutions are passed the Praja Sabha is informed what action is taken on them by the Council of Ministers, before the budget is actually passed, by it. The new proclamation increases the powers of the State legislature in this respect also.

In future, the appropriation of the revenues, which are votable, will be submitted to the Praja Sabha in the form of regular demands, as is now the case in legislative bodies in British India. It will in future be open to the Praja Sabha to assent or refuse its assent to any such demand or reduce the amount under it. It is thus evident that under the new reforms, the Kashmir legislature will possess to some extent power over the public purse. That I think is a considerable advance. If the existing constitution is on a par with our Morley Reforms in the British territory, the new reforms are on a par with the Montague reforms.

Authority To Ask Questions

In addition to the legislative and taxation powers that the Kashmir Praja Sabha will now possess, the members at the present moment possess the power to move resolutions and ask questions regarding different aspects of the administration. They also possess the power to move adjournments, which it was not within the power of members of the British Indian Legislative bodies of the Montague Reforms type to do. From this, it would be evident that the powers of the Kashmir Legislature are not much different from the powers of the British Indian Legislative bodies under the Montague Reforms.

KL file Image

The new proclamation does one other thing which does not exist in the present constitution. So far the members of the State Legislature have been associated with the Executive administration of the State to a very small extent.

Standing Committees

At the present moment there exist five Standing Committees of the Praja Sabha. They are for Finance, Industries, Public Health, Education, and the fifth for Agriculture, Forests, and cooperation. All the members of these Standing Committees with the exception of the minister in charge who is the chairman, are non-official members of the Sabha, elected by its non-official members according to the principle of proportional representation by the method of single transferable vote. These Standing Committees are elected at the commencement of each financial year and it is their function to advise the departments concerned in such matters as may be referred to them for opinion. This gives to the members of these Standing Committees an insight into the working of the administration.

Under the new proclamation, this association of the representatives of the people with the Executive is still further increased. There will now be a number of parliamentary undersecretaries appointed by the Maharaja, from among the non-official members of the legislature, and they will be paid a suitable honorarium. Their function would be to assist the Ministers in their parliamentary work. That is bound to give them some training in the work of the administration. It will also satisfy the ambition of some legislators.

Judge President

So far the Kashmir Legislature has an official President, as was the case in British India for the first four years of the Montague Reforms. At the present moment, one of the judges of the High Court is the President of the Praja Sabha. There is no Deputy President so far. The new proclamation provides for the appointment of a non-official Deputy President, who will be elected by the members of the Sabha. He will also be paid a suitable honorarium. This is a step in the direction of having a non-official elected President of the House.

We must remember that the present Constitution is only 7 years old, and so far there have been only two general elections under this Constitution. The people of Kashmir State are fortunate, inasmuch as they have taken another step in advance much earlier, than it has been the case with their brethren in British India.

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