On 17th October 1949, T.T. Krishnamachari, member of the Drafting Committee, moved an amendment to Draft Article 13 (which became Article 19 of the Final Constitution) and proposed the addition of contempt of court as a restriction on freedom of speech. Almost a year before, the Constituent Assembly had taken up Draft Article 13 for debate and restrictions proposed then were vehemently opposed by members but eventually adopted. Now, T.T. Krishnamachari’s amendment, which he moved on behalf of the Drafting Committee, would add to the list of restrictions.
Except for Naziruddin Ahmad who supported the amendment and its rationale, most members who entered the debate were against it. R.K Sidhva highlighted the misuse of contempt of court laws by the judiciary and saw nothing wrong in criticising judges as they were not infallible. He added that in light of the restrictions that already exist on the freedom of speech, Krishnamchari’s amendment would further whittle down the rights of citizens. Shri B. Das did not want to give more power to judges and attacked the Drafting’s Committee, specifically taking aim at Ambedkar, questioning its action of making important changes to Fundamental Rights during the fag end of the constitution-making process.
K. Santhanam was concerned that the addition of contempt of court as a restriction allowed different state legislatures to enact contempt of court laws of their own. Unlike other restrictions in Draft Article 13 like ‘slander’ and ‘defamation’ which were under the concurrent list, ‘contempt of court’ was not.
Most members who opposed the amendment were of the opinion that laws related to contempt of court already existed and therefore there was no need for adding it to the Constitution. Ambedkar, in his response to the debate, focussed on this argument.
He invoked draft article 8 (which became Article 13 of the Final Constitution):
“All laws in force before immediately before the commencement of this Constitution in the territory of India so far as they are inconsistent with the provision of this part [Fundamental Rights], shall, to the extent of such inconsistency be void”
Ambedkar argued that if slander, defamation, contempt of court etc. are not inserted as constraints into Article 19, then existing laws related to these would become void in light of the Draft Article 8. This, according to Ambedkar, was the primary rationale behind the inclusion of contempt of court as a restriction into Draft Article 13.
On Santhanam’s federalism point, Ambedkar said that the Centre could bring in uniformity - to which Santhanam responded: “But it is not included in the concurrent list or any other list”. Ambedkar reassured him that this could be done now.
The members of the Constituent Assembly seemed to have been convinced by Ambedkar’s arguments and there were no further interventions. The Constituent Assembly adopted Krishmachari’s amendment and contempt of court was added to the list of restrictions in what would become Article 19 of the Constitution. This was followed by Ambedkar’s motion to include contempt of court in the concurrent list - which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly promptly.