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Sansad TV: Makers of Indian Constitution- Sir Benegal Narsing Rau




Narsing Rau, CIE, was an Indian civil servant, jurist, diplomat and statesman known for his key role in drafting the Constitution of India. He was the Constitutional Advisor to the Constituent Assembly. He was also India’s representative to the United Nations Security Council from 1950 to 1952.

Bureaucratic and judicial career:

  • N. Rau passed the Indian Civil Service Examination in 1909 and returned to India, posted to Bengal.
  • Doing well on the executive side, in 1909 he moved to the judiciary thereafter, and served as a judge in several districts in East Bengal.
  • In 1925, he was offered a dual position by the Assam government, as Secretary to the provincial council and Legal Remembrancer to the government.
  • He also worked with Sir John Kerr to prepare a note on how provincial legislatures in India might be designed to work better.
  • On his return to India in 1935, Rau worked with the Reforms Office of the Government of India, on drafting the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • At the end of this project, Sir Maurice Gwyer, the first Chief Justice of India’s Federal Court, suggested that he gain the necessary five years’ experience that would qualify him to serve as a judge on the Federal Court as well.
  • He served thereafter as a judge on the Calcutta High Court, but his tenure was interrupted by two additional projects that he was assigned to by the Government of India – he first presided over a court of inquiry concerning wages and working conditions on railways in India, and thereafter with a commission working on reforms concerning Hindu law.
  • He also was reassigned to chair the Indus Waters Commission, which submitted a report on riparian rights on in 1942

Role in drafting the Constitution of India:

  • N. Rau was appointed the Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly in formulating the Indian Constitution in 1946.
  • He was responsible for the general structure of the democratic framework of the Constitution and prepared its initial draft in February 1948.
  • This draft was debated, revised and finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on 26 November 1949.
  • As part of his research in drafting the Constitution of India, in 1946, Rau traveled to the US, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, where he had personal consultations with judges, scholars, and authorities on constitutional law.
  • Amongst others, he met Justice Felix Frankfurter of the American Supreme Court, who famously advised him against the inclusion of a clause for ‘due process’ in the Indian Constitution as it would impose an ‘undue burden’ on the judiciary.
  • The draft prepared by the constitutional advisor was submitted in October 1947. Along with this draft, the proposals offered by the various other committees set up by the Constituent Assembly were considered.
  • The first draft by the Drafting Committee was published in February 1948. The people of India were given eight months to discuss the draft and propose amendments.
  • In the light of the public comments, criticisms, and suggestions, the Drafting Committee prepared a second draft, which was published in October 1948. The final draft of the Constitution was introduced by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on 4 November 1948 (first reading).
  • The second reading was clause by clause consideration and took over a year. After three drafts and three readings, the constitution was declared as passed on 26 November 1949. Dr B. R. Ambedkar in his concluding speech in constituent assembly on 25 November 1949 stated that:
    • The credit that is given to me does not really belong to me. It belongs partly to Sir B.N. Rau the Constitutional Advisor to the Constituent Assembly who prepared a rough draft of the Constitution for the consideration of the Drafting Committee.

Role in drafting the Constitution of Burma:

  • Rau also assisted in drafting the early Constitution of Myanmar.
  • He met with U Aung San, Burma’s Prime Minister, in New Delhi in December 1946, who invited him to assist in drafting Burma’s Constitution.
  • Burma’s Constitutional Advisor was deputed to New Delhi in April 1947 where they worked together to collect research materials and prepared a first draft that was taken back to Rangoon for modifications by a Drafting Committee.
  • The Constitution was adopted on 24 September 1947. Rau went to Rangoon to witness the final draft of the Constitution being passed by the legislature

Diplomatic career:

  • Rau served India as a representing delegate in the United Nations. F
  • rom 1949 to 1952 he was India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, till he was appointed a Judge of the International Court in The Hague.
  • He also served as the President of the United Nations Security Council in June 1950.

Tenure on the Court of International Justice

  • Rau was invited by the Ministry of External Affairs to stand for election to the International Court of Justice towards the end of 1951, and began service towards 1952.
  • He served for about a year, before succumbing to ill health while being treated in Zurich in 1953.
  • In 1988, on the occasion of his birth centenary, the Govt. of India issued a postage stamp in honor of B.N. Rau.