Constituent Assembly debates: How List II Entry 34 dealing with betting and gambling was adopted

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In the discussions of the Constituent Assembly on September 2, 1949, there was a suggestion to incorporate Entry 45 (now Entry 34) related to betting and gambling into List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. However, this suggestion met vehement resistance from members Prof. Shibban Lal Saksena, Shri Lakshminarayan Sahu, and Sardar Hukam Singh. Prof. Saksena strongly believed that gambling should be deemed a criminal offense and vehemently argued for its complete prohibition. It is worth noting that this entry has been subject of numerous litigations including the recent Madras High Court decision quashing the law banning online rummy and poker. 

Shri Sahu opposed the proposal by emphasizing our adherence to the noble ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the enduring lessons from the Mahabharat. He expressed discomfort with the idea of taxation on such activities, considering it inappropriate. The opposing Constituent Assembly members collectively believed in the necessity for the Assembly to enforce the prohibition of betting and gambling.

However, Dr. Ambedkar had a different view. He explained that not mentioning betting and gambling would not mean that there will not be any betting and gambling in the country at all. He apprehended that if this entry was omitted, there would be absolutely no control over betting and gambling activities at all. He felt that if Entry 45 under List II were to be there, it would either be used for the purpose of permitting betting and gambling or for the purpose of prohibiting them. If the entry didn’t exist, the state governments would be absolutely helpless in these matters.

Sir, I am very much afraid that both my friends, Mr. Shibban Lal and Mr. Sahu, have entirely misunderstood the purport of this entry 45 and they are further under a great misapprehension that if this entry was omitted, there would be no betting or gambling in the country at all. I should like to submit to them that if this entry was omitted, there would be absolutely no control of betting and gambling at all, because if entry 45 was there it may either be used for the purpose of permitting betting and gambling or it may be used for the purpose of prohibiting them. If this entry is not there, the provincial governments would be absolutely helpless in the matter.

~ BR. Ambedkar on September 2, 1949

A consequence that Dr. Ambedkar pointed out was that in the absence of the proposed Entry 45 of List II, ‘betting and gambling’ would automatically find a place in List I (Union List) under Entry 91, which at present is Entry 97. Entry 97 is a residuary category that covers all matters not specifically mentioned elsewhere.

He was of the opinion that if there is a strong objection to adding Entry 45 under List II, then there must be an Article in the Constitution itself explicitly declaring betting and gambling as an offence. He explained that the entry would act as a preventive measure and the States would have full power to prohibit gambling. Hence the Entry on ‘betting and gambling’ was adopted in the State list to empower the States to make laws either to prohibit betting or gambling or to regulate it, according to the socio-economic requirements of the State. This stance provided the scope to accommodate different notions of morality prevailing in various States.

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