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Directive Principles of State Policy & Fundamental Rights – The Indian Experience

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The origin of the chapters on Fundamental Rights & DPSP is connected with the political & constitutional development of India during the struggle against the British rule. The first formal demand for a Bill of Rights were incorporated in the Constitution of India Bill, 1886. The concept of DPSP was borrowed from the Irish Constitution.

It was quoted by ‘Justice Bhagwati’ in Minerva Millscase that the instant goal of India is to put an end to exploitation. In the political sense, it means independence. In socio-economic sense it means to end all special class privileges & vested interests. In this context, our founding fathers realized that there is a need for inclusion of two separate chapters – Fundamental Rights of individualistic nature & DPSP which place positive obligations on the State.

The difference between FRs & DPSP can’t be equated with that of the justiciability of first & second generation rights. It was explained in ‘State of Kerala v. Thomas’ case ‘while the FRs are essentially negative in which the government has no jurisdiction whereas the directives call for positive state action which has moral, political & judicial consequences’.

          Even in the original report of the Advisory committee of the Constituent Assembly, it contained a chapter on certain directive principles. It was also informed by the Chairman of the Assembly to the President regarding the inclusion of these directives though they shall not be cognizable by any court, however fundamental in governance of the country. The Chairman also agreed this view. But some others were against it as there was no place for a political manifesto in the Constitution. Das felt that they should form part of an appendix to the Constitution.

Justification for non-justiciability of the directives :

Structural problems, financial constraints, unwillingness of political parties are some of the reasons for its unenforceability.

Due to the unenforceability of the directives, H M Seervai has described them as ‘rhetorical language, ideals & goals rather than the actual reality of government’.  

The directives have the essence of ‘letters of instruction’ to all governmental institutions by the ultimate sovereign i.e., the Indian people. The non-justiciability doesn’t mean that the directives can be ignored because they constitute the soul, spirit & hope of the Constitution. They provide the way in which the FRs can be understood & interpreted, the framework for a peaceful political revolution. The entire purpose of the Constitution would be lost if there is no socio-economic basis for the country.

In ‘State of Bombay v. F N Bakara’ it was acknowledged by the Supreme Court that the fundamental rights can be restricted at various occasions when the public interest as formulated in the directives requires it.

There were also some supporting instances like –

The abolition of Zamindari in ‘State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh’, the upholding of Minimum wages Act in ‘Bijay Cotton Mills v. State of Ajmer’ and the prohibition of the slaughtering of certain cattle in ‘M H Quareshi v. State of Bihar’.

Categorization of DPSP :

They are divided into 5 categories namely –

i) Socialist principles that deal with the socio-economic problems reflected through – ‘Articles 38, 39, 39A, 41, 42, 43, 43A, 47’.

ii) Gandhian principles that are based on the thoughts enunciated by Mr. Gandhi reflected through – ‘Articles 40, 43, 43B, 46, 47, 48’.

iii) General welfare principles that emphasize the welfare of all citizens through ‘Articles 39A, 44, 47, 48, 50’.

iv) International principles through ‘Article 51’.

v) Nature conservation principles through ‘Article 48A’.

Need for DPSP :

They provide a framework for understanding the intention of the legislature & may justify certain restrictions on FRs which otherwise would not have been possible.

It was given in ‘Balwant Raj v. Union of India’, that ‘making of laws’ is wide enough to enable them to interpret laws in accordance with the directive principles. It simply means that if there are numerous interpretations possible for a law then the duty of the court is to follow an approach that adhere to the DPSP.

Essence of DPSP :

The general presumption is that all legislation & state action are aimed at implementing the directives. They serve as an instrument to resolve the Statutory ambiguities.

Nature & Scope of DPSP :

  • They represent the spirit & soul of the Indian Constitution. They cause the socio-economic upliftment that addresses the needs of the people.
  • They place a positive obligation on the State. They play an important role in the process of interpretation of legislation.
  • They act as a balance between the interests of the individual & duty of the state towards the community.
  • The courts by means of these directives can uphold some legislations which in some other circumstances would have been declared void due to the infringement of Fundamental Rights.

Relationship between Fundamental Rights & Directive Principles :

This concept of relationship between the directive principles & fundamental rights has enthralled the entire legal community since the promulgation of the Constitution. Some conflict might develop between the interests of the individual at micro level & interests of the community at macro level. In order to address the problems faced by modern India many efforts have been taken by the courts to uphold the intention of the framers of the Constitution.

Three views were developed on the relationship between fundamental rights & directive principles –

a) In the event of conflict between them, fundamental rights has to be given importance.

b) Both are equally important & has to be harmonized under all circumstances.

c) As they are the directives which are important in governance of the country, so they have to be preferred.

What if an irreconcilable conflict occurs ?

It is clear from the Constitution that the fundamental rights are enforceable if there conflict is between directives & fundamental rights. Sir BN Rau, one of the Constitutional advisors to the Constituent Assembly proposed that the general welfare has to be prevailed when the individual rights are in conflict with those relating to state policy aimed at welfare of the people. But it was not accepted by all and as a consequence they ‘won the day’.

It was observed in ‘State of Bihar v. Rameshwar’ that though the state is under an obligation to implement the directives, but it has to also adhere to the other provisions including fundamental rights. 

Various phases of the courts in interpretation :

A) Fundamental rights are sacrosanct –

 Initially the fundamental rights were considered to be supreme over the directive principles. It was opined by Seervai that, the conflict can only be between fundamental rights & the laws enacted by legislature to implement directive principles. It is obvious that in any case of conflict between the constitutional & statutory rights, the former must prevail.

In ‘Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan’, certain number of places were reserved by the State government on a community basis in engineering & medical colleges. Petitioners argued that it was in conflict with the fundamental rights as no individual shall be denied admission based on race, caste, religion. But the state believed that the aim was to protect the SCs & STs under the directives, so it was a valid reservation.

The Supreme Court reasoned that provisions of ‘Article 37’ cannot override the Fundamental rights. The directive principles have to conform and run as a subsidiary to the fundamental rights. There should be no infringement of the fundamental rights if the state is acting in accordance with the directive principles. Thus, the reservation was ruled as void.

There was a direct conflict between the fundamental right to carry on a business under ‘Article 19(1)(g)’ & the directive principle under ‘Article 48’ which requires the State to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of certain animals in ‘M H Quareshi v. State of Bihar’. It was concluded by the court that a harmonious interpretation must be drawn so that the state has to implement the directive principles by not taking away (or) abridging the fundamental rights.

In ‘re Kerala Education Bill’, a bill required schools of minorities not to charge any fees for the children attending primary classes. There was no provision in the Bill for the State to subsidize the schools to cover losses. So it would not be possible for the minorities to carry on with these educational institutions. It was argued by the State that under ‘Article 45’, it is required to provide free & compulsory education for all the children up to the age of 14. It was reasoned by the court that if the State want to implement ‘Article 45’ they have to cover the losses suffered by the minorities but not at the expense of minorities.

B) Fundamental rights & Directive principles are complementary –

When we take a look of the previous decisions, they carry more weight for the implementation of fundamental rights rather than the directives. So as to avoid criticism, the courts came up with a Conciliatory approach.

Firstly in ‘Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan’, it was heard that if the chapter on fundamental rights were not amended then the socio-economic reforms would not take place. Thus, the court gave that there has to be harmonious construction where the rights should be interpreted in the light of ideals set by the directive principles.

Later in ‘Chandra Bhawan Boarding & Lodging Bangalore v. The State of Mysore’, the ‘Minimum Wage Act, 1948’ was alleged to have conferred unguided & uncontrolled discretion to the government to fix minimum wages which is in interference with the freedom of trade & in violation of ‘Article 14’. It was ruled that there is no conflict between the fundamental rights & directives, as they were ‘complementary & supplementary’ to each other. Because the Constitutional provisions are in no way termed as barriers to progress but in a way provide for orderly progress.   

The equality of status of these both chapters was formulated in ‘Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala’

Thus the courts were mostly inclined towards a realistic sense from a dogmatic stance.

C) Directive principles as the spirit of the Constitution –

In this phase, the relation between these two chapters is seen as a way to bring about a socio-economic change. It was majorly based on two arguments;

i) It was not merely that the state should be aware of what was the intention of the framers of the Constitution, but it should have support to undertake certain socio-economic projects.

ii) As the state was not able to effectively implement the directives due to the conservative approach of the courts, so it has put many people in desperate condition that necessitated a joint approach by the executive, legislature, judiciary to address these problems.

This new approach was primarily followed in the watershed case of ‘Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India’, where the Supreme Court held that the preamble & directive principles represent an outline of public interest & state action which would limit certain individual rights in the interest of public.

Amendments made :

The Congress government introduced ‘Article 31c’ through 25th Amendment in 1971 & 42nd Amendment in 1976 which gave primacy to the directive principles over fundamental rights in certain circumstances.

In ‘Minerva Mills v. Union of India’, a textile company of the petitioners was nationalized under the Silk Textile Undertaking (Nationalization) Act, 1974. The petitioners questioned the constitutional validity of this Act & 42nd Amendment of the Constitution. They also argued that ‘Article 31c’ destroys the fundamental rights in normal times.

 It was concluded by the court that the Parliament has acted outside its authority as it gave preference to directives over the fundamental rights. Anything that destroys the balance between two chapters will ipso facto destroy the basic structure of the Constitution.

This decision was later questioned in ‘Sanjeev Coke Mfg Co. v. M/s Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. Here it was ruled that the Coking Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1972 was protected by ‘Article 31c’ & gave preference over fundamental rights on the basis that it gave effect to ‘Article 39(6)’ of the directive principles.

Later these conflicting decisions were settled in ‘State of Tamil Nadu v. L Abu Kavier Bai’. The court appreciated the reason that the founding fathers did not make these directives enforceable because the consideration has to be made by the government from time to time based on the situations, capacity etc. Thus it is the duty of the court to make an attempt to harmonize between both these chapters.

In ‘Randhir Singh v. Union of India’, it was given regarding this third phase that there is a rising social & political consciousness where by the underprivileged are also claiming for their rights.

          This article is of explanatory nature. Where the author takes the reader through the plight of South Africa initially and then later highlights the Indian scenario with respect to its Constitutional provisions. From many years back in history, there was a situation before the courts to find out the relationship between fundamental rights & directive principles.

Though both the chapters have been included in the Constitution but there is still a debate which chapter carries more preference in case of any conflict between them. Thus in this article the author hereby explains the background, nature, scope, clauses, categories, need, essence of the directive principles, relationship between both the chapters, phases of development.

So that the reader gets a fair idea from history till the current phase of development. Thus this article is very much helpful to enlighten on this discussion as it was explained in a detailed manner chronologically with the landmark judgements from time to time. The language of the article is also very clear & understandable[1].


[1] Bertus De Villiers, ‘Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights: The Indian Experience’ (1992) 8 S Afr J on Hum Rts 29.

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