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Notes on Gautam Bhatia's Article on the Relationship Between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State policy

A few months ago in school, we learnt about the relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. The prescribed ISC textbook did not provide an adequate explanation. However, my teacher was kind enough to share an article penned by Gautam Bhatia, an eminent Constitutional lawyer, and author who is most famously known for his book, 'The Transformative Constitution'.
Below, I have written a summary/ my notes of the article penned by him.

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The constitution was not drafted with an intention for Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles to be related. There was a clear division between the two; Fundamental Rights were enforceable, and remedies existed to ensure the protection of those Rights. On the contrary, Directive Principles were un-enforceable and more ‘guiding’ in nature. The DPSPs were only politically relevant but constitutionally irrelevant. This was H.M Seervai’s understanding of Part IV (DPSPs) of the constitution. After the Re Kerala Education Bill, the Supreme Court opened up the possibility for mutual existence or ‘harmonious construction’. 
The Supreme Court understood the relationship between Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (DPSPs) in a couple of ways.

Directive Principles as Markers of Reasonableness

The Indian Constitution permits textual limitations to its Fundamental Rights. The Government is allowed to exercise ‘reasonable restrictions’ for the ‘interest of the general public’. The court decided to invoke the DPSPs to determine whether a specific act of the Government was within the ‘reasonable restriction’ that the State should be allowed to exercise. They repeatedly invoked this newly adopted principle. For example, in Cotton Mills v. State of Bombay, the question was whether states could force companies to join collective bargaining agreements and the court decided that in the broader interests of the country, the employer must conform to social legislation. 

In Chandrabhavan v. State of Mysore, the court said that fundamental rights and directive principles were ‘complementary and supplementary’. This was similarly adopted in two important cases in the 70s (Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala and Minerva Mills v. Union of India) in which the Courts rationalised the approach by defining DPSPs as ‘social goals’ and fundamental rights as ‘side-constraints’. The court then moved from a stance of DPSPs being irrelevant to being ‘at par’ with the bill of rights. The only difference is that citizens could not move the court directly to enforce them.

An example in recent times when the court observed that a certain ‘limiting right’ exercised reasonable restraint was during the Right to Education case in which they ruled that since a DPSP was advanced, the 25% quota was not in ‘clear conflict’.

Directive Principles as Interpretive Guides

After the court had in its judgements invoked Directive Principles in legal adjudication, it soon took the next possible step – using them as interpretive guides. 

An interesting case in which this was done is Balwant Raj v. Union of India, a 1966 judgement of the Allahabad High Court. An employee of the Indian Railways had contracted tuberculosis and was axed from the railways because of the ‘failure to resume duty’. Balwant Raj read the directive principle that required the State to secure the right to work in such a manner that it included only voluntary failures, but his failure was involuntary as it was due to TB. They justified this by saying that the rule that had initially resulted in his discharge from service had to be done in accordance and spirit of the DPSPs.

The court treated the Directive Principles in such a way in which it could infuse it into the law without directly enforcing them. The court has so far failed to define a coherent and precise role that the principles are meant to play in statutory interpretation. In the case of the Tamil Nadu Government handing out free television sets as gifts, the court ruled that it was valid ‘public purpose’ because it was carried out to fulfil a directive principle. 

Directive Principles as Framework Values

The consequences of the court shifting its opinion on the relevance of directive principles are incredibly crucial. On the question of affirmative action or reservation for certain communities based on caste, one can argue that it violated the right to equality or Article 16 that guaranteed the equality of opportunity in employment. It must have been a simple equal-opportunities case. However, the court thought differently. 

The court said that if the State wanted to give equal opportunity for the Depressed Classes, it would have to take note of their social and economic standing as well as the historically unequal treatment that has resulted in differential treatment being meted out to them and hence has a role of securing jobs, old age pension, medical care etc. The idea that the State has a role or obligation to help weaker sections of society has been increasingly accepted in Constitutional law. Justice Bhagwati in his opinion on the Minerva Mills case said that even when something may ‘clash with a formalistic and doctrinaire view of equality before the law……. conform to the principle of…….equality before the law in its total magnitude and dimension”. By this, Bhagwati meant that even if on the face of it, it was unequal and caused discrimination (if one read the law as it is typed), if one considered the greater good or the overall ‘magnitude and dimension’, it would be beneficial. As Ashok Kumar Thakur said, the principles of equality could be altered to carry out the Directive Principles.

You can read the full article here.

Comments

  1. Respected sir, I am fan of your blog. Myself Ramesh, third year law student at government law college mysuru. You have natural gift in writing. Wanting to make small correction sir. Justice Bhagwati was a man. You refer to honourable lordship as her. Kindly change.. continue good work...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind comments and useful feedback. It has been corrected now! Apologies

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