Relationship between Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights

By | June 30, 2020
Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights

The relationship between Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights has been a story of debate, ever since their inception. It is indeed a test of the structure on which a certain society has been built, its aspirations and the coherent principles involved in realising the necessary moral code. The state and its people, in order to construct a harmonious relationship, must adhere by the covenants of the constitution-makers, who clearly wanted the bond to be ‘complementary and supplementary.’


The Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles have a common origin. The Nehru report of 1928 which contained a Swaraj constitution of India incorporated some fundamental rights. These included such rights as the right of elementary education. The Sapru report of 1945 clearly divided the fundamental rights into two categories justiciable and non-justiciable.

Sir B. N. Rau, Constitutional Advisor of the Constituent Assembly, advised that the individual rights should be divided into two categories: those which can be enforced by a court and those which are not so enforceable. The latter he thought are ‘moral precepts’ for the authorities of the State. His suggestion was accepted by the Drafting Committee. Our constitution makers followed the model of the Constitution of Ireland which sets forth certain principles of social policy for the guidance of the State but which are not recognisable by any Court.

I. Definition of Fundamental Rights

Fundamental rights are rights having a noble pedigree. They are natural rights which are in the nature of external conditions necessary for the greatest possible unfolding of the capacities of a human being. These secured and guaranteed conditions are called fundamental rights.

It is generally agreed that these natural rights are inherent in man and cannot be taken away by the State. Natural rights command higher sanctity than other rights, for example, rights based on contract because they exist independent of any act.

Part III of the Constitution, which contains fundamental rights, has been described as the Magna Carta of India. These fundamental rights substantially cover all the traditional civil and political rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dr Ambedkar described them as” the most criticized part “of the constitution. Justice Gajendragadkar described them as the “very foundation and cornerstone of the democratic way of life ushered in the country by the Constitution”.

Fundamental Rights were deemed essential to protect the rights and liberties of the people against the encroachment of the power delegated by them in their government. They are limitations upon all the powers of the government.

In the Maneka Gandhi case[1], Justice Bhagwati, observed as follows:

“these fundamental rights represent the basic values cherished by the people of this country since the Vedic Times and they are calculated to protect the dignity of the individual and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest extent. They weave a ‘pattern of guarantee’ on the basic structure of human rights, and impose negative obligations on the State not to encroach on individual liberty in its various dimensions”.

These rights are regarded as fundamental because they are most essential for the attainment by the individual of his full intellectual, moral, and spiritual status. The objective behind the inclusion of them in the constitution is to establish “a government of law and not a man”. The object is to establish the rule of law.

II. Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs)

The Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution sets out the aims and objectives to be taken up by the States in the governance of the country. The idea of a welfare state envisaged by our constitution can only be achieved if the States endeavour to implement them with a high sense of moral duty.

The real importance of Directive Principles is that they contain positive obligations of the State towards its citizens. They are the ideals which the Union and State Governments must keep in mind while they formulate and pass a law. The Directive Principles constitute a very comprehensive political, social and economic programme for a modern democratic state.

The main objective behind enacting them appears to have been, to set standards of achievements before the legislature and the executive, the local and other authorities, by which their success or failure can be judged. Sanctions behind the Directive Principles are based on sound constitutional and moral obligations.

Constitutional obligations are secured by having Directive Principles as an integral part of the Constitution. The biggest moral force is public opinion which can enforce the directive principles and ensure the government’s accountability at the time of elections. Thus, sanctions behind Directive Principles are political.

Article 37 of the Constitution lays down that it shall be the duty of State to apply these Directives in making laws. Articles 38 to 51 contain seventeen Directive principles. Articles 355 and 365 of the Constitution can be applied for enforcing implementation of Directive principles.

The Constitution contains directives in places other than part IV. These directives are equally important. Article 335 states that in making appointments to services and posts in the government the claims of Scheduled Castes and Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration.

Article 350A enjoins the State and every local authority to provide facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage for linguistic minorities. Article 351 says that it shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of Hindi language, to develop it and to secure its enrichment.

III. Relationship between Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights

The relationship between Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights can be described in the following manner.

  1. Justiciability – The Directive Principles are non-justiciable, which means they cannot be enforced by the court and are declaratory in nature. On the other hand, Fundamental Rights are justiciable, that is they can be enforced by courts and are mandatory.
  2. Instrument v. Limitations – The Directive Principles are an instrument of the Government; they contain positive commands to the State to promote a social and welfare State. The Fundamental Rights are limitations upon the State actions; they contain negative injunctions to the State not to do various things. Articles 14 and 21 are negatively worded.
  3. Legislative and Judicial action – The Directive Principles are required to be implemented by legislation while Fundamental Rights are not required to be implemented by legislation. The courts cannot declare as void any law which is otherwise valid on the ground that it contravenes any of the Directive Principles. On the other hand, the courts are bound to declare as void any law that is inconsistent with fundamental rights.
  4. Democracy v. Socialism-The scope of Directive Principles is larger. The directive principles set the guidelines, in the larger interest of the community, for achieving socialistic goals through democratic methods. They are social rights and pertain to the economic field. The Fundamental Rights guarantees some basic rights to individuals. They are mostly political rights which tend to restrain the State.

The place the Directive Principles occupy in the constitution vis a vis the Fundamental rights has been a subject-matter of controversy for a long time. The controversy has now been set to rest by the Supreme Court.

Landmark Judgements

1. State of Madras v. Champkam Dorairajan

In the State of Madras v. Champkam Dorairajan,[2] the order of Madras Government was challenged. The impugned order fixed quotas for admission in medical and engineering colleges for different communities. The Government contended that the order was passed under Article 46 of the Constitution.

The Court held that “the Directive Principles of the State Policy have to conform to and run as subsidiary to the chapter of Fundamental Rights”, because the latter are enforceable in the principles and DPSP’S cannot override the Fundamental Rights. Therefore, the Court held that the order of the Madras Government was invalid.

2. Re Kerala Education Bill

In Re Kerala Education Bill,[3] the court observed that though the Directive Principles cannot override the Fundamental Rights, nevertheless, in determining the scope and ambit of Rights the court may not entirely ignore the Directives but should adopt the principle of harmonious construction and should attempt to give effect to both as much as possible.

The 25th Amendment Act of 1971 considerably enhanced the importance of Directives. It resulted in the addition of Article 31-C to the Constitution of India which provided that a law for implementing Directives contained in Article 39(b) and (c) could not be stuck down on the ground that it contravened rights conferred by Article 14, 19 or 31.

The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 widened the scope of Article 31-C so as to cover all Directive Principles. Thus, it gave precedence to all the Directive Principles over the Fundamental Rights contained under Article 14, 19 or 31.

3. Keshavananda Bharti v. Union of India

In Keshavananda Bharti v. Union of India[4], the Supreme Court observed that the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles are meant to supplement one another. It can well be said that the Directives prescribed the goal to be attained and Fundamental Rights lay down the means by which that goal is to be achieved. Both are equally important though Directives are not directly enforceable by courts.

4. Minerva Mills v. Union of India

In Minerva Mills v. Union of India[5], the Court struck down Article 31-C as amended by the 42nd Amendment as unconstitutional on the ground that it destroys the “basic features” of the Constitution. The majority observed that the Constitution is founded on the bedrock on the balance between Part III and IV. To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution which is the essential feature of the basic structure. The goals set out in Part IV have to be achieved without the abrogation of the means provided for by Part III.

The Court held that the unamended Article 31-C is valid as it does not destroy the basic features of the Constitution. Article 39 (b) and (c) are vital for the welfare of people and do not violate Articles 14 and 19. Other Directive Principles could not override Fundamental Rights.

It was stated that the purpose of the two distinct chapters was to grant the Government enough latitude and flexibility to implement the principles depending on the time and circumstances. The court, therefore, considered the Minerva Mills case precedent and recommended a harmonious construction of the two parts in the public interest and to promote social welfare. This view has been consistently adopted ever since and has been endorsed in the subsequent cases.

5. Sanjeev Coke Manufacturing Company v. Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.

However, in Sanjeev Coke Manufacturing Company v. Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.[6], the Supreme Court expressed doubt on the validity of its decision in the Minerva Mills case. It was held in this case that the amended Article 31-C is valid. The extension of constitutional immunity to other Directives does not destroy the basic structure of the Constitution.

6. State of Tamil Nadu v. Abu Kabir Bai

The confusion created by the above judgement was finally removed in State of Tamil Nadu v. Abu Kabir Bai[7]. A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that although the Directives are not enforceable yet the Court should make a real attempt at harmonising and reconciling the Directives and the Rights and any collision between the two should be avoided as far as possible.

The reason why the founding fathers of our Constitution did not make these Principles enforceable was, the court said, perhaps due to the vital consideration of giving the government sufficient latitude to implement these principles from time to time according to capacity, situation and circumstances that may arise.

7. Uni Krishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh

In the judgement of Uni Krishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh[8], the court has reiterated the same principle that the Fundamental Rights and Directive principles are supplementary and complementary to each other and the provisions in Part III should be interpreted having regard to the Preamble and Directive Principles.

There is no conflict or disharmony between Directive principles and Fundamental Rights, because they supplement each other in aiming at the same goal of bringing about a social revolution and establishment of a welfare State. As described by Granville Austin, the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles are the “Conscience of Our Constitution”.


The objective of both Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles is securing social, economic and political justice and dignity and welfare of the individual. Both are on the same level. In case of an apparent conflict, it is for the court to resolve it in exercise of its power of Judicial review.

An example of this conflict where the exercise of a Fundamental Right by a person seems to be inconsistent with the Directive Principle can be a butcher’s right to carry on his business and Article 48 prohibiting the slaughter of cows, etc. Similarly, an opposite example could be a legislation which is intended to give effect to a Directive Principle but infringes or abridges a Fundamental Right, such as a legislation fixing a minimum wage violates the right to carry on trade under Article 19 (1) (g).

The Court cannot declare a law which is inconsistent with the Directive Principle as void but the Courts have upheld the validity of a law on the ground that it was enacted to implement a Directive Principle. In recent times, certain Directive Principles have been judicially enforced by imaginative and creative interpretation of Fundamental Rights (viz. right to education, right to clean environment, etc.,). The relationship between Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights has to be necessarily nurtured and enlarged to signify a transition, that deems it necessary.

[1] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597.

[2] AIR 1951 SC 228.

[3] AIR 1957 SC 956.

[4] AIR 1978 SC 1461.

[5] AIR 1980 SC 1789.

[6] (1983) 1 SCC 147.

[7] AIR 1984 SC 626.

[8] (1993) 1 SCC 645.

  1. Constitutional Law; Notes, Case Laws And Study Material
  2. Fundamental Rights; Nature, Scope and importance