Fundamental Duties: Concept, Importance and Relation

By | July 9, 2020
Fundamental Duties: Concept

This article aims to present an overview of the Fundamental Duties of Indian citizens. Our country has the lengthiest written constitution in the world. The Fundamental Duties are a part of our constitution through Article 51-A of Part IV- A. The three pillars of the State – the legislature, the judiciary and the executive cannot work in isolation for the empowerment of the citizens if the citizens do not contribute as well. Fundamental duties are an essential pillar of the Indian Nationhood.

This article is divided into multiple sections, to explain the historical context, the intent, as well as the enforceability of Fundamental Duties. This article also analyses the relationship Fundamental duties share with Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy, through a string of case laws.

I. Introduction and Historical Context

Fundamental duties aim to function as a reminder to every citizen that although the constitution has granted them certain Fundamental Rights that cannot be taken away or violated by the State, the constitution also demands that the citizens practice some essential norms of democratic conduct in a civil society.

Duties and Rights are interlinked, if you can enjoy the liberty and power that rights have conferred on you, you also have an obligation to obey the fundamental duties that your state expects of you. The Fundamental Duties for citizens was added through the 42nd Amendment in 1976. Chapter IV-A contains Article 51-A, which enlists the fundamental duties.[1]

As per Article 51-A[2], the following are the duties of every citizen of India –

  1. to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;

  2. to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;

  3. to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;

  4. to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;

  5. to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;

  6. to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;

  7. to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;

  8. to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;

  9. to safeguard public property and to abjure violence;

  10. to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement;

  11. who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years.

In 1976, the Indian National Congress, which was the ruling party at the time, created a committee for suggesting amendments in the Constitution. This committee was known as the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee[3].

It is essential to note that not all recommendations of the committee were accepted. The idea of Fundamental Duties has been lifted from the constitution of Russia (then existing as USSR)[4]. On an international level, the notion of fundamental duties was inspired from Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948[5].

II. The Need and Intent of Fundamental Duties

It is crucial to understand that a democratic system’s success, to some extent, depends upon the citizens. If citizens discharge their constitutional obligations, it becomes a driving force in maintaining the efficiency of the state. Article 51(A) mentions 11 fundamental duties, expected of citizens. Initially, there were only 10 duties but the 11th was added through the 86th Amendment[6] in 2002.

Fundamental duties play a key role in the interpretation of various statutes. For instance, in the case of Mohan Kumar Singhania v. Union of India[7], it was held that the statutes which have been drafted as per Article 51 of the constitution are legitimate. To understand the Fundamental Rights in totality, one needs to take Fundamental Duties into consideration.

Fundamental Duties help in striking a balance between the demands of the citizens and the expectations of the civil society and legal structure. The purpose behind having Fundamental Duties was explained through a report in 1999. This report had been drafted by a committee which had been headed by late Justice J.S. Verma.

As per this report, in order to strike that balance between a citizen’s demands and the civil society’s claims, it is necessary to educate and update citizens regarding their social and civil responsibilities. This would help shape the modern civil society. At the time of drafting the constitution, the constitution drafting committee did not feel the need to list Fundamental Duties. However, later governments felt that having fundamental duties would be beneficiary.

In the case of Chandra Bhavan Boarding and Lodging Bangalore v. State of Mysore and Another[8], it was decided by the Supreme Court that it is neither feasible nor fair for our constitution to ensure fundamental rights to citizens without expecting certain duties and obligations in return. The Court stated that –

It is a fallacy to think that in our Constitution, there are only rights and no duties. The provisions in Part IV enable the legislature to build a welfare society and that object may be achieved to the extent the Directive Principles are implemented by legislation.’

This judgment paved the way for the 42nd amendment as fundamental duties began to be seen as integral.

III. Enforcing the Duties

Out of the 11 fundamental duties, six are negative duties (i.e. forbidding certain actions) and five are positive in nature (i.e. commanding certain acts). However, there is no legally binding obligation associated with any of them. Similar to the Directive Principles of State Policy, they are prescriptive and suggestive as opposed to mandatory. Upon the non-observance or even violation of a Fundamental Duty, one will not face any penalty or punishment. They simply appeal to the goodwill of citizens.[9]

Fundamental Duties cannot be legally enforced unless a situation arises where the fundamental duty is associated with a statute for the breach. However, as per the case of Mumbai Kamgar Sabha V. Abdulbhai[10], they can be encouraged through constitutional measures, for the sake of public good. In the case of Mohan Kumar Singhania v. Union of India[11], the court stated that one could resort to Article 51- A in situations where the constitutionality of any legislation has been questioned and needs to be determined.

In the case of Ram Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh[12], the Court held that –

Constitutional law givers have provided that the citizens of this great nation shall perform their duties in an excellent way than performing it half-heartedly. Now the performance of duty comes within the sphere of constitutional law which a Court has to decide. 

It is also important to note that fundamental duties can be enforced under certain situations for public officers and government servants. Corrupt public officers can be held liable under the Representation of People Act, 1951.

IV. Corresponding Statutes

To understand the enforceability of fundamental duties, let’s analyze the statutes corresponding with the violation of the constitutional duties.

The fundamental duty in Article 51-A (a) to respect the National Flag and National Anthem corresponds with Sections 2 and 3 of The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 respectively. This Act provides a punishment of imprisonment up to three years and/or fine, if one burns, defaces or in any manner disrespects the National Flag. The same punishment is applicable on those who intentionally prevent the singing of the National Anthem or cause a disruption in the assembly that is singing it.

In the case of Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India[13], the Supreme Court passed an interim order that mandated the playing of the National Anthem at the start of every film in cinema theatres and compelled all viewers to stand during the National Anthem to convey respect. This controversial decision was later struck down, as it was believed to be violating Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

The Indian Penal Code[14] provides a remedy for violating (c), (e) and (i) of Article 51-A which are associated with sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation, the sense of promoting harmony and brotherhood and the acts that disrespect the modesty of women. The emphasis in (i) of Article 51-A for protecting public property, avoiding violence also find a place in the statutes of the IPC.

If one discriminates against another on the basis of caste or religion, they will face punishment as per The Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955. This is in favour of ensuring Article 51-A (e) which aims to promote brotherhood. Similarly, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 has been drafted to prevent citizens’ indulgence in unlawful activities that may incite communal violence.

Similarly, in (g) of Article 51-A, the duties intend to protect the environment and extend consideration for animals and the planet as a whole. This is guaranteed through the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.

In the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[15], a petition was filed against the water pollution caused in the Ganga river due to the discharge of sewage water directly into the river banks on a regular basis. The Courts found the Nagar Mahapalika and Municipal boards liable as it was their obligation to safeguard the environment in Kanpur but they had not taken any action to prevent the river water from getting polluted.

The court stated that the government and its agencies have a moral imperative to care about the health of the environment, and tied it to the fundamental duty present in Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution. The Court went on to say that the Central Governments have been entrusted with the responsibility to guide and raise awareness in the citizens about the value of the environment and why it must be protected.

The fundamental duty of Right to education, found in (k) of Article 51-A is ensured through the Right to Education Act as well as Article 21-A of the Constitution.

V. The Relation with DPSPs and Fundamental Rights

Fundamental Duties are not contemplated in isolation but read along with the Directive Principle of State Policy. Fundamental Duties and Directive Principle of State Policy both present a moral obligation in Chapter IV of the Constitution.  In the matter of Javed v. State of Haryana[16], the Court stated that fundamental rights must be read along with fundamental duties as well as directive principles of state policy, to get a coherent and complete understanding

The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Gujrat v. Mirzapur[17], stated that to interpret the provisions of Article 48, 48-A and Article 51(g), the directive principles of state policy and fundamental rights both need to be taken into consideration, to determine the constitutionality of any statute. The Court also said that fundamental duties and DPSPs need to be considered to examine the reasonability of any limitation or regulation placed on the fundamental rights.

In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary[18], the Court stated that a balance has to be struck between Fundamental Rights and Duties. Duty goes hand in hand with the rights. The Court also said that fundamental duties that preach the value of sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation are essential and should be treated as such.

Similarly, in the case of N.K. Bajpai vs. Union of India[19], the Court spoke of a link that ties Part III, IV and IV-A of the Constitution. These parts refer to fundamental rights, DPSP and fundamental duties respectively. The court emphasized the value of studying all three parts together to understand and interpret different provisions that may be ambiguous.

VI. The Significance of Fundamental Duties

The Court in the matter of Dr. Dasarathi v. State of Andhra Pradesh[20] stated that as per Article 51-A (j), every citizen has to obey the duty to strive toward excellence in every sphere of life. This collective activity would help the nation to rise to a higher level of endeavor and achievement. For the fulfilment of this objective, the State must grant opportunities and avenues to attain success, which are permissible under our Constitution.

The Supreme Court, in the case of Charu Khurana v. Union of India[21], stated that the State is supposed to enable opportunities for citizens instead of limiting them, and that duty of the citizen can be understood in a broader context as the collective duty of the State.

Conclusion

The non-enforceability of fundamental duties does not have a major impact on the significance of them. They are an essential aspect of not just the constitution but the entire civil society and democratic structure as a whole.

Fundamental Duties provide aspirations and moral obligations to citizens and function as the essence of the country’s social fabric. Some of these duties, as seen above, are linked and enforceable through specific legislations as well. They help inculcate a sense of responsibility in the citizens and help them play a bigger role in the functioning of the State. Fundamental Duties are also the flip side of the coin for fundamental rights, and are tied delicately to the Directive Principles of State Policy.


[1] The Constitution of India

[2] Ibid

[3] Koul R, and Koul M, Jurisprudential Aspects Of Fundamental Duties And Their Enforceability: A Study, Available Here accessed 7 July 2020

[4] Sen T, and Sinha N (Supremecourtcases.com), Available Here, accessed 7 July 2020

[5] Ibid

[6] The Constitution of India

[7] Mohan Kumar Singhania and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors, AIR 1992 SC 1

[8] Chandra Bhavan Boarding and Lodging v. State of Mysore, AIR 1970 SC 2042

[9] Paliwala M, ‘Fundamental Duties: Article 51-A Under Indian Constitution’, Available Here,  accessed 7 July 2020

[10] Mumbai Kamgar Sabha v. Abdulbhai AIR 1976 Sc 1455

[11] Supra, Note 7

[12] Ram Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1988 All 309

[13] Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India AIR 2018 SC 357

[14] The Indian Penal Code 1860

[15] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1988 SCR (2) 530

[16] Javed v. State of Haryana, (2003) 8 SCC 369

[17] State of Gujarat and Ors. v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and Ors AIR 2006 SC 212

[18] Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India (UOI) and Ors. MANU/SC/0131/2012

[19] N.K. Bajpai v. Union of India and Ors AIR 2012 SC 1310

[20] Dr. Dasarathi  v. State of Andhra Pradesh AIR 1985 AP 136

[21] Charu Khurana v. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 839


  1. Constitutional Law; Notes, Case Laws And Study Material
  2. Directive Principles of State Policy: An Overview
Author: Sheen Kaul

She is a LLB student at OP Jindal Global University, with a degree in Political Science Honours from Delhi University and a passion for legal journalism.