Relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policies (DPSPs)

By | September 16, 2016

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Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in the Constitution of India together comprise the human rights of an individual.[1] The idea of constitutionally embodied fundamental rights emerged in India in 1928 itself. The Motilal Committee Report of 1928 clearly envisaged inalienable rights derived from the Bill of Rights enshrined in the American Constitution to be accorded to the individual.[2] These undeniable rights were preserved in Part III of the Indian Constitution.[3]

The concept of Directive Principles embedded in the Constitution was inspired by and based on Article 45 of the Irish Constitution.[4]The Directive Principles imposed a duty upon the state to not only acknowledge the Fundamental Rights of an individual but also to achieve certain socio-economic goals.[5] Directive Principles were enumerated in Part IV of the Constitution. Parts III and IV of the Indian Constitution were once described by CJ. Chandrachud to be the conscience of the Constitution.[6]

However, there has perennially been a controversy surrounding the constitutional relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, as there would be a conflict between the interest of an individual at the micro level and the community’s benefit at a macro level.

Central part of this controversy is the question pertaining to which part of the Constitution would have primacy in the case of conflict between Parts III and IV. In this brief paper, an attempt is made to ascertain and comprehend the constitutional relationship between fundamental rights and directive principles. The author seeks to map out three different perspectives of the judiciary and the legislature with regards to the relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles.


The primary distinction between the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles as visualized by the drafters of the Constitution was with regards to the question of enforceability. Part III of the Constitution was enforceable against the state but Article 37 expressly provided that Part IV was not enforceable in a court.[7]

Earlier Supreme Court decisions attributed paramount importance to Fundamental Rights based on this aforementioned Constitutional position and provision.[8] In the landmark judgment of State of Madras vs. Srimathi Champakam[9] which subsequently led to the 1st Constitutional Amendment, Justice Das stated that directive principles were expressly made unenforceable by Article 37 and therefore could not override the fundamental rights found in Part III, which were enforceable pursuant to Article 32.[10]The court opined that fundamental rights were sacrosanct and could not be curtailed by Directive Principles and asserted that the directive principles although important in their own respect were required to adhere to the Fundamental Rights and in the case of conflict Part III would prevail over Part IV.[11] This view of the apex court was reaffirmed in subsequent landmark decisions such as

Mohd. Hanif Quareshi v State of Bihar[12]13 and In re Kerala Education Bill[13], 1957.

These decisions of the apex court were subject to much criticism due to the excess importance endorsed to Fundamental Rights resulting in the complete neglect of principles that promoted socio-economic change and development.[14]

The legislature was disappointed with the judiciary’s interpretation and believed that it was contradictory to what the framers of the Constitution believed. Pandit Nehru in his speeches in relation to the 1st and 4th Constitutional Amendments expressly stated his disappointment. He stated, “There is difficulty when the Courts of the Land have to consider these matters and lay more stress on the Fundamental Rights than on the Directive Principles. The result is that the whole purpose behind the Constitution which was meant to be a dynamic Constitution leading to a certain goal step by step, is somewhat hampered and hindered by the static element being emphasized a little more than the dynamic element.”[15]

It is therefore evident that the legislature believed that Fundamental Rights were to assist the Directive Principles and not vice-versa.[16]

This subsequently led to a transformation in the interpretation of the relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles to be more inclusive and harmonious. In Chandra Bhawan Boarding and Lodging Bangalore v State of Mysore[17], the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 was challenged for conferring unrestricted, unfettered and arbitrary power on the state in determining the minimum wages. The state argued that it was obligated to provide for minimum wages in accordance with the Directive Principles. The court held that the provisions of the Constitution were created to facilitate progress, as intended by the Preamble and it would be fallacious to assume that the Constitution provided only for rights and no duties.

Furthermore, it was stated that although Part III encompasses Fundamental Rights, Part IV was essential in the governance of the country and were therefore supplementary to each other.

This view was reaffirmed in Kesavanda Bharati v State of Kerala[18] where it was held that the directive principles were in harmony with the country’s aims and objectives and the fundamental rights could be amended to meet the needs of the hour implying that Parts III and IV needed to be harmoniously construed. Although these judgments were more dynamic in comparison to the previous approach that the apex court had extended, it still did not satisfy the ideals of the legislature. It could easily be speculated that the 42nd Amendment in 1976 was to accord primacy to the Directive Principles over the Fundamental Rights. The purpose of the amendment was to make the Directive Principles comprehensive and accord them precedence over the fundamental rights “which have been allowed to be relied upon to frustrate socio-economic reforms for the implementing of Directive Principles”.[19]

This resulted in the resurgence of the debate on the relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. In Minerva Mills Ltd. v Union of India[20], the court believed that the harmonious relation between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles was a basic feature of the Constitution. It was stated that Part III and Part IV together comprised of the core of the constitution and any legislation or amendment that destroyed the balance between the two would be in contravention to the basic structure of the Constitution. Chandrachud CJ. reasserted that Parts III and IV are complementary to each other and together they constitute the human rights of an individual. Reading these provisions independently would be impossible, as that would render them incomplete and thereby inaccessible. However, this was not settled as law yet and there was another hiccup in the subsequent judgments. In Sanjeev Coke Mfg. Co. v M/s Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.[21], the Supreme Court held that the part of the Minerva Mills judgment that dealt with Article 31 C of the Constitution was merely obiter dictum and therefore not binding. The court thus upheld the Coking Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1972 by granting greater importance to Directive Principles than Fundamental Rights in accordance with Article 31C that provided for the same.

The Sanjeev Coke judgment resulted in a divergence of opinion, which was ultimately settled in State of Tamil Nadu v L. Abu Kavier Bai.[22] The court referred to the decision of Constituent Assembly to create two parts for these core constitutional concepts. 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 public interest and to promote social welfare. This view has been consistently adopted ever since and has been endorsed in Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka[23] and Unni Krishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh[24]. It can therefore be construed to be well settled that a harmonious interpretation of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles is quintessential in ensuring social welfare and the apex court is promoting the same view after much deliberation.

 Although it appears to be well established that there is a need for balance and unanimity in interpreting  Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, this debate is far from over. The courts off late have played a proactive role in facilitating socio-economic development at a macro level which requires compromise on a micro level. Therefore in light of the benefit of the community at large, the Directive Principles may be used to determine the extent of public interest to limit the scope of Fundamental Rights.[25]

[1] V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India (Eastern Book Co., 2001) 23

[2] Vuayashri Sripat, ‘Toward Fifty Years of Constitutionalism and Fundamental Rights in India: Looking Back to See Ahead (1950-2000)‘  [1998-1999] 14 Am. U. Int’l L. Rev. , 428.

[3] Constitution of India 1950, Part III.

[4] Maureen Callahan, The Role of the Judiciary in India’s Constitutional Democracy, [1996-1997] 20 Hastings Int’l & Comp. L. Rev., 103.

[5] M.P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law (Lexis Nexis 2010) 549.

[6] Minerva Mills v Union of India [1980] 2 SCC 591.

[7] Constitution of India 1950, Article 37; V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India (Eastern Book Co., 2001)23.

[8] I.P. Massey, Nehru’s Constitutional Vision (1st, Deep & Deep Publications, 1991) 47.

[9] State of Madras v Srimathi Champakam [1951] SCR 525.

[10] J. Das in State of Madras v Srimathi Champakam [1951] SCR 525.

[11] Bertus De Villiers,  Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights: The

Indian Experience, [1992] 8 South African Journal on Human Rights, 41.

[12] Mohd. Hanif Quareshi v State of Bihar AIR 1958 SC 731

[13] In re Kerala Education Bill, 1957 [1959] SCR 995.

[14]SK.Sharma, Justice and Social Order in India (1984) 26 as cited in Bertus De Villiers, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights: The Indian Experience, [1992] 8 South African Journal on Human Rights, 44.

[15] Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XII-XIII, Part II at 8820-22, May 16, 1951.

[16] I.P. Massey, Nehru’s Constitutional Vision (1st, Deep & Deep Publications, 1991) 54

[17] Chandra Bhawan Boarding and Lodging Bangalore v State of Mysore [1969] 3 SCC 84.

[18] Kesavanda Bharati v State of Kerala [1973] 4 SCC225.

[19]The Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act 1976, Statement of Objects and Reasons,p- 3.

[20] Minerva Mills Ltd. v Union of India [1980] 2 SCC 591.

[21] Sanjeev Coke Mfg. Co. v M/s Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.AIR 1983 SC 239.

[22] State of Tamil Nadu v L. Abu Kavier Bai AIR 1984 SC 725.

[23] Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka[1992] 3 S.C.C. 666.

[24] Unni Krishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh1993 AIR 2178.

[25]Bertus, Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights: The Indian Experiene, [1992] 8 South African Journal on Human Rights, 49.