“Constitutional culture” is inherent in the concepts where words are transformed into concrete consequences. It is an interlocking system of practices, institutional arrangements, norms and habits of thought that determine what questions we ask, what arguments we credit, how we process disputes and how we resolve those disputes. 

The   aforestated   definition   of   the   term   ‘constitutional culture’ is to be perceived as set of norms and practices that breathe life into the words of the great document. It is the conceptual normative spirit that transforms the Constitution into a dynamic document. It is the constitutional culture that constantly enables the words to keep in stride with the rapid and swift changes occurring in the society.

The responsibility of fostering a constitutional culture falls on the shoulders of the State and the populace. The allegiance to promoting a constitutional culture stems from the crying need of the sovereign to ensure that the democratic nature of our society remains undaunted and the fundamental tenets of the Constitution rest on strong platform.

The following observations made by the Court in R.C. Poudyal v. Union of India (1993)   throw   light   on   this   duty   cast   upon   the functionaries and the citizens: ¬

“Mere existence of a Constitution, by itself, does not ensure constitutionalism or a constitutional culture. It is the political maturity and traditions of a people that   import   meaning   to   a   Constitution   which otherwise   merely   embodies   political   hopes   and ideals.”

The   Constitutional   Courts,   while   interpreting   the constitutional   provisions,   have   to   take   into   account   the constitutional culture, bearing in mind its flexible and evolving nature,   so that   the provisions are   given   a   meaning   which reflect the object and purpose of the Constitution.

History reveals that in order to promote and nurture this spirit of constitutional   culture, the Courts have adopted a pragmatic approach of interpretation which has ushered in an era of “constitutional pragmatism”.

In this context, we may have some perspective from the American approach.   The perception is that language is a social and contextual enterprise; those who live in a different society and use language differently cannot reconstruct the original meaning. Justice Brennan observed: ¬

“We current Justices read the Constitution in the only   way   that   we   can:   as   Twentieth Century Americans. We look to the history of the time of framing   and   to   the   intervening   history   of interpretation. But the ultimate question must be, what do the words of the text mean in our time? For the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and   gone,   but   in   the   adaptability   of   its   great principles   to   cope   with   current   problems   and current   needs.   What   the   constitutional fundamentals meant to the wisdom of other times cannot be their measure to the vision of our time. Similarly, what those fundamentals mean for us, our descendants will learn, cannot be the measure to the vision of their time.”

In Supreme   Court   Advocates-on -Record -Association and others v. Union of India, the Court, while emphasizing on   the   aspect   of   constitutional   culture   that   governs   the functioning of any constitutional body, has observed:- 

“The functioning of any constitutional body is only disciplined by appropriate legislation. Constitution does not lay down any guidelines for the functioning of   the   President   and   Prime   Minister   nor   the Governors or the Chief Ministers. Performance of constitutional   duties   entrusted   to   them   is structured by legislation and constitutional culture. The provisions of the Constitution cannot be read like a last will and testament lest it becomes one.”

Further,   the   Court   also   highlighted   that   a   balance between idealism and pragmatism is inevitable in order to create a workable situation ruling out any absurdity that may arise while adopting either one of the approaches: ¬

“The rule of law envisages the area of discretion to be the minimum, requiring only the application of known   principles   or   guidelines   to   ensure   non-arbitrariness, but to that limited extent, discretion is   a   pragmatic   need.   Conferring   discretion   upon high   functionaries   and,   whenever   feasible, introducing the element of plurality by requiring a collective   decision,   are   further   checks   against arbitrariness.

This is how idealism and pragmatism are reconciled and integrated, to make the system workable in a satisfactory manner.

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It   is   this   pragmatic   interpretation   of   the Constitution that was postulated by the Constituent Assembly, which did not feel the necessity of filling up every detail in the document, as indeed it was not possible to do so.”

In The   State   of   Karnataka   and   another   v.   Shri Ranganatha Reddy and another , the Court had laid stress on the obligation and the responsibility of the judiciary not to limit itself to the confines of  rigid principles or textualism and rather   adopt   an   interpretative   process   which   takes   into consideration   the   constitutional   goals   and   constitutional culture:¬

“When cryptic phrases expressive of constitutional culture and aspirational future, fundamental to the governance   of   the   nation,   call   for   interpretative insight, do we merely rest content to consult the O.E.D. and alien precedents, or feel the philosophy and share the foresight of the founding fathers and their telescopic faculty? Is the meaning of meanings an artless art?”

And again, “There is a touch of swadeshi about a country’s jurisprudence and so our legal notions must bear the   stamp   of   Indian   Developmental   amplitude linked to constitutional goals.”

Laying   emphasis   on   the   need   for   constitutional pragmatism, the Court in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1993) noted the observations made by Lord Rockill in his presidential address to   the   Bentham   Club   at   University   College   of   London   on February 29, 1984 on the subject “Law Lords, Reactionaries or Reformers?” which read as follows:¬

“Legal policy now stands enthroned and will I hope remain one of the foremost considerations governing the   development   by   the   House   of   Lords   of   the common   law.   What   direction   should   this development   now   take?   I   can   think   of   several occasions upon which we have all said to ourselves “this case requires a policy decision – what is the right policy decision?”

The answer is, and I hope will hereafter be, to follow that route which is most consonant with the current needs of the society, and   which   will   be   seen   to   be   sensible   and   will pragmatically thereafter be easy to apply. No doubt the Law Lords will continue to be the targets for those academic lawyers who will seek intellectual perfection rather than imperfect pragmatism.

But much of the common law and virtually all criminal law, distasteful as it may be to some to have to acknowledge it, is a blunt instrument by means of which human beings, whether they like it or not, are governed and subject to which they are required to   live,   and   blunt   instruments   are   rarely   perfect intellectually   or   otherwise.   By   definition   they operate bluntly and not sharply.””

The Court also observed:¬

“Be that as it may, sitting as a Judge one cannot be swayed   either   way   while   interpreting   the Constitutional   provisions   pertaining   to   the   issues under controversy by the mere reflexes of the opinion of any section of the people or by the turbulence created in the society or by the emotions of the day. We are very much alive to the fact that the issues with   which   we   are   now   facing   are   hypersensitive, highly   explosive   and   extremely   delicate. 

Therefore, the permissible judicial creativity in tune with the Constitutional   objectivity   is   essential   to   the interpretation of the Constitutional provisions so that the dominant values may be discovered and enforced. At the same time, one has to be very cautious and careful in approaching the issues in a very pragmatic and realistic manner.

Since   this   is   a   constitutional   issue   it   cannot   be resolved   by   clinches   founded   on   fictional mythological stories or misdirected philosophies or odious comparisons without any regard to social and economic conditions but by pragmatic, purposive and value oriented approach to the Constitution as it is the   fundamental   law   which   requires   careful navigation by political set up of the country and any deflection or deviation disturbing or threatening the social balance has to be restored, as far as possible, by the judiciary.”

Earlier, in Union of India   v. Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth and another, the Court had observed that:¬

“…in   a   dynamic   democracy,   with   goals   of transformation   set   up   by   the   Constitution,   the Judge, committee to uphold the founding faiths and fighting creeds of the nation so set forth, has to act heedless   of   executive   hubris,   socio-economic pressures   and   die-hard   obscurantism.   This occupational   heroism,   professionally   essential, demands the inviolable independence woven around the judiciary by our Constitution.

Perfection baffles even the framers of a Constitution, but while on statutory   construction   of   an   organic   document regulating   and   coordinating   the   relations   among instrumentalities, the highest Court must remember that law, including the suprema lex, is a principled, pragmatic, holistic recipe for the behavioral needs and   norms   of   life   in   the   raw-of   individuals, instrumentalities   and   the   play   of   power   and freedom”

The   aforesaid   passages   set   two   guidelines.   First,   it permits judicial creativity and second, it mentions one to be conscious of pragmatic realism of the obtaining situation and the controversy. That apart, there is a suggestion to take note of the behavioural needs and norms of life.  Thus, creativity, practical   applicability   and   perception   of   reality   from   the societal perspective are the warrant while engaging oneself with the process of interpretation of a constitutional provision.


Govt. of NCT Delhi v. Union of India (2018)