An Edited Excerpt from Justice Bhagwati’s Judgment in Minerva Mills Case

Indian Constitution is a Social Document

The Indian Constitution is first and foremost a social document. The majority of its provisions are either directly aimed at furthering the goals of the socio-economic revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing the conditions necessary for its achievement. Yet despite the permeation of the entire Constitution by the aim of national renascence, says Granville Austin, “the core of the commitment to the social revolution lies ……….. in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.”

These are the conscience of the Constitution and, according to Granville Austin, “they are designed to be the Chief instruments in bringing about the great reforms of the socio-economic revolution and realising the constitutional goals of social, economic and political justice for all.

Relations of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy

The Fundamental Rights undoubtedly provide for political justice by conferring various freedoms on the individual, and also make a significant contribution to the fostering of the social revolution by aiming at a society which will be egalitarian in texture and where the rights of minority groups will be protected.

But it is in the Directive Principles that we find the clearest statement of the socioeconomic revolution. The Directive Principles aim at making the Indian masses free in the positive sense, free from the passivity engendered by centuries of coercion by society and by nature, free from the object physical conditions that had prevented them from fulfilling their best salves.

The Fundamental Rights are no doubt important and valuable in a democracy but there can be no real democracy without social and economic justice to the common man and to create socio- economic conditions in which there can be social and economic justice to everyone, is the theme of the Directive Principles.

The Obligations of Directive Principles on State

It is the Directive Principles which nourish the roots of our democracy, provide strength and vigour to it and attempt to make it a real participatory democracy which does not remain merely a political democracy but also becomes social and economic democracy with Fundamental Rights available to all irrespective of their power, position or wealth. The dynamic provisions of the Directive Principles fertilise the static provisions of the Fundamental Rights.

The object of the Fundamental Rights is to protect individual liberty, but can individual liberty be considered in isolation from the socio-economic structure in which it is to operate. There is a real connection between individual liberty and the shape and form of the social and economic structure of the society. Can there be any individual liberty at all for the large masses of people who are suffering from want and privation and who are cheated out of their individual rights by the exploitative economic system?

Would their individual liberty not come in conflict with the liberty of the socially and economically more powerful class and in the process, get mutilated or destroyed? It is axiomatic that the real controversies in the present day society are not between power and freedom but between one form of liberty and another. Under the present socio-economic system, it is the liberty of the few which is in conflict with the liberty of the many.

The Directive Principles therefore, impose an obligation on the State to take positive action for creating socio-economic conditions in which there will be an egalitarian social order with social and economic justice to all, so that individual liberty will become a cherished value and the dignity of the individual a living reality, not only for a few privileged persons but for the entire people of the country.

It will thus be seen that the Directive Principles enjoy a very high place in the constitutional scheme and it is only in the framework of the socio-economic structure envisaged in the Directive Principles that the Fundamental Rights are intended to operate, for it is only then they can become meaningful and significant for the millions of our poor and deprived people who do not have even the bare necessities of life and who are living below the poverty level.

The Scheme of Directive Principles

The Directive Principles are set out in Part IV of the Constitution and this Part starts with Article 37 which, to my mind, is an Article of crucial importance. It says:

“The provisions contained in this Part shall not be enforceable in any court but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.”

It is necessary, in order to appreciate the full implications of this Article, to compare it with the corresponding provision in the Irish Constitution which provided to some extent the inspiration for introducing Directive Principles in the Constitution.

Article 45 of the Irish Constitution provides:

“The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Directives. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the care of the Direchtas exclusively and shall not be cognizable for any court under any of the provisions of this Constitution.”

It is interesting to note that our Article 37 makes three significant departures from the language of Article 45;

First whereas Articles 4 provides that the application of the principles of social policy shall not be cognizable by any court, Article 37 says that the Directive Principles shall not be enforceable by any court:

Secondly whereas Article 45 provides that the principles of social policy are intended for the general guidance of the Direchtas, Article 37 makes the Directive Principles fundamental in the governance of this country; and

Lastly, whereas Article 45 declares that the application of principles of social policy in the making of laws shall be the care of the Direchtas exclusively, Article 37 enacts that it shall be the duty of the State to apply the Directive Principles in making laws.

The changes made by the framers of the Constitution are vital and they have the effect of bringing about a total transformation or metamorphosis of this provision, fundamentally altering its significance and efficacy, It will be noticed that the Directive Principles are not excluded from the cognizance of the court, as under the Irish Constitution: they are merely made non-enforceable by a court of law for reasons already discussed But merely because they are not enforceable by the judicial process does not mean that they are of subordinate importance to any other part of the Constitution.

Enforceability of Directive Principles

I have already said this before, but I am emphasizing it again, even at the cost of repetition, because at one time a view was taken by this Court in State of Madras v. Champkan Dorairajan that because Fundamental Rights are made enforceable in a court of law and Directive Principles are not. “the Directive Principles have to conform to and run as subsidiary to the Chapter on Fundamental Rights.”

This view was patently wrong and within a few years, an opportunity was found by this Court in the Kerala Education Bill, 1959 SCR 995 to introduce a qualification by stating that:

“Nevertheless in determining the scope and ambit of the Fundamental Rights relied on by or on behalf of any person or body, the court may not entirely ignore these Directive Principles of State Policy laid down in Part IV of the Constitution but should adopt the principle of harmonious construction and should attempt to give effect to both as much as possible.”

But even this observation seemed to give greater importance to Fundamental Rights as against Directive Principles and that was primarily because the Fundamental Rights are enforceable by the Judicial process while the Directive Principles are expressly made non-enforceable I am however, of the opinion, and on this point I agree entirely with the observation of Hegde, J. in his highly illuminating Lectures on the “Directive Principles of State Policy” that:

Whether or not a particular mandate of the Constitution is enforceable by court, has no bearing on the importance of that mandate. The Constitution contains many important mandates which may not be enforceable by the courts of law. That does not mean that those Articles must render subsidiary to the Chapter on Fundamental Rights …… it would be wrong to say that those positive mandates”, that is the positive mandates contained in the Directive Principles, “are of lesser significance than the mandates under Part III.”

Hegde, J. in fact pointed out at another place in his Lectures that:

“Unfortunately an impression has gained ground in the organs of the State not excluding judiciary that because the Directive Principles set out in Part IV are expressly made by Article 37 non-enforceable by courts, these directives are mere pious hopes not deserving immediate attention. I emphasize again that no Part of the Constitution is more important that Part IV to ignore Part IV is to ignore the sustenance provided for in the Constitution, the hopes held out to the nation and the very ideals on which our Constitution is built up.”

I wholly endorse this view set forth by Hegde, J and express my full concurrence with it. I may also point out that simply because the Directive Principles do not create rights enforceable in a court of law, it does not follow that they do not create any obligations on the State.

A rule imposing an obligation or duty would not therefore cease to be a rule of law because there is no regular judicial or quasi-judicial machinery to enforce its command. Such a rule would exist despite of any problem relating to its enforcement. Otherwise the conventions of the Constitution and even rules of International Law would no longer be liable to be regarded as rules of law.

It is therefore to my mind, clear beyond doubt that merely because the Directive Principles are not enforceable in a court of law, it does not mean that they cannot create obligations or duties binding on the State. The crucial test which has to be applied is whether the Directive Principles impose any obligations or duties on the State; if they do, the State would be bound by a constitutional mandate to carry out such obligations or duties, even though no corresponding right is created in any one which can be enforced in a court of law.

Now on this question Article 37 is emphatic and makes the point in no uncertain terms. It says that the Directive Principles are “nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.” There could not have been more explicit language used by the Constitution makers to make the Directive Principles binding on the State and there can be no doubt that the State is under a constitutional obligation to carry out this mandate contained in Article 37.

In fact, non-compliance with the Directive Principles would be unconstitutional on the part of the State and it would not only constitute a breach of faith with the people who imposed this constitutional obligation on the State but it would also render a vital part of the Constitution meaningless and futile.


Minerva Mills Ltd. v Union of India (1980)