The social revolution was put at the top of the national agenda by the Constituent Assembly when it adopted Objectives Resolution. In Kesavananda Bharthi v. Union of India (1973), it was observed: –
“646….By the Objectives Resolution adopted on January 22, 1947, the Constituent Assembly solemnly pledged itself to draw up for India’s future governance a Constitution wherein “shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political, equality of status, of opportunity and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action subject to law and public morality and wherein adequate safeguard would be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed and other backward classes”.
Social, Political and Economic Justice
The close association between political freedom and social justice has become a common concept since the French Revolution. Since the end of the First World War, it was increasingly recognised that peace in the world can be established only if it is based on social justice. The most modern Constitutions contain declaration of social and economic principles, which emphasise, among other things, the duty of the State to strive for social security and to provide work, education and proper condition of employment for its citizens.
In evolving the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles, our founding fathers, in addition to the experience gathered by them from the events that took place in other parts of the world, also drew largely on their experience in the past. The Directive Principles and the Fundamental Rights mainly proceed on the basis of Human Rights. Representative democracies will have no meaning without economic and social justice to the common man. This is a universal experience.
Freedom from foreign rule can be looked upon only as an opportunity to bring about economic and social advancement. After all freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better. It is this liberty to do better that is the theme of the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution.”
The Chief Architect of the Constitution Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, on 19.11.1948, had stressed in the Constituent Assembly that the Constitution was committed to the principle of ‘economic democracy’ as a compliment to political democracy. His words are worth quoting: –
“Sir, that is the reason why the language of the articles in Part IV is left in the manner in which this Drafting Committee thought it best to leave it….It is, therefore, no use saying that the directive principles have no value. In my judgment, the directive principles have a great value, for they lay down that our ideal is economic democracy. Because we did not want merely a parliamentary form of Government to the instituted through the various mechanisms provided in the Constitution.
Without any direction as to what our economic ideal, as to what our social order ought to be, we deliberately included the Directive Principles in our Constitution. I think, if the friends who are agitated over this question bear in mind what I have said just now that our object in framing this Constitution is really twofold:
(i) to lay down the form of political democracy, and
(ii) to lay down that our ideal is economic democracy and also to prescribe that every Government whatever, it is in power, shall strive to bring about economic democracy, much of the misunderstanding under which most members are labouring will disappear….”
H.M. Seervai in ‘Constitutional Law of India, A Critical Commentary’ writes: –
“4.13 (a) The words “justice, liberty, equality and fraternity” are words of passion and power – the last three were the watchwords of the French Revolution. If they are to retain their power to move men’s hearts and to stir them to action, the words must be used absolutely – as they are used in the preamble. But do they throw any light on the provisions of the Constitution?
The only one of the four objectives which is directly incorporated in any Article is Justice, social, economic and political”, for Art. 38 provides:
“The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”
And Art. 39 amplifies the concept of justice by providing that the State shall in particular (that is, especially) direct its policy towards securing the objectives set out of Clauses (a) to (f) of that Article.”
The Ideals of Justice in our Constitution
The Preamble to our Constitution sets the ideals and goals which the makers of the Constitution intended to achieve. Therefore, it is also regarded as ‘a key to open the mind of the makers’ of the Constitution which may show the general purposes for which several provisions in the Constitution are enacted.
In Kesavananda, the Preamble is held to be a part of the Constitution. Further, in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Dr. Dina Nath Shukla and Anr.: (1997) 9 SCC 662, the Preamble is held to be a part of the Constitution and its basic structure. The Preamble indicates the intent of the makers of the Constitution ‘to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political…’
In V.N. Shukla’s Constitution of India, the significance of the expressions occurring in the Preamble and their sequence has been highlighted in the following words: –
“….the Constitution makers sought to secure to citizens of India justice- social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship; equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among the people of India, fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
Although the expressions “justice”, “liberty”, “equality”, “fraternity” and “dignity of the individual” do not have fixed contents and may not be easy to define, they are not without content or as mere platitudes. They are given content by the enacting provisions of the Constitution, particularly by Part III, the Fundamental Rights; Part IV, the Directive Principles of State Policy; Part IVA, the Fundamental Duties; and Part XVI, Special Provisions Relating to Certain Classes.
Special attention has been drawn to the sequence of these values in the Preamble which establishes primacy of justice over freedom and equality and this is what the Constitution does by making special provisions for the weaker and excluded sections of the society, women, children and minorities.”
The word ‘economic’ is employed more than thirty times in the Constitution. The relevant provisions in which it prominently occurs are:
- the Preamble and Article 38 (economic justice);
- Article 39-A (legal aid with neutrality of economic disability);
- Article 46 (promotion of economic interests of weaker sections),
- Articles 243-G and 243-W (economic development to be undertaken by local bodies).
Our jurisprudence supports making of a provision for tackling the disadvantages arising because of adverse economic conditions. In fact, Article 38 of the Constitution, inter alia, provides for securing economic justice and for striving to minimise the inequalities in income amongst individuals and groups of people.
In Jolly George Varghese and Anr. v. The Bank of Cochin: (1980) 2 SCC 360, adopting of coercive recovery proceedings in execution of decree, which were impinging upon liberty of a judgment-debtor, was not countenanced by Supreme Court; and in that context, a decision of the Kerala High Court relying upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 was referred to. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, on which the said decision is based, providing for social security reads as under: –
“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
As noticed hereinbefore, in Minerva Mills v. Union of India (1980), Supreme Court distinctly pointed out that the equality clause in the Constitution does not speak of mere formal equality but embodies the concept of real and substantive equality, which strikes at inequalities arising on account of vast social and economic differentials; and that the dynamic principle of egalitarianism furthers the concept of social and economic justice.
In Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan and Ors.: (1997) 11 SCC 121 this Court said: –
“25…It is to be remembered that the Preamble is the arch of the Constitution which accords to every citizen of India socio-economic and political justice, liberty, equality of opportunity and of status, fraternity, dignity of person in an integrated Bharat. The fundamental rights and the directive principles and the Preamble being trinity of the Constitution, the right to residence and to settle in any part of the country is assured to every citizen.
In a secular socialist democratic republic of Bharat hierarchical caste structure, antagonism towards diverse religious belief and faith and dialectical difference would be smoothened and the people would be integrated with dignity of person only when social and economic democracy is established under the rule of law. The difference due to cast, sect or religion pose grave threat to affinity, equality and fraternity.
Social democracy means a way of life with dignity of person as a normal social intercourse with liberty, equality and fraternity. The economic democracy implicit in itself that the inequalities in income and inequalities in opportunities and status should be minimised and as far as possible marginalised… ”
In People’s Union for Democratic Rights and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors.: (1982) 3 SCC 235, this Court observed: –
“2…..Large numbers of men, women and children who constitute the bulk of our population are today living a sub-human existence in conditions of abject poverty; utter grinding poverty has broken their back and sapped their moral fibre…….The only solution for making civil and political rights meaningful to these large sections of society would be to remake the material conditions and restructure the social and economic order so that they may be able to realise the economic, social and cultural rights.
There is indeed close relationship between civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other and this relationship is so obvious that the International Human Rights Conference in Teheran called by the General Assembly in 1968 declared in a final proclamation:
“Since human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible, the full realisation of civil and political rights without the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is impossible.”
Of course, the task of restructuring the social and economic order so that the social and economic rights become a meaningful reality for the poor and lowly sections of the community is one which legitimately belongs to the legislature and the executive…The State or public authority…should be…interested in ensuring basic human rights, constitutional as well as legal, to those who are in a socially and economically disadvantaged position…..”
Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India (2023)
 Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol VII, p. 494.
 H.M. Seervai, ‘Constitutional Law of India, A Critical Commentary’, 4th Edition, (1991-
reprinted 1999) at p. 280.
 V.N. Shukla’s Constitution of India’, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 13th Edition (2017),