Edited Excerpt from the Judgment

Principles of State Policy

There is no doubt that though the courts have always attached very great importance to the preservation of human liberties, no less importance has been attached to some of the Directive Principles of State Policy enunciated in Part IV.

In the words of Granville Austin, (The Indian Constitution: Corner Stone of a Nation, p. 50) the Indian Constitution is first and foremost a social document and the majority of its provisions are aimed at furthering the goals of social revolution by establishing the conditions necessary for its achievement.

Therefore the importance of Directive Principles in the scheme of our Constitution cannot ever be over-emphasized. Those principles project the high ideal which the Constitution aims to achieve. In fact Directive Principles of State policy are fundamental in the governance of the country and the Attorney General is right that there is no sphere of public life where delay can defeat justice with more telling effect than the one in which the common man seeks the realisation of his aspirations.

The promise of a better to-morrow must be fulfilled to-day; day after to-morrow it runs the risk of being conveniently forgotten. Indeed so many tomorrows have come and gone without a leaf turning that today there is a lurking danger that people will work out their destiny through the compelled cult of their own “dirty hands”. Words bandied about in marbled halls say much but fail to achieve as much.

Fundamental rights

But there is another competing constitutional interest which occupies an equally important place in that scheme. That interest is reflected in the provisions of Part III which confer fundamental rights some on citizens as Articles 15, 16 and 19 do and some on. All persons alike as Articles 14, 20, 21 and 22 do.

As Granville Austin says: “The core of the commitment to the social revolution lies in Parts III and IV.. These are the conscience of the Constitution. It is needless to cite decisions which have extolled and upheld the personal freedoms their majesty, and in certain circumstances, their inviolability. It may however be profitable to see how the American Supreme Court, dealing with a broadly comparable Constitution, has approached the claim for those freedoms.

In Barbara Elfbrandt v. Imogene Russell the U. S. Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of an Arizona Statute requiring State employees to take a loyalty oath. Justice Douglas speaking for the majority, observed while striking down the provision that: “Legitimate Legislative goals ‘cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved’..

“The objectionable quality of……. over breadth” depends upon the existence of a statute “susceptible of sweeping and improper application.. These freedoms are delicate and vulnerable as well as supremely precious in our society. The threat of sanctions may deter their exercise almost as potently as the actual application of sanctions”.

In United States v. Herbet Guest, though the right to travel freely throughout the territory of the United States of America does not find an explicit mention in the American Constitution, it was held that the right to travel from one State to another occupied a position fundamental to the concept of the Federal Union and the reason why the right was not expressly mentioned in the American Constitution though it was mentioned in the Articles of Confederation, was that “a right so elementary was conceived from the beginning to be a necessary concomitant of the stronger Union the Constitution created”.

The value of personal liberties

The history of India’s struggle for independence and the debates of the Constituent Assembly show how deeply our people value their personal liberties and how those liberties are regarded as an indispensable and integral part of our Constitution. It is significant that though Parts III and IV appear in the Constitution as two distinct fasciculus of articles, the leaders of our independence movement drew no distinction between the two kinds of State’s obligations- negative and positive.

“Both types of rights had developed as a common demand, products of the national and social revolutions, of their almost inseparable intertwining, and of the character of Indian politics – itself”.

The demand for inalienable rights traces its origin in India to the 19th Century and flowered into the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Indians demanded equality with their British rulers on the theory that the rights of the subjects cannot in a democracy be inferior to those of the rulers. Out of that demand grew the plants of equality and free speech. Those and other basic rights found their expression in Article 16 of The Constitution of India Bill, 1895. A series of Congress resolutions reiterated that demand between 1917 and 1919.

The emergence of Mahatma Gandhi; on the political scene gave to the freedom movement a new dimension: it ceased to be merely anti-British it became a movement for the acquisition of rights of liberty for the Indian Community. Mrs. Besan’t Commonwealth of India Bill, 1925 and the Madras Congress resolution of 1928 provided a striking continuity for that movement.

The Motilal Nehru Committee appointed by the. Madras Congress resolution said at pp. 89-90:

“It is obvious that our first care should be to have our Fundamental Rights guaranteed in a manner which will not permit their withdrawal under any circumstances.. Another reason why great importance attaches to a Declaration of Rights is the unfortunate existence of communal differences in the country.

Certain safeguards are necessary to create and establish a sense of security among those who look upon each other with distrust and suspicion. We could not better secure the full enjoyment of religious and communal rights to all communities than by including them among the basic principles of the Constitution.”

 India represents a mosaic of humanity consisting of diverse religious linguistic and caste groups. The rationale behind the insistence on fundamental rights has not yet lost its relevance, alas or not, The Congress session of Karachi adopted in 1931 the Resolution on Fundamental Rights as well as on Economic and Social change. The Sapru Report of 1945 said that the fundamental rights should serve as a “standing warning” to all concerned that:

“What the Constitution demands and expects is perfect. equality between one section of the Community and another in the matter of political and civic rights equality of liberty and security in the enjoyment of the freedom of religion, worship and the pursuit of the ordinary applications of life”. (p. 260).

The Indian nation marched to freedom in this background. The Constituent Assembly resolved to enshrine the fundamental rights in the written text of the Constitution. The interlinked goals of personal liberty and economic freedom then came to be incorporated in two separate parts, nevertheless parts of an integral, indivisible scheme which was carefully and thoughtfully nursed over half a century. The seeds sown in the 19th Century saw their fruition in 1950 under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Ambedkar.

Liberties granted under Part III cannot be destroyed to achieve the goals of Part IV

To destroy the guarantees given by Part III in order purportedly to achieve the goals of Part IV is plainly to subvert the Constitution by destroying its basic structure. Fundamental rights occupy a unique place in the lives of civilized societies and have been variously described in our Judgments as “transcendental”, “inalienable” and “primordial”.

For us, it has been said in Kesavananda Bharti (p. 991), they constitute the ark of the constitution. The significance of the perception that Parts III and IV together constitute the core of commitment to social revolution and they, together, are the conscience of the Constitution is to be traced to a deep understanding of the scheme of the Indian Constitution.

Granville Austin’s observation brings out the true position that Parts III and IV are like two wheels of a chariot, one no less important than the other. You snap one and the other will lose its efficacy. They are like a twin formula for achieving the social revolution, which is the ideal which the visionary founders of the Constitution set before themselves.

Balance between Parts III and IV.

In other words, the Indian Constitution is founded on the bed-rock of the balance between Parts III and IV. To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution. This harmony and balance between fundamental rights and directive principles is an essential feature of the basic structure of the Constitution. This is not mere semantics. The edifice of our Constitution is built upon the concepts crystallised in the Preamble. We resolved to constitute ourselves into a Socialist State which carried with it the obligation to secure to our people justice-social, economic and political.

We, therefore, put part IV into our Constitution containing directive principles of State policy which specify the socialistic goal to be achieved. We promised to our people a democratic polity which carries with it the obligation of securing to the people liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity and the assurance that the dignity of the individual will at all costs be preserved.

We, therefore, put Part, III in our Constitution conferring those rights on the people. Those rights are not an end in themselves but are the means to an end. The end is specified in Part IV. Therefore, the rights conferred by Art III are subject to reasonable restrictions and the Constitution provides that enforcement of some of them may, in stated uncommon circumstances, be suspended.

But just as the rights conferred by Part III would be without a radar and a compass if they were not geared to an ideal, in the same manner the attainment of the ideals set out in Part IV would become a pretence for tyranny if the price to be paid for achieving that ideal is human freedoms. One of the faiths of our founding fathers was the purity of means.

Indeed, under our law, even a dacoit who has committed a murder cannot be put to death in the exercise of right of self-defence after he has made good his escape. So great is the insistence of civilised laws on the purity of means. The goals set out in Part IV have, therefore, to be achieved without the abrogation of the means provided for by Part III. It is in this sense that Parts III and IV together constitute the core of our Constitution and combine to form its conscience. Anything that destroys the balance between the two parts will ipso facto destroy anessential element of the basic structure of our Constitution.


Minerva Mills v. Union of India (1980)