New Delhi: Over the past month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have repeatedly drawn attention to the Fundamental Duties enshrined in our Constitution.
The most recent reference came Wednesday, when PM Modi sought to remind anti-citizenship law protesters of the Fundamental Duties. Pulling up those who damaged public property, Modi said they should “not to forget that rights and duties go hand in hand”.
Then, last week, at the National Committee of ‘Gandhi@150’ commemorations held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the PM once again underscored the importance of Fundamental Duties and the need for citizens to follow them.
“The Prime Minister mentioned how Mahatma Gandhi believed that by discharging one’s duties towards the nation and each other faithfully, a human being automatically ensures that the fundamental rights of others are secured. He concluded by stating that if everyone walks on this path and faithfully discharges their duties diligently, India’s dreams will be fulfilled,” a Union Culture Ministry statement said.
Again, on 26 November, Constitution Day, the Ministry of Human Resource Development directed higher educational institutes to ensure that students take a pledge to abide by the Fundamental Duties.
A similar letter was issued for the celebration of Constitution Day in 2016, when higher educational institutes were directed to conduct activities focusing on Fundamental Duties.
Soon after his victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well, Modi had called for a ‘paradigm shift’ in India – from the centrality of fundamental rights to the fundamental duties.
As the Modi government puts focus on Fundamental Duties, ThePrint explains what these are and how they’re different from Fundamental Rights.
What are Fundamental Rights?
Fundamental Rights are enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India, and list the basic human rights of all citizens of the country.
These include: Right to equality; right to freedom; right against exploitation; right to freedom of religion; cultural and educational rights; and the right to constitutional remedies.
Fundamental rights are enforceable by courts and are subject to certain specific restrictions. For instance, freedom of speech and expression is subject to the “reasonable restrictions” such as public order and defamation, under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
Over the years, the judiciary has expanded fundamental rights to include within its ambit other rights such as freedom of press, right to privacy and right to a speedy trial.
What are Fundamental Duties?
Fundamental Duties were introduced by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976, by inserting Article 51-A into the Constitution of India. The Article is an Emergency-era provision introduced by the Indira Gandhi government.
They were originally 10 in number and called upon the citizens to: Respect the Constitution, the national flag, and the national anthem; cherish the noble ideals of the freedom struggle; uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; defend the country and render national service when called; promote harmony and common brotherhood amongst all the people of India; preserve the rich heritage of the nation’s composite culture; protect the natural environment and have compassion for living creatures; develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform; safeguard public property and abjure violence; strive for excellence in all individual and collective activity.
Subsequently, another duty was added by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government through the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002, calling upon parents and guardians to “provide opportunities for education of his child, or as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years”.
Fundamental Duties are said to be “borrowed” from the citizen’s duties enumerated in the constitution of the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). They also intended to bring the Constitution in line with Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Swaran Singh Committee
The Sardar Swaran Singh Committee was set up in 1976 by the Congress, during the Emergency.
Headed by then external affairs minister, Swaran Singh, the committee was entrusted with formulating a proposal for inclusion of “certain fundamental duties and obligations which every citizen owes to the nation…”.
This committee suggested the inclusion of eight fundamental rights: To uphold sovereignty of India and strengthen the unity and integrity of India; to respect Indian Constitution and laws of the nation; to respect every democratic institution; to abjure communalism; to defend India and render national service whenever called on to do so; to assist in implementing directive principles of state policy; to pay taxes; and to safeguard and protect public properties.
The committee had also recommended that fundamental duties be made obligatory in nature, suggesting that a law be passed to provide for imposition of penalty or punishment for non-compliance.
However, the 10 fundamental duties included in the Constitution were a modified form of the committee’s recommendations. The final amendment also excluded the provision making them obligatory.
“Sobering effect” on “restless spirits”
Justifying the inclusion of Fundamental Duties, H.R. Gokhale, the then law minister had stated that in post-Independent India, “particularly on the eve of emergency in June 1975, a section of people showed no anxiety to fulfil their fundamental obligations of respecting the established legal order”.
A chapter on Fundamental Duties was, therefore, meant to have “a sobering effect on these restless spirits who have had a host of anti-national, subversive and unconstitutional agitations”.
Gokhale also called Fundamental Duties a “poem embodying noble ideals, rhythm, and harmony”, with the impress of “the hand of the Prime Minister”.
Then prime minister Indira Gandhi also advocated for inclusion of fundamental duties in the Constitution, asserting that instead of smothering rights, inclusion of fundamental duties would help to “establish a democratic balance by making the people conscious of their duties equally as they are conscious of their rights”.
However, it is the timing of the introduction of these duties to the Constitution, during the Emergency, that has been the most controversial fact about them.
The 42nd amendment made several significant changes to the Constitution and is often referred to as a ‘mini-constitution’ or ‘Indira’s Constitution’.
Apart from the introduction of Fundamental Duties, the amendment made Fundamental Rights subservient to Directive Principles and restricted the powers of the Supreme Court and high courts to strike down any law which violates the Constitution of India. Through several other changes, it destabilised the separation of powers, tilting the scales in favour of the ruling government.
Subsequently, many of these provisions were either removed by the 43rd and 44th amendments by successive governments, or were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1980 in Minerva Mills ltd v Union of India & Ors.
Fundamental Duties, however, have stood the test of time.