Conflict between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy

The important question is where there is a conflict between the fundamental rights and directive principles, which should prevail?

  • The Fundamental Rights are the rights of the individual citizens guaranteed by the Constitution. The directive principles lay down various tenets of a welfare state. The conflict arises when the State needs to implement a directive principle and it infringes/ abridges the fundamental rights of the citizens.
  • The chapters on the fundamental rights & DPSP were added in order of part III and part IV of the constitution. The Fundamental rights are justifiable and guaranteed by the constitution. The Directive principles were directives to the state and government machinery. But they are not enforceable, by the law.

Champakam Dorairajan Case

This conflict between Fundamental Rights and DPSP came to the Supreme Court for the first time in Champakam Dorairajan Case (1952). Smt Champakam Dorairajan was a woman from the State of Madras. In 1951, she was not admitted to a medical college because of a Communal G.O. (Government Order) which had provided caste based reservation in government jobs and college seats. This GO was passed in 1927 in the Madras Presidency.

  • Champakam Dorairajan Case was a first major verdict of the Supreme Court on the issue of Reservation.
  • Champakam Dorairajan Case led to the First amendment of Indian Constitution.

This was the case, which when was in Supreme Court; the Lok Sabha was not formed. Lok Sabha was formed in 1952.

The conflict was between article 16(2) from the chapter of Fundamental Rights and Article 46 of the Constitution. Article 16(2) says that :

No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.

And article 46 says:

The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

The Supreme Court held that Article 37 expressly says that the directive principles are not enforceable by court. Supreme Court mandated that the chapter on Fundamental rights in the constitution is sacrosanct and the directive principles have to conform to and run subsidiary to the chapter on Fundamental Rights.

This means that Fundamental Rights were given superiority over the Directive principles. This continued for a decade and half and some other cases such as Qureshi v/s State of Bihar, Sajjan Singh V/s State of Rajasthan cases court confirmed this stand.

Golak Nath Case

In 1967 came a very important case. This was Golak Nath vs. The State of Punjab (1967). In this case, for the first time a bench of 11 judges of the Supreme Court was formed. The court in this case laid down that Fundamental Rights cannot be abridged/ diluted to implement the directive principles. This decision forced the government to amend the constitution. By the 24th Amendment Act 1971, the Parliament amended Art. 13 and 368. This amendment made it clear that Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution including Fundamental Rights and the word ‘law’ as used in Article 13 does not include a Constitutional Amendment Act.

Kesavanand Bharti Case

In the Kesavananda Bharti Case the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament could amend any and every part of the Constitution including Fundamental Rights but it could not destroy the basic structure of the Constitution.

To nullify the kesavanand Bharti Case, the 42nd Amendment further amended article 31 (C) and now it said that “No law giving effect to the policy on the ground” that is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by article 14, 19 or 31.

Minerva Mills Case

The parliament by 42nd amendment further widened the scope of the Fundamental Rights. However in the Minerva Mills v/s Union of India (1980) case, the Supreme Court struck down these provisions. On the ground that it changed the basic structure of the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the Constitution exists on the balance of part III and Part IV. Giving absolute primacy to one over other will disturb the harmony of the Constitution. This took the Article 31(C) to its prior condition that ” a law would be protected by article 31C only if it has been made to implement the directive in article 39(b) and (c) and not any of the articles included in Part IV.

Summary of Conflict between Fundamental Rights and DPSP

A member in the constituent assembly moved an amendment which sought to make the directive principles justifiable. However, this move was turned down on the fact that, there was no use in being carried out away by the sentiments. A court cannot enforce the directive principles and it is the strength of the public opinion which makes these provisions enforceable, because there are elections every five year and the public, if the DPSPs are not implemented can show the door to the government.

It was a view of Jawahar Lal Nehru that where there was a conflict between the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles the DPSP should prevail. However, where we look into the Judicial ‘nature’ of the above two, we see that Supreme Court should upheld the Fundamental Rights because they are guaranteed by the Constitution and justifiable. But the solution provided by the Supreme Court may be “Judicial” but not “practical” in all cases. It is the parliament which can reach beyond the “Judicial” solution.

When a social conflict arises out of the conflicts of the Fundamental Rights and DPSP, the state should emerge as a “Torch bearer” because ultimately it is the superiority of the “Social Interest” over the “individual interest’. However, it is the duty of the Court to resolve a conflict with an eye on the constitution and another on the social harmony.

After the Minerva Mills Case, The supreme court to the view that there is no conflict between the Fundamental Rights and the DPSP and they were complimentary of each other. There was no need to sacrifice one for the sake of the other. If there is a conflict it should be avoided as far as possible.