Balancing Fundamental Rights and Duties

The longest written Constitution in the world, lays down the basic structure and the framework of India’s polity. It is built on the foundations of certain fundamental values that have been embedded in it by the makers of the

Constitution to ensure that there should be fairness and justice for every citizen of India.

However, it has been made very clear that:

  •  lot of restraint is required while exercising this freedom.
  •  the absolute freedom is an illusion and cannot survive alone.
  • the fundamental rights need to be paired with fundamental duties.

 To offset the increasing tendencies of indifference towards the business of the government amongst its citizens and to check fissiparous growth, the Constitution

(Forty-Second) Amendment Act, 1976 introduced the concept of fundamental duties by adding Part

IV-A, consisting of the sole Article 51A.That the Constitution ought to be amenable to change to allow for emerging needs was always recognised.

This year the government is laying more emphasis on creating awareness on eleven fundamental duties as part of celebration of 70th year of adoption of the Constitution through its various initiatives. The underlying idea is that these precepts should become a part and parcel of every Indian’s thoughts and actions. The balancing of fundamental rights is a constitutional necessity as every right gives rise to a corresponding duty

The fundamental duties are the mechanism that aims at striking a balance between individual freedom and social interests. These duties do not cast any public duties but are applicable only to individual citizens. However, in  a judgment, the Supreme Court held that the Fundamental Duties are as important as Fundamental Rights and that though Article 51A does not expressly cast any fundamental duty on the State, the duty of every citizen of India is the collective duty of the state- its de facto enforceability in the sense that Article 51A is a yardstick against which the action of the State may be assessed.6In Union of India v Naveen Jindal7, the Supreme Court observed that fundamental duties are implicit in the concept of fundamental duties, the former providing certain restrictions on the exercise of the latter.

Article 51A (k) was introduced as a fundamental duty in 2002, along with Article 21A as a fundamental right. Through Article 51A (k) read with Article 21A, the State and the parents are made to share obligation with regard to education of the children in the following manner:

  • the State with free education
  • the parents with compulsory education.

The State has been entrusted with the responsibility to ensure compulsory education while at the same time Article 51A (k) does not penalise parents or guardians for not being able to send their wards to school.10 In similar manner, right to hoist the national flag has been granted to the citizens subject to the restrictions specified in the Article 51A (c).

Thus, it may be observed that, in umpteen number of cases, the various contours of Article 51A have been interpreted and applied by the Apex Court. The unenforceable duties have got a booster dose of contents as well as some sort of enforceability through increased references in various judicial pronouncements. Various current crises related to environment, mob-violence and terrorism etc. could have been regulated to a large extent if the human values could be inculcated right from the formative period of life so as to lay a strong foundation for effectuation of Fundamental Duties along with the strong desire to avail the rights. Thus, there is a strong necessity to maintain a strong balance between the rights and the duties. One does not have existence as well as the meaning without the other.

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