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Constituent assembly debate on Directive Principles of State Policy

by Surabhi Rao

Why were directives that were not enforceable included in the Constitution? Do these continue to remain mere ideals without form?

We do not want merely to lay down a mechanism to enable people to come and capture power.  The Constitution also wishes to lay down an ideal before those who would be forming the government.  That ideal is of economic democracy. – B.R. Ambedkar

India is at a point where she has to achieve economic development, to be at par with the rest of the world, and at the same time, ensure that social and economic justice is also achieved in the country. Thus it is relevant to discuss the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) provided for in the Indian Constitution in Part IV (Articles 36-51) which lay down principles for the achievement of this social and economic justice. The DPSPs along with the Preamble and the Fundamental Rights can be said to be the soul of the Indian Constitution.

The DPSPs are merely guidelines for the establishment of a social order guided by social and economic justice, freedom, and liberty. The Articles include matters relating to right to work, right to education, the uniform civil code, and other principles of good governance that the State must take note of.

The august Constituent Assembly recognised the distinction between government and politics, and principles of good governance, even as far back as the 1940s while drafting the Constitution. Article 37 specifically mentions that DPSPs, though not enforceable through any court of law are “fundamental” to the governance of the country. It is interesting to see why the drafters would include something in the Constitution that is not enforceable.

There were apprehensions even at the time of drafting about how useful the DPSPs would actually be. Prof. K. T. Shah felt that by not making the Directive Principles justiciable, they were making merely pious wishes, and the intention of the Directives would never come into force.

But Dr. B.R. Ambedkar called the DPSPs ‘Instruments of Instructions’.  He referred to them as policies and principles to achieve economic democracy, which is an ever changing concept and is dependent on the times and circumstances, how it is achieved, and it would be wrong to lay down a fixed concept of it. Further, the State would have to answer to the people, and thus these Directive Principles would not be mere pious declarations.

Another reason, scholars say, why the Directive Principles were made unenforceable was because India did not possess the adequate resources to enforce all the DPSPs, and thus, it was left to the future Governments to follow them voluntarily.

Legally speaking, when the issue of the DPSPs has come up before the courts, the courts have stressed upon the importance of them time and again.

They have repeatedly read the DPSPs with the Fundamental Rights. Thus, the right to education mentioned in Article 41 has been held to be a part of Article 21, in turn making it a fundamental right. In a few cases, the Courts have even issued directives to the government to implement the DPSPs.

This leads to the question if this indeed was the intention of the Constitutional framers? If the DPSPs are being enforced by the Courts through Directives, could they still be said to be voluntary?  In today’s context, the implementation of the DPSPs should impose a financial burden on the government, and on the finite resources of the nation. For example, in many states the Right to Education was imposed mandatorily, even though the state lacked the resources leading to the result that the initiative did not succeed.

It is also to be noted that it has been 64 years since the adoption of the Constitution, and the relevance of the implementation of the DPSPs then was not the same as it is now. The ideals of the welfare state cannot be an unfulfilled principle.

Article 41 directs the State to make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want. This Article is an exemplification of social policy and security that every person ought to have. There have been various schemes by the government like the NREGA, integrated rural development schemes that have been enacted for the purpose of social and economic justice. However, the success of these schemes is dismal. The actual benefits derived to the people are marginal. Other initiatives taken like the Public Distribution System (PDS) have also not borne the desired fruits. The right to health under Article 46 has also not received the required attention. But there also exist Articles which exist merely because they have been there since time immemorial. Among these include the State’s duty to protect animal husbandry, and participation of workers in the management of industries.

A review of the DPSPs might be of use to organize, and to segregate them. Priority should be accorded to which Directive Principle is of greater importance. Moreover, the decision of prioritizing these principles should explicitly be decided by the Union and State governments. In 2002, it was recommended by the National Commission on the Working of the Constitution to reword Part IV to “Directive Principles of State Policy and Action”, to ensure that the DPSPs are implemented, and not remain a mere letter of the law.

The main problem with the Directive Principles is that even if were to be justiciable, who would it be enforced against? It cannot be against any individual, or even the State. The NCRWC has recommended the setting up of a body to oversee the schemes and the initiatives undertaken for social and economic welfare.

Making the DPSPs justiciable would result in complete restriction of the government’s freedom to legislate, and it would be a scenario of ‘one size fits all’ which is not what the drafters intended. The driving force behind the DPSPs is public opinion, and the necessity of the measure. Thus, middle ground can be found wherein welfare schemes are introduced voluntarily by the government, but a body set up oversees the successful implementation of these schemes, which ensures greater social and economic justice.

Surabhi Rao is an intern at the Takshashila Institution.

This article is part of a series of posts on the constituent assembly debates, meant to highlight the various points of views and negotiations that went into the creation of the Indian Constitution. Each post analyzes the debates on a particular issue.

Ruchita Sharma, Apoorva Tadepalli and Surabhi Rao are the contributors for this series.

The previous posts are here: Post1Post2, Post3.

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