One may often confuse the two terms – Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights. However, these two are quite different and apply to different entities altogether. While the former is in relation to the Legislature, or the Parliament; the latter is in respect of individual or the common man.
While the State, as per the Constitution guarantees the upholding and protection of the Fundamental Rights, the Directive Principles are not legally enforceable. That does not, however, make one any more or less important than the other.
Like the name suggests, Directive Principles (embedded in Chapter IV of the Constitution of India) are merely ‘directives’ for the State to carry out its functions, hence they are not, enforceable by law. That is to say, a court of law cannot direct or compel the Parliament to adhere to these. However, at the same time, it is the duty of the Parliament to ensure that they do not neglect these.
Fundamental rights (under Chapter III of the Constitution) on the other hand, are legally enforceable against the State and the Courts can very much direct the State to comply to these in case an individual’s right is being infringed upon by the functioning of the State or the State machinery.
So the question arises – which overpowers the other? For instance, if at all, a fundamental right of an individual comes in conflict with the State’s Directive Principles, which should be given preference over the other?
The answer to which is not as simple as one might think. There is no such thumb rule as to which is more important than the other. This is where the famous ‘Doctrine of Harmonious Construction’ comes into play. As the name suggests, the attempt of Courts should be to not decide upon the question as to which should overrule the other, but in fact, that these two should be harmoniously constructed in order to give effect to both of them.
It should be kept in mind that the makers of the Constitution did not intend for these two to come into conflict with each other; and that they be applied and implemented in such a manner that one does not render the other ineffective or unnecessary.
There has been seen a pattern of Judiciary when it comes to this ‘conflict’. The first case law where this was dealt with was the Champakam Dorairajan Case (1952), whereby the Court gave precedence to Fundamental Rights over the Directive Principles.
The Supreme Court, here clearly laid down that the Chapter of Fundamental Rights was of supreme importance and that Article 37 of the Constitution of India expressly stated that the Directive Principles are not enforceable by Court of law. One can say that the Apex Court applied the ‘literal interpretation’ of the statute in this case.
The next important case was Golak Nath vs. The State of Punjab (1967), whereby the Court held that the Fundamental Rights “cannot be diluted or abridged to implement the Directive Principles”. It was only after this case that the 24th Amendment of 1971 was passed which gave Parliament the power to amend any part of the Constitution, including Fundamental Rights.
The next case is the very famous Kesvananda Bharati Case (1973) which laid down that ‘Doctrine of Basic Structure’. This simply meant that — no doubt the Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution, however, at the same time, it should not hamper or abridge the very basic nature of the Constitution. Post this, the 42nd Amendment came into being which laid down that no law or State policy can take away the rights conferred to citizens under Article 14, 19 or 31.
Another equally important case is the Minerva Mills Case (1980) which categorically laid down that between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, neither can be given preference over the other. To do so would mean to disturb the very harmony of the Constitution, which, as stated above, was never the intent of the Constitution makers. It further said that our Constitution, in fact, rests on the very balance of Chapter III and IV.
Thus, it must be seen that such cases are handled very meticulously and with utmost care. They should be handled on a case-to-case basis and with extreme caution so as to not disturb the very essence of our Constitution. No doubt, the Fundamental Rights are of utmost importance, especially in a progressive democracy like ours, however, these should not be allowed to come in the way of functioning of the State. The State, too, at the same time make sure that they adhere to these Directives, since they are, after all, public servants and thus answerable to the general public.
DPSPs and Fundamental Rights, therefore are supplementary and complimentary to each other, and not opposing forces.