The Supreme Court’s decision to consider public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to legally enforce basic duties enshrined in the Constitution is unfortunate. For, if the principle of such execution were accepted, it would result in greater accountability of the state and the concomitant narrowing of the sphere of individual freedom.
“A panel of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh issued an opinion to the Center and the States seeking their response on the development of comprehensive and well-defined laws/rules ensuring compliance with the provisions of Part IV-A of the Constitution requiring that citizens perform their basic duties properly,” said a report in The era of India (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/supreme-court-to-look-at-enforcing-fundamental-duties/articleshow/89735977.cms).
Modern constitutions aim to shield the individual from the excesses of the state; this is the reason why our Constitution, when it came into force, made no mention of the Fundamental Duties. She only had basic rights; but our political masters have never been very comfortable with them. They have continually undermined these rights, resulting in the current truncated nature of our fundamental rights; in fact, one of them, the right to property, has long since ceased to be a fundamental right. The basic instinct of our politicians is illiberal.
The Fundamental Duties are a sign of this illiberalism; they were born in sin. Ten of these duties were incorporated into the Constitution through the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act 1976, i.e. at the height of Indira Gandhi’s emergency.
Anti-Congress leaders opposed the amendment; they called it “mini-constitution” and “Indira constitution”. The Janata Party, which overthrew Congress in 1977, pledged to eliminate the odious 42n/a Amendment. Prime Minister Morarjee Desai tried but failed as he could not muster enough MPs in Parliament.
Another insidious incorporation was that of the word “socialist” in the preamble of the Constitution. This sullied the preamble, because socialism is a violent ideology, responsible for the murder of millions of people in the Soviet Union.
The political class, which wallows in populism and moralizing, has done little to purge the Constitution of these illiberal insertions. In fact, they sought to increase the scope of these constitutional measures.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the importance of basic duties. In December 2019, he said: “Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. Mahatma Gandhi explained this relationship well… Let us think about how we can fulfill the duties enshrined in our Constitution. He added, “We cannot preserve our rights without assuming our responsibilities.”
On the same day, Vice President Mr. Venkaiah Naidu said, “I suggest that Core Duties should be included in the curriculum at an appropriate level, the list of Core Duties should be displayed in all educational institutions, offices and public places across the countryside; and we must reach out to young people through appropriate campaigns.
In a newspaper article, former Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad urged citizens to remember their basic duties just as they remember their basic rights.
Obviously, the whole political class loves the vile provisions of 42n/a Amendment. Congress brought them in; and even when in Opposition he tried to perpetuate the Amendment. The Bharatiya Janata Party adopted the illiberal provisions. While Indira Gandhi introduced the 10 fundamental duties, Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced the 11and one in 2002.
As if the chicanery of politicians were not enough, we now have the perspective of activists demanding legally imposed duties from citizens. “There have been instances where basic duties have been brazenly flouted by the people, including judicial officers, and which in turn have resulted in the violation of the basic rights of other citizens,” PIL said.
The petitioner reportedly brought to the attention of the Supreme Court the growing tendency of people to block roads and highways while protesting and said it was time to “strike a balance between civil rights, liberties and liberties and civic obligations”.
Notice how the responsibility to guarantee civil rights, freedoms and liberties and civic obligations has been transferred from the state to the citizens. As if it were people’s duty to keep roads and highways clear of obstruction!
Part IV-A of the Constitution enumerating basic duties says: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to…
(a) respect the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem;
(b) cherish and follow the lofty ideals which have inspired our national struggle for freedom;
(c) defend and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
(d) defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
(e) promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the peoples of India by transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectoral diversities; renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
(f) enhance and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
(g) protect and enhance the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and have compassion for living creatures;
(h) develop scientific temperament, humanism and the spirit of research and reform;
(i) protect public property and renounce violence;
(j) strive for excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of effort and achievement;
(k) who is a parent or guardian to provide educational opportunities for his child or, as the case may be, his ward between the ages of six and fourteen” (https://doj.gov.in/ sites/default/files/Fundamental-duties_0.pdf).
Even as nonsense and homilies, fundamental duties are an affront to the discernment and dignity of citizens, because the underlying presumption is that they should be constitutionally remembered to such fine things. However, their legal application would give the state the possibility of further limiting individual freedom.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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