NEW DELHI: Speaking at the 75th anniversary of Independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised ‘Panch Pran’ (five resolves) needed to fulfil the freedom fighters’ dream for the country by 2047. “If everyone fulfils citizen duties, I am confident, desired results can be achieved ahead of time,” he said.
The organic linkage between the rights and duties that the Prime Minister underlined was not mere rhetoric. As former Chief Justice NV Ramana said at his farewell meeting, fundamental duties in the Constitution are not merely to serve a “pedantic or technical” purpose.
They are meant to guide citizens engineer a social transformation. In reinforcing ‘duty’ in its redesign of the Central Vista in the Capital, the Modi Government is seen as harking on the Constitution’s reference to fundamental duties that were initially introduced by the Indira Gandhi Government during the Emergency.
Initially, 10 were incorporated in Part IV-A of the Constitution by the Constitution 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, based on the recommendations of the Swaran Singh committee. The 11th was added by the 86th Amendment in 2002 by the Vajpayee Government. The concept of fundamental duties, taken from the Constitution of the Soviet Union, emphasises the obligation of citizens in exchange for the fundamental rights they enjoy. In the Indian Constitution, the fundamental duties are not enforceable by law but a court may take them into account while adjudicating a matter.
In fact, the Supreme Court engaged with the duties citizens owed to the State in 1969, much before the 42nd Amendment was passed.
In Chandra Bhavan Boarding, hotel owners challenged a legislation introduced by the State of Mysore imposing minimum wages for hotel and restaurant employees in the state.
The court upheld the legislation, stressing the importance of social welfare and emphasising that the Constitution conceives of both rights and duties. “These duties play a fundamental role in the governance of the country—and should be followed by the hotel owners,” it held. .
The Court read the provisions of Part IV of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) as giving the State the power to impose duties on citizens related to the achievement of Directive Principles.
In a landmark case of 2003 (Ranganath Mishra v Union Of India), the Supreme Court directed the Centre to implement the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Committee with respect to disseminating information on Fundamental Duties to the public. The Committee was set up in 1998 to suggest ways in which fundamental duties may be taught in schools. The report, issued in 1999, recommended that awareness about fundamental duties be created in educational institutions.
The Verma Committee further recommended that the duty to vote in elections and actively participate in the democratic process must be included as a fundamental duty. In February this year, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre and the states in a writ petition seeking the enforcement of fundamental duties of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution.
The petition, filed by advocate Durga Dutt, argues that not carrying out the fundamental duties of the citizen has a direct bearing on the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. “There have been cases where fundamental duties have been brazenly flouted by the people including the officers of the law and which in turn resulted in violation of Fundamental rights of other citizens,” the petition argued.
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