It is a matter of immense pleasure for me that I am being given an opportunity to share my views in this Conference which is being attended by various eminent personalities, legal luminaries, professionals and speakers from across the country.

Nation is what its citizens are. Recognizing and emphasising on the role of the citizens in administration of a country, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in his closing remarks as the President of the Constituent Assembly had said that:-

“Whatever the Constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it. It is a trite saying that a country can have only the Government it deserves”.

Having said that, I am glad that the federation has chosen an appropriate topic i.e.
“Fundamenint Duties of a Citizen – Article 51A of the Constitution of India, a forgotten Affair!” as the theme of this Conference.

“In the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, 2001, it has been very aptly stated that “there are three things which build a nation. The first is noble ideals. The second is the capability of the citizens for achieving these ideals. The third and very significant one is the constant and relentless effort made by each citizen to strive for excellence and take his country forward”. Thus no nation can ever succeed without the active participation of its citizens. And unless and until, we as the citizens of this country realise and perform our duties towards our fellow beings, the dream of our forefathers to make India a place where there would be no poverty, no disease, no ignorance, and no depravity can never be realised.

In the words of Lord Bryce:

“Constitution of a State or nation consists of those of its rules or laws which determine the form of its Government and respective rights and duties of it towards citizens and of citizens towards the Government”.

Surprisingly though, the Indian Constitution, when enacted in 1950, was bereft of provisions relating to Fundamental Duties, although quite a number of Fundamental Rights had been incorporated therein. However, “with the lapse of time, degradation of values, particularly values in public life became blatantly evident and the nation felt the need to amend the Constitution and incorporate these values specifically as the Fundamental Duties of every citizen”.

It was in the year 1976 that taking an inspiration from the erstwhile USSR Constitution, the Provision relating to Fundamental Duties of Indian Citizens (Article 51-A) was added to the Constitution through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment. Justifying the inclusion of Fundamental Duties into the Constitution, the then Prime Minister of India commented that,
‘the moral value of fundamental duties would be not to smoother rights but to establish a democratic balance by making the people conscious of their duties equally as they are conscious of their rights.’
The inclusion of the said provision brought our Constitution in line with Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration Human Rights and the Constitution of various other countries.

Fundamental Duties are the moral obligations enlisted in the Constitution of India which are expected to be performed by the citizens of India to help promote the spirit of patriotism and to uphold the unity of India. They act as the foundation of human dignity and national character.

The Fundamental Duties (code of conduct) are intended to serve as a constant reminder to every citizen that while the Constitution specifically conferred on them certain Fundamental Rights, it also requires citizens to observe certain basic norms of democratic conduct and democratic behaviour. The fundamental duties seek to limit the operation of fundamental democratic behaviour. The fundamental duties seek to limit the operation of fundamental rights – a countervailing factor and a warning to reckless citizens against anti-social activities like destroying public property, burning national flag, and the like.

It is a fact that the Fundamental Duties are not enforceable unless they receive the sanction of the State in the form of a law. But as was recognised by the Supreme Court in the case of
Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors. v. Union of India (1980) 3 SCC 625 (para 110),”There may be a rule which imposes an obligation on an individual or authority and yet it may not be enforceable in a court of law and therefore not give rise to a corresponding enforceable right in another person. But it would still be a legal rule because it prescribes a norm of conduct to be followed by such individual or authority. The law may provide a mechanism for enforcement of this obligation, but the existence of the obligation does not depend upon the creation of such mechanism. The obligation exists prior to and independent of the mechanism of enforcement. A rule imposing an obligation or duty would not therefore cease to be a rule of law because there is no regular judicial or quasi-judicial machinery to enforce its command. Such a rule would exist despite of any problem relating to its enforcement. Otherwise, the conventions of the Constitution and even rules of International law would no longer be liable to be regarded as rules of law”.

Further, in Union of India v. Navin Jindal (2004) 2 SCC 410, the Supreme Court observed that
“for the purpose of interpretation of the constitutional scheme and for the purpose of maintaining a balance between the fundamental/ legal rights of a citizen vis-a-vis, the regulatory measures/ restrictions, both Parts IV and IV-A of the Constitution can be taken recourse to”.

Thus merely because a rule is not backed by sanctions on disobedience, it does not mean it is of lesser importance. It is still regarded a rule of law that is expected to be followed.

Hence, Fundamental Duties too are like any rules of law that must be observed by all. Their significance is not diminished by the fact that there is no punishment prescribed for not following them. Fundamental Duties should be treated as constitutional values that must be propagated by all citizens.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy in one of his speeches, once said that “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. So my fellow citizens, let us rise to the occasion and vow to what to do what needs to be done to make our country greatest among all the great nations.

[Source : Speech delivered by Hon’ble Mr. Justice R. K. Agrawal, Judge, Supreme Court of India at 19th National Convention held from 2nd to 4th December, 2016 at New Delhi].

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