Directive Principles of State Policy as ‘Conscience of the Constitution’

Directive Principles of State Policy as Conscience of Constitution

Question: Directive Principles of State Policy, are conceived as ‘Conscience of the Constitution’ and are fundamental to governance of the country. Comment.

Answer: The Directive Principles of State Policy (Art 36-51) are ‘novel features’ of Indian Constitution which advance socio-economic rights to citizens. They are labeled as the conscience of the Constitution because they are recommendations from the constitutional makers to future lawmakers and administrators for good governance.

DPSPs were however made non-justiciable because of lack of financial resources and state capacity for their implementation just after independence. Article 37 states that they are ‘fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply them.’

This is because they –  

  • Promote the ideal of welfare state – to achieve justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as outlined in the Preamble.
  • Supplementary to fundamental rights (political rights) – as they create a conducive environment for enjoying these rights.
  • Serve as beacons for executive, legislature and judiciary to fulfill the constitutional vision of socio-economic justice.
  • Serve as litmus test – for citizens to gauge the performance of any government.

Their significance in governance is evident from the following laws that were enacted to operationalize some of these principles –

  • Right to free legal aid (Article 39 A) – Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987
  • Organization of panchayats (Article 42) – 72nd and 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act.
  • Right to work and public assistance (Article 41) – Minimum Wages Act, Old age and disability pension, etc.
  • Just and humane conditions of work (Article 42) – Maternity Benefit Act
  • Early childhood care and education (Article 45)– National Food Security Act, Right to Education
  • Promotion of interest of backward classes (Article 46) – policy of affirmative action, National Commission for SC and ST (Article 338 and 338A)
  • Separation of Judiciary from Executive (Article 50) – Criminal procedure code, 1973

The judiciary has also recognized the primacy of Article 39 (b) and (c) over certain fundamental rights. Though non-justiciable, a government that rests on popular vote can hardly ignore the DPSP while shaping its policy and will have to answer before the electorate. Hence, awakened public opinion and not judicial proceedings is the key to fulfilling these principles.

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