Since both the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles were of common origin, it is clear that they both had the same objectives, namely to ensure the goal of a welfare society envisaged by the Preamble. If the Fundamental rights seek to achieve the goal by guaranteeing certain minimal rights to the individual as against State action, the Directives enjoin the State to ensure the welfare of the people collectively.

The idea of embodying a code of Directive Principles has been borrowed by the framers of the Constitution from the Irish Constitution of 1937, which contains similar provisions. The preamble, the Directive Principles and the Fundamental Rights constitute the more important features of our Constitution. The Directive Principals of the State Policy enshrined in Part IV and the Fundamental Rights, guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution.

The directive principles, though fundamental in the governance of the country, are not enforceable by any court in terms of the express provisions of Article 37 of the Constitution, while fundamental rights are enforceable by the Supreme Court and the High Court in terms of the express provisions of Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution. This does not, however, mean or imply any dichotomy between the two.


Article 31-C was added by the Constitution 25th Amendment, 1971. The object of the amendment as stated in the object clause of the Bill was that this was enacted to get over the difficulties placed in the way of giving effect to the directive principles of State policy. The first part of Article 31-C provides that no law which is intended to give effect to the directive principles contained in Articles 39 (b) and (c) shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Articles 14, or 19. The second part of Article 31-C provided that “no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy can be called in question on the ground that it does not in fact give effect to such policy’’ (invalid). The validity of first part of Article 31-C was upheld in the Keshvananda Bharati v.State of Kerala[1], but the second part of this Article, which barred the judicial scrutiny of such laws was struck down as unconstitutional. Article 31-C was again amended by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. This Amendment further widened the scope of Article31-C so as to cover all directive principles.


The question of relationship between the Directive Principles and the Fundamental rights has caused some difficulty, and the judicial attitude has undergone transformation on this question over time. What if a law enacted to enforce a directive principle infringes a fundamental right?

Initially, the courts adopted a strict and literal legal position in this respect. The Supreme Court adopting the literal interpretative approach to Article 37 ruled that a Directive Principle could not override a Fundamental right, and that in case of conflict between the two, the Fundamental right would prevail over the Directive Principle. This point was settled by the Supreme Court in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan[2], where the court ruled that while the Fundamental rights were enforceable, the Directive Principles were not, and so the laws made to implement Directive Principles could not take away Fundamental rights. The Directive Principles should conform, and run as subsidiary, to the Fundamental rights. The Fundamental rights would be reduced to ‘a mere rope of sand’ if they were to be override by the directive principles.

In course of time, a perceptible change came over the judicial attitude on this question. The Supreme Court started giving a good deal of value to the Directive principles from a legal point of view and started arguing for harmonizing the two-the Fundamental rights and Directive Principles. The Supreme Court in Mumbai Kangar Sabha v. Abdulbhai[3] came to adopt the view that although Directive Principles, as such, were legally non-enforceable, nevertheless, while interpreting a statute, the courts could look for light to the “lode star” of the Directive Principles. “Where two judicial choices are available, the construction in conformity with the social philosophy” of the Directive Principles has preference. The courts therefore could interpret a statute so as to implement Directive Principles instead of reducing them to mere theoretical ideas. This is on the assumptions that the law makers are not completely unmindful or obvious of the Directive Principles.

Further the courts also adopted the view that in determining the scope and ambit of Fundamental rights, the Directive Principles should not be completely ignored and that the courts should adopt the principles of harmonious construction and attempt to give effect to both as far as possible. For example, as early as 1958, in Kerala Education Bill[4], DAS, C.J., while affirming the primacy of fundamental rights over the directive principles, qualified the same by pleading for a harmonious interpretation of the two. He observed

“nevertheless, in determining the scope and ambit of the Fundamental rights relied upon by or on behalf of any person or body, the court may not entirely ignore these Directive Principles of state policy laid down in part IV of the constitution but should adopt the principle of harmonious construction and should attempt to give effect to both as much as possible.”

The Supreme Court said in State of Kerala v. N.M Thomas[5], that the Directive Principles and Fundamental rights should be construed in harmony with each other and every attempt should be made by the court to resolve any apparent in consistency between them.

In Pathumma v. State of Kerala[6], the Supreme Court has emphasized that the purpose of the directive principles is to fix certain socio-economic goals for immediate attainment by bringing about a non-violent social revolution. The constitution aims at bringing about synthesis between Fundamental rights and the Directive principles.

 In Ashoka Kumar Thakur v Union of India[7], BALAKRISHNA, CJI said that no distinction can be made between the two sets of rights. The Fundamental right represents the civil and political rights and the directive principles embody social and economic rights. Merely because the directive principles are non-justifiable by the judicial process does not mean that they are of subordinate importance. The Directive principles and Fundamental rights are not now regarded as exclusionary of each other. They are regarded as supplementary and complementary to each other.

By reading Article 21 with the directive principles, the Supreme Court has derived there from a bundle of rights. To name a few of these:

  • The right to live with human dignity. The Supreme Court has stated in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India[8], that right to live with human dignity enshrined in Art. 21 derive its life breath from the directive principles of state policy.
  • Right to life includes the right to enjoy pollution free water and air and environment, as in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar[9]
  • Right to health and social justice has been held to be a fundamental right of the workers. It is the obligation of the employer to protect the health and vigour of his employee workers. The court has derived this right by reading Article 21 with Articles 39(e), 41, 43 and 48A as in Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India[10].
  • Right to shelter, as in Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[11].
  • Right to education implicit in Article 21 is to be spelled out in the light of the directive principle contained in Articles 41 and 45, as in Unnikrishnan v. state of Andhra Pradesh.[12]
  • Right to privacy.


From the above discussion, it will be seen that the development of law regarding the conflict and irreconcilability between fundamental rights and the directive principles, has passed through four distinct stages. At the beginning, a strict literal interpretation was advocated and the Fundamental Rights were would prevail over the Directive Principles. Later in course of time, a perceptible, and a welcome change came over the judicial attitude, and the courts though subordinated the Directives to the Fundamental Rights, took the view that the mechanism of harmonious construction should be used to interpret the two Parts.

The next stage came with the case of Sajjan Singh, and Golak Nath, where the judiciary began expanding the Directive Principles and interpreted the two Parts as being co-equal, and without any conflict. Kesavananda Bharti, was a turning point in the history of Directive Principles Jurisprudence, where for the first time the court held that the Directive principles should be given primacy over the Fundamental Rights. This was the third stage. However, in Minerva Mills the judiciary again went back to stating that there should be balance and harmony between Part III and Part IV, and that none should be given a primacy over the other. Since then this has been the view taken by the courts in the subsequent cases.

The recent trend in this regard, is that though the Directive Principles are unenforceable, and a State cannot be compelled to undertake a legislation to implement a Directive, the Supreme Court has been issuing directions to the State to implement the Principles. Hence various aspects of Part IV are being enforced by the courts indirectly. Today thus, the Directive Principles no longer remain merely a moral obligation of the Government.

[1] AIR 1973 SC 1461

[2] AIR 1951 SC 226

[3] AIR 1976 SC 1455

[4] AIR 1958 SC  956

[5] AIR 1976 SC 490

[6] AIR 1978 SC 771

[7] (2008) 6 SCC 1, at page 515: (2008) 5 JT 1.

[8] AIR 1984 SC 802, 811-812 : (1984) 3 SCC 161

[9] AIR 1991 SC 420 : (1991) 1 SCC 598

[10] AIR 1995 SC 922

[11] (1996) 2 SCC 549

[12] AIR 1993 SC 2178.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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