What is the constitutional position of Directive Principles of State Policy?

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Part IV of the Constitution (Article 36- 51) contains the Directive principle of state policy. These Directives are in nature, directions for the legislative and executive wings of government that are to be observed while formulating laws and policies. Most of them aim at the establishment of economic and social democracy that has been pledged for in the preamble.

Article 36 and 37 define the term ‘state’ and lay down that the provisions in the part IV shall not be enforceable by courts; however, the principles are fundamental in the governance of the country. Thus, directive principles are not enforceable in a court of law, but as article 37 declares these are fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply the principles while making laws.

During the first sixteen years of the operation of the constitution, the directive principles were considered subordinate to the Fundamental rights: the court struck down a number of laws enacted to implement Directive principles on the ground that they violated the fundamental rights. The conflict has its roots in the fact that the fundamental rights are enforceable by the courts while the directive principles are not. However the government tried to overcome the problem by amending the constitution.

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In 1971 the 24th amendment gave parliament the right to amend Fundamental rights. In the same year the 25th amendment inserted Article 31C ensuring that certain laws meant to implement Directives in clauses 39(b) and 39(c) will prevail even if these laws violate Article 14 and 19. An attempt to enhance the scope of Article 31C was made by the 42nd amendment which gave primacy to any or all the Directive principles and deprived the courts of the right to look in to such cases.

This attempt was failed by the Supreme Court majority judgment in the Minarva Mills case-1980 which asserted that such total exclusion of judicial review would offend the basic structure of constitution. Widening of Article 31C to include any or all of the Directives was struck down. So, at present Art 31C is restored to its pre-1976 position in that a law would be protected by this article only if it has been made to implement any directive in Art 39(b)-(c) and not any not any of the other Directive principles in part IV.

On the whole-however, the conflict between these two features of the constitution is meaningless, as they are in reality, complementary to each other. The courts have increasingly based their judgments on a harmonious reading of Part II and Part IV of the constitution.

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