Means or Ends?

The liberal approach of the Constitution of India enumerated certain inviolable rights in part III of the same. Further, the communitarian spirit of the Constitution enshrined certain goals in part IV of the same. Part III, reflecting the liberal ideology is identified as the ‘fundamental rights’ whereas part IV is adjudged as the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’. In line with the means and ends theory, fundamental rights are the means which paves the way to the ends. Some distinctions between the two are as follows:

Sl.noFundamental RightsDirective Principles
1Part IIIPart IV
2Articles 12 to 35Articles 36 to 51
3Negative rightsPositive rights
4Restricts the state from doing somethingEnables the state to do something
5Justiciable and enforcibleNon-justiciable and cannot be enforced
6MeansGoals/ends

Even though the Directive Principles are thought to be non-justiciable and non-enforcible, the State was keen on taking measures to implement the same. However, being communitarian in spirit, such implementations began to be challenged in the court for violating the individual rights that are held sacrosanct by the liberals. The Supreme Court of India, which initially took the non-justiciable feature of the Directive Principles as the indicator of their significance, prioritized Fundamental Rights over the Directive Principles. The Supreme Court of India initially held that the Directive Principles were subordinate in nature and any conflict between the two would lead to the supremacy of the Fundamental Rights. Eventually, the Supreme Court observed that Fundamental Rights are to be understood in light of the Directive Principles and they both were complimentary and supplementary to one another and enjoyed equal importance. 

Eventually, the courts started to interpret fundamental rights with reference to the Directive Principles. The use of Directive Principles as guidance for interpreting Fundamental Rights paved the way for adjugating social rights. For instance, the Right to life under Article 21 guaranteed rights such as health, livelihood, education and shelter. In the Olga Tellis case of 1985, the Supreme Court held that the Right to Life would be meaningless unless it guaranteed the means through which life could be lived. The Supreme court also held in the Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamaat (2005) that the complete ban on slaughter of a certain class of cattle was a reasonable restriction on the right to perform one’s occupation, trade and business. 

The Supreme Court further pronounced that the harmony between Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles form the Basic Structure of the Constitution that cannot be altered. In the Grihakalyan vs. Union of India (1991), the court observed that the Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights are ‘harmoniously constructed’. In the FCI Union vs. FCI (1990), the court held that a writ can enforce the principle of equal pay for equal work. In Subash vs. the State of Bihar, the court observed that articles 14, 21 and 51A (g) are to be read together. 

Fundamental Rights are to be, therefore, understood with respect to the Directive Principles. Social Rights and Civil-Political Rights are inextricably linked and mere protection of the latter will be of a limited value. Without fulfilment of certain Directive Principles, many Fundamental Rights can be rendered meaningless. The true interpretation of Fundamental Rights can be only achieved by studying it with reference to some of the Directive Principles. It’s worth noting that the Constitution of India was founded on a bedrock of balance between Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles and to give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution.