Granville Austin has described the fundamental rights and directive principles as the ‘conscience of our Constitution.’ Initially, courts adopted strict and literal approach in reconciling fundamental rights and directive principles. In State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, AIR 1951 SC 228, Supreme Court held that in case of conflict between Fundamental Rights and Directives Principles, the Fundamental Rights would prevail. Court reasoned that Article 37 makes directive principles non-justiciable and hence in any conflict between fundamental right and directive principles the fundamental rights would be given precedence.

In course of time this strict interpretation was watered down and Supreme Court started giving value to directive principles vis-à-vis fundamental rights. In re Kerala Education Bill, AIR 1957 SC 956, Supreme Court held that though directive principles cannot override fundamental rights, nevertheless, in determining the scope and ambit of fundamental rights the court may take into account directive principles and adopt a principle of harmonious construction. Statutes should be interpreted to implement directive principles rather than reducing them to theoretical ideas. In Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, AIR 1967 SC 1643 Supreme court held that fundamental rights and directive principles form part of integrated scheme and are elastic enough to respond to the needs of the society. 

In Keshvananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461, Supreme Court held that fundamental rights and directive principles aim at the same goal of bringing about a social revolution and establishment of a welfare State and they can be interpreted and applied together. They are conscience of our constitution and there is no antithesis between them. In Minerva Mills v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789 Supreme Court observed that fundamental rights are not an end in themselves but they are means to an end and the end is specified in the directive principles. 

Directive Principles are considered as an index of ‘public purpose’. In State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh Supreme Court relied on Article 39 to decide that the law to abolish zamindari had been enacted for a ‘public purpose’ within the meaning of Article 31. In Workmen, Meenakshi Mills Limited v. Meenakshi Mills Limited, AIR 1994 SC 2696 Supreme Court held that ordinarily any restriction imposed which has the effect of promoting or effectuating a directive principle can be presumed to be a reasonable restriction in public interest.

Directive Principles and Article 31-C: 25th Constitution Amendment, 1971 added Article 31-C. The first part of Article 31-C provided that no law which is intended to give effect to the directive principles contained in Article 39(b) and (c) shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent or it takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Article 14 or 19.

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. Constitutionality of first part of Article 31-C was upheld in Keshvanand Bharti’s case. However, the Court struck down the second part as it barred judicial review.

By 42nd Constitution Amendment, Article 31-C was further amended to cover all directive principles instead of just Article 39(b) and (c). This was challenged in Minerva Mills v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789. Supreme Court struck down this part of amendment and held that giving absolute primacy to the directive principles disturb the harmony of the Constitution which is the basic feature.

Author & Former Judge

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