In her first Independence Day address to the nation as President, Droupadi Murmu, the 15th President of India, said that the next milestone for the country would be to complete 100 years of Independence and that by the year 2047, India would give shape to the vision of our Constitution makers, including Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.
On November 19, 1948, Dr. Ambedkar, speaking in the Constituent Assembly debate during the drafting of the Constitution, said about the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) contained in Part IV of the Constitution:“It is the intention of this Assembly that in future both the legislature and the executive should not merely pay lip service to these principles enacted in this part, but that they should be made the basis of all executive and legislative action that may be taken hereafter in the matter of the governance of the country.”Today as India celebrates 75 years of Independence, here’s a look at the rationale behind the Directive Principles and how, and if, policy-making in India has incorporated them.
Why were Directive Principles added to the Constitution?
Article 37 of the Constitution states that the DPSPs shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles laid down are fundamental in the governance of the country and it is the duty of the government to apply these principles in making laws.
These Principles contained in Part IV of the Constitution (Articles 36-41) lay down various goals that the state should strive to achieve while governing the country, such as securing a social order for the promotion of the welfare of people, achieving economic equality, equal justice by providing free legal aid, securing the rights to education, and framing a Uniform Civil Code.
At the time of framing the Constitution, the challenge before its drafters was to satisfy all the people of India, lay down the foundations of an equitable society and welfare state, and strike a balance between individualism and socialism, which is what led them to borrow the concept of DPSPs from the 1937 Constitution of Ireland.
Dr. Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly debates that while we had established a political democracy upon gaining independence, “it was also the desire that we lay down economic democracy as our ideal” and give direction as to what our social order ought to be like. He said that there were various ways and schools of thought to achieve this idea, because of which Directive Principles were not made to be “rigid” or enforceable by law, but fundamental to governance. He had described them as “socialistic” and a “novel feature” of the Constitution.
Multiple members had argued in the November 1948 debate on DPSPs, that without legal enforceability, the principles would remain mere “pious wishes”. It was contended that socio-economic principles such as these had been ignored and exploited under colonial rule and it was necessary to give them effect in independent India.
Multiple Supreme Court judgements have given importance to DPSPs in the past, arguing that they give meaning to Fundamental Rights and the two should be harmonized and balanced if they were to maintain social order and empower people.
Have they been reflected in our policies?
Directive Principles were embedded in the Constitution as ideal and transformative social and economic goals that would be incumbent upon future governments to achieve through their policies.
M.C Chagla, former Chief Justice of India during the early years of Independence, had said that “if all these principles are fully carried out, our country would indeed be a heaven on earth.”
The first Principle directs the state to promote the welfare of people by creating a social order where there is social, political, and economic justice.
It says that the state shall strive to minimise income inequalities and those in status and opportunities among people and regions.
The debate over welfare schemes versus “freebies” is not a new one and has raged for decades. Multiple governments have enacted welfare schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the national public distribution scheme, the Mid-day Meal Scheme, the Food Security Act, and farm and gas subsidies.
MGNREGA, for example, started by the UPA government in 2006, guarantees 100 days of employment a year in unskilled work to at least one member of every rural household.
Parliament was recently informed that the demand for jobs under MGNREGA for May had increased from 1.64 core in 2015 to 3.07 crore in 2022. However, more than ₹4 crore was pending from the Centre’s side in wages to the States under the scheme.
While in the case of States doling out freebies to influence the electorate, experts have said that India could face the prospect of sub-national bankruptcies.
The chairperson of the 15th Fifteenth Finance Commission, NK Singh, recently said that ‘cheap’ freebies are expensive for the economy, quality of life, and social cohesion over the long run.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said, days before August 15, that there has to be a final disciple to freebies and they cannot be called welfare schemes.
As for achieving income equality, the World Inequality Report revealed that India is now among the most unequal countries in the world. Per the report, 57 per cent of national income was accumulated in the hands of the affluent top 10 per cent of the population.
The report stated that while “socialist-inspired Five Year plans contributed” to reducing the share of the top 10 per cent who had 50 per cent of the income under colonial rule, to 35-40 per cent in the early decades of Independence, since the mid-1980s deregulation and liberalisation policies, “one of the most extreme increases in income and wealth inequality” has been observed.
This principle pertains to securing a Uniform Civil Code or a uniform law for all religious communities in personal matters of divorce, marriage, succession and so on.
However, the stand taken by Dr Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly debates has survived the years and India still does not have a UCC — he believed that a UCC was desirable but should, for the moment, remain voluntary.
Currently, each religion has a separate set of personal laws and the codification of personal laws has historically generated protests.
In the Shah Bano case of 1985, the Supreme Court lamented that Article 44 remained a “dead letter”. The Court ruled that section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, relating to maintenance applied to all, regardless of religion.
But the Rajiv Gandhi government introduced a new law for Muslim women— the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce Act), 1986—which nullified this judgement. Only one State- Goa, currently has a UCC.
This article says that the State should endeavor to provide free and compulsory education, within 10 years of the Constitution’s commencement, for all children until they complete 14 years of age.
However, education was made a right well past 10 years of the Constitution’s coming into force.
In 2002, with the 86th Amendment of the Constitution, Article 21A was added, making free and compulsory education for children aged six to 14 years a Fundamental Right.
Then in 2009, the Right of Education (RTE) Act was passed. Yet, more than a decade later, there is significant debate about the parameters through which that promise is supposed to be realised.
Education Minister said in August last year that while 35 crore children were getting educated in schools, there was a whopping 15 crore out-of-school children in the country.
The Act’s mandatory provision requires government/aided/ private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children between six to 14 for free education. This has created a problem, with several children being denied education.
UNESCO estimated that 1.3 billion children and young people — that is, 70 per cent of the world’s student population— were affected by COVID-related closures of educational institutions.
The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 39A to provide “equal justice and free legal aid”.
To this end, the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, was enacted by Parliament and it came into force in 1995 “to provide free and competent legal services to weaker sections of the society” and to “organise Lok Adalats (literally, ‘People’s Court’) to secure justice on the basis of equal opportunity”.
National Lok Adalats (NLA) are an alternate dispute resolution mechanism, regularly organised to help parties reach a compromise. NLAs deal with motor-accident claims, disputes related to public-utility services, dishonour of cheques, and land, labour and matrimonial disputes (except divorce).
2021 data from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) shows that Lok Adalats organised across the country from 2016 to 2020 disposed of 52,46,415 cases, demonstrating speed and efficiency. NLAs also settle a huge number of cases across the country in a single day.
With formal Indian judiciary experiencing a well-recorded pendency, litigants approach Lok Adalats, as a party-driven alternative.
However, experts have long been concerned about the quality of justice in Lok Adalats.
The Supreme Court, in State of Punjab vs Jalour Singh (2008), held that a Lok Adalat is purely conciliatory and it has no adjudicatory or judicial function. As compromise is its central idea, there is a valid concern that in the endeavour for speedy disposal of cases, it undermines the idea of justice.
It calls for providing a living wage, suitable working conditions, and a decent standard of living for all workers– industrial, agricultural or otherwise.
Dr. Ambedkar, a long-time advocate for labour rights, inculcated in the DPSPs the idea of “real economic freedom”, meaning workers are not forced to take up any job paying less than minimum wage owing to economic compulsions.
Labour laws, according to experts, are meant to mitigate the imbalance of power, which has only risen with the advent of the platform or gig economy, and the rise of casualisation and precarious employment.
Indian labour laws have been criticised for setting up a labour bureaucracy prone to corruption, for workers losing jobs under the cover of liberalisation and globalisation, and for inefficient adjudicatory mechanisms.
This was seen during the pandemic when multiple states granted sweeping exemptions from legal provisions aimed at protecting labourers and employees for achieving economic revival.
Further, India is among the countries with the lowest participation of women in the national labour workforce.
The remaining DPSPs relate to maternity-related provisions, equal pay for equal work, setting up of co-operative societies and village panchayats, increasing child nutrition levels, environmental protection, and respecting international law.
Some of these principles were also translated in the early years of Independence such as the separation of the judiciary from the executive and the setting up of village panchayats.
Maternal welfare schemes have also been launched, fulfilling some of the mandates of the DPSPs.