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The Constitution of India And Its Socio-Economic Philosophy

In modern times, the concept of State has undergone a radical change. The individualistic view of the functions of the State and the laissez faire theory has been rejected and are considered to be out-dated. The concept of welfare State has emerged and has gained wide recognition. Every State is tending to become a welfare State. The social and economic uplift of the masses has become their avowed objectives. In India, even before the independence the nation clearly underlined its objective of the socio-economic development of the people.

National Movement: Socio-economic emancipation of the masses was one of the corner-stones of the National Movement. The Resolution of Karachi Congress (1931) clearly stated:
In order to end the exploitation of the masses, political freedom must include real economic freedom for the starving millions.

It included under the heading Fundamental Rights and economic Programmes; many welfare schemes and policies and also an economic programme. It spoke for a living wage for industrial workers, limited hours of labour, healthy conditions of the work, protection against economic consequences of the old age, sickness and unemployment; labour to be freed from serfdom or conditions bordering on serfdom; protection of women workers and specially adequate provisions for leave during maternity period; prohibition against employment of children of; school going age in factories etc.

It stated about the right of labour to form unions to protect their interests with suitable machinery for settlement of disputes by arbitration. It spoke for the nationalisation of industries. It included also the fiscal policy of the government which is to be formulated to bring about agricultural reform and to improve the lot of farmers. It incorporated a number of provisions regarding social welfare and uplift. These declarations were reiterated in subsequent Resolutions of the Congress.

The social and economic objective was embodied in the Objective. Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly on the 22nd January, 1947 which framed the Constitution. It states:

Objective Resolution
This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution, Wherein shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India Justice social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality; and wherein adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and oppressed and other backward classes, and .....

The Constitution's Preamble: The Indian Constitution declares India to be a Sovereign Democratic Republic. It affirms its faith in democracy. It envisages a welfare States whose primary function is to promote the welfare of the community on indicated lines. The very preamble of the Constitution embodies the social and economic objectives.
It speaks of securing to all its citizens:

Justice, social, economic and political;
Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
Equality of status and opportunity;
And to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation. It very clearly demonstrates that socio-economic justice was made the foundation of the Constitution.

In lucid expressive words it emphatically brings out the socio-economic content, political freedom and gives an inspiring picture of the future of India which was then beginning its carrer as a welfare State. The positive constructive aspect of the political freedom has to be the creation of a new social order, based on the doctrine of socio-economic justice.

The feeling that political freedom, without socio-economic justice will have no significance to the masses of the country, found its expression in the Preamble of the Constitution. In other words, the preamble and most of the significant articles of the Constitution emphasis the fact that, for political freedom to have a meaning to the masses of India, it is essential that socio-economic justice be achieved.{1}

Directive Principles of State Policy

The socio-economic objective of the Constitutions found elaborate expressions in the incorporation of Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution. It indicates that the framers of the Constitution wanted to establish economic democracy. Through the Directive Principle they wanted to give socio-economic content to the political freedom. In connection with the proposed Directive Principles, Dr. Ambedkar stated in the Constituent Assembly;

"We do not want merely to lay down a mechanism to enable people to come and capture power. The Constitution also wishes to lay down an ideal before those who would be forming the Government. That ideal is economic democracy. In my judgment the Directive Principles have a great value for they lay down that our ideal is economic democracy. Because we did not want merely a parliamentary form of the government to be instituted through the mechanism provided in the Constitution, without any direction as to what our economic ideal or as to what our social order ought to be, we deliberately included the Directive Principles in our Constitution. {2}

Reading the Preamble and the Directive Principles together makes it clear that attainment of socio-economic justice was the goal of the Republic. The Directive Principles have been declared to be fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State -to apply these principles in making laws

 Elaborating the nature of the Directive Principles Dr. Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly:
Surely it is not the intention to introduce in this Part these principles as mere pious declarations. It is the intention of the Assembly that in the future both the legislative and the executive sh0uld not merely pay lip service to these principles but that they should be made the basis of all legislature and executive action that they may be taking in hereafter in the matter of the governance of the country.{3}

The Directive Principles promise social, economic and political justice. Article 38 expressly and clearly requires the State to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may be a social order in which justice, social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

The State shall, in particular, strive to minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavour and eliminate inequalities in status, facilities ad opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. There is no doubt that the Constitution makers intended the Directive Principle as essential to that new social order in which the welfare of the people as a whole must become the State's first concern so that social justice should permeate all the institutions of our national life.

According to the Directive Principles, the State is required to secure for the citizens men and women equally, the right to an adequate means of livelihood, better distribution of the resources of the community, to sub serve the common good and to check the evils of concentration of wealth and means of the production to the common detriment; equal pay for equal work; protection against abuse and exploitation of workers economic necessity; the protection of their health and strength, to secure for children opportunities and facilities to develop in healthy manner and in conditions of the freedom and dignity {4} and to protect childhood and youth against exploitation and moral and material abandonment. {5} The State is to secure equal justice and free legal aid.{6}

The State is required to make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness or disablement and in other cases of undeserved want.{7} The State is enjoined to make provision for just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. {8} The State shall secure work, a living wage, and conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life.{9}

The State is to take steps to secure the participation of workers in the management of industries.{10} The State shall endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete fourteen years of age.{11}The State is to promote with special care the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, particularly the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.{12} The State shall consider among its primary duties to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and the improvement of public health.{13}

The State shall endeavour to organize agricultural and animal husbandry and is to take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cow, etc.{14} Thus, the Constitution endeavours to remove the social disabilities; to provide on equal basis political rights and other opportunities and to work for the economic emancipation of the masses. These directives are not mere expression of pious hopes; they are in fact a programme of action drawn up for active fulfillment.

It is not only the Part IV alone that does it, but a great part of the Fundamental Rights and many other provisions of the Constitution are directed towards that end. Pointing out this aspect of the Constitution, Granville Austin says:
The Indian Constitution is first and foremost a social document. The majority of its provisions are either aimed at furthering the goals of the social revolution or attempt to foster this resolution by establishing the conditions necessary for its achievement. Yet, despite the permeation of the entire Constitution by the aim of national renaissance, the core of the commitment to the social revolution lies in Parts III and IV in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution. {15}

However, in the beginning the Directive Principles did not receive the importance they deserved. They were held to be subject to Fundamental Rights. In State of Madras v. Champkam Dorairajan,{16} the Supreme Court observed:
The Directive Principles of the State Policy, which by Article 37 are expressly made unenforceable by a Court, cannot override the provision found in Part III which, notwithstanding other provisions, are expressly made enforceable by appropriate writs, order or directions under Article 32.

The Chapter of Fundamental Rights is sacrosanct and not liable to be abridged by Legislative or Executive Act or Order, except to the extent provided in the appropriate Articles in Part III. The Directive Principles of the State Policy have to conform and to run as subsidiary to the Chapter of Fundamental Rights. In our opinion, that is the correct approach in which the provisions found in Parts III and IV have to be understood.

However, so long as there is no infringement of any Fundamental Rights to the extent conferred by the provisions in Part III, there can be no objection to the State acting in accordance with the Directive Principles set out in Part IV, but subject again to the Legislative and Executive powers and limitation conferred on the State under different provisions of the Constitution. {17}

However, it was held that an attempt must be made to harmonise the provisions of Fundamental Rights with the Directives of the State Policy as far as possible and attempt should be made to give effect to both as much as possible. {18} Directive Principles have been resorted to in determining the reasonableness of restrictions imposed by law in the context of Fundamental Rights. {19}

Constitution Twenty-fifth Amendment
This interpretation came in the way of schemes or programmes meant for economic emancipation envisaged in the Directive Principles if it conflicted with the Fundamental Rights. In order to give primacy to Directive Principles, Article 31C was inserted in the Constitution by the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act 1971.

It provided:
Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law giving effect to the policy of the State towards seeming the principles specified in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39 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 the Article 14, Article 19 or Article 31; and no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy:
Provided that where such law is made by the Legislature of a State, the provisions of this article shall not apply thereto unless such law, having been reserved for the consideration of the President, has received his assent.

This amendment was challenged in Kesvanand Bharti v. State of Kerala. {20} The majority held that first part of section 3 (of the Amendment Act) inserting Article 31-C is valid. The second Part, namely, and no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy is invalid. The proviso also was held to be invalid.

Thus, it was established that any law giving effect to the policy of the State towards securing the principles specified in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39 shall not be deemed to be void on the grounds that it is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Article 14, Article 19 or Article 31. Any such law was held to be justiciable. The State Legislature was held not competent to pass any such law. Thus, one of the Directive Principle of the State Policy was given precedence over certain Fundamental Rights.

Constitution Forty-second Amendment

The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 made Directive Principles more comprehensive by adding Article 39(f) and inserting Articles 39A, 43A and 48A in Part IV of the Constitution. It amended Article 31 C and replaced the words the principles specified in clause (b) or clause (c) of the Article 39 in that article by the words all or any of the principles laid down in Part IV. It amended Article 31C by restoring it as it obtained under the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 1971.

The Constitution must be interpreted in its socio-economic context. Constitutional problems cannot be studied in a socio-economic vacuum. {21}

The Constitution envisages a national mission of the socio-economic uplift of the country and the interpretation must be directed to fulfill this mission.

The Supreme Court in Pateh Chand Himmatlal v. State of Maharashtra,{22} has observed:

While interpreting the Articles of the Indian Constitution, the Court should remember that it is not construing a pertified legal parchment but reading the luscent lines of a human text with a national mission.

The Court must never forget that the life of the Supreme lex is nourished by the social setting, that juridical abstractions and theoretical conceptions may be fascinating forensics but jejune jurisprudence if the raw Indian realities are slurred over. The Constitution of a nation is being expounded whose people hunger for a full life for each, and therefore, a perception of the signature of social justice writ on it is imperative. Nothing is more certain in modern society, declared the American Supreme Court at mid-century than the principle that there are no absolutes. Legal Einstienism guides the Court, not doctrinal absolutes.

Explaining the scope of Article 39(b), the legislation to give effect to which has been protected by Article 31C Justice Iyer has in a State of Karnataka v. Ranganatha Reddy,{23} observed :
The key word is distribute and the genius of the Article, if we may say so cannot but be given full play as it fulfills the basic purpose of restructuring the economic order. Each word in the Article has a strategic role and the whole Article a social mission. It embraces the entire material resources of the community. Its task is to distribute such resources. Its goal is to undertake distribution as best to subserve the common good.

It re-organizes by such distribution the ownership and control. ‘Resources' is a sweeping expression and covers not only cash resources but even ability to borrow (credit resources)....And material resources of the community in the context of re-ordering the national economy embraces all the national wealth, not merely natural resources, all the private and public sources of meeting material needs, not merely public possessions. Everything of value or use in the material world is material resource and the individual being a member of the community, his resources are part of those of the community. To exclude ownership of private resource from the coils of Article 39(b) is to cipherise its very purpose of redistribution the socialist way.

A directive to the State with a deliberate design to dismantle feudal and capitalist citadels of the property must be interpreted in that spirit and hostility to such a purpose alone can be hospitable to the meaning which excludes private means of production or goods produced from the instruments of production....No further argument is needed to conclude that Article 39(b) is ample enough to rope in buses.

The motor vehicles are art of the material resources of the operators. The next question is whether nationalisation can have nexus with distribution.

Should we assign a narrow or spacious sense to this concept?

Doubtless, the latter, for reasons so apparent and elequent. To distribute, even in its simple dictionary meaning, is to allot, to divide into classes or into groups, and ‘distribution' embraces arrangement, classification, placement, disposition, apportionment, the way in which items, a quantity or the like is divided or apportioned; the system of dispersing goods through a community (see Random House Dictionary).

To classify and allocate certain industries or services or utilities or articles between the private and the public sectors of the national economy is to distribute those resources. Socially conscious economists will find little difficulty in treating nationalisation of the transport as distributive process for the good of the community. You cannot condemn the concept of a nationalisation in our Plan on the score that Art 39 (b) does not envelope it. It is a matter of public policy left to the legislative wisdom whether a particular scheme of take-over should be undertaken.

Two conclusions strike us as quintessential Part IV, especially Article 39(b) and (c) is a futuristic mandate to the State with a message of transformation of the economic and social order.
Firstly, such change calls for collaborative effort from all the legal institutions of the system: The legislative, the judiciary and the administrative machinery.

Secondly and consequently, loyalty to the high purpose of the Constitution viz., social and economic justice in the context of material want and utter inequalities on a massive scale, compels the court to ascribe expansive meaning to the pregnant words used with hopeful foresight, not to circumscribe their connotation into contradiction of the objectives inspiring the provision. To be pharisaic towards the Constitution through ritualistic construction is to weaken the social-spiritual thrust of the founding fathers dynamic fait.

In its recent pronouncements, the Supreme Court has more boldly underlined the socio-economic philosophy of the Constitution and has growing emphasised to give effect to it.   

  1. Prof. Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law Of India, (Allahabad Law Agency, Haryana 8th Edn., 2011).
  2. Wikipedia,,_social_and_cultural_rights.
End Notes
  1. P.B. Gajendragadkar, The Constitution of India: Its philosophy and Basic Postulates, 1969, pp. 12-13.
  2. Constituent Assembly Debates, 19th November 1948, pp. 494-95.
  3. Constituent Assembly Debates. Vol. VII, p. 476.
  4. Added by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 section 7.
  5. Art. 39.
  6. Article 39A (This Article was introduced by Constitution (42hd Amendment) 1976).
  7. Art. 41
  8. Art. 42
  9. Art. 43
  10. Art. 33A (This Article was inserted by the Constitution) (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976
  11. Art. 45
  12. Art. 46
  13. Art. 47
  14. Art. 48
  15. Granville Austin: The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (1966), p. 50
  16. AIR 1951 SC 228
  17. Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar, AIR 1958 SC 731; In re Kerala Education Bill, 1957 AIR 1958 S.C 155, Deepchand v. State of U.P., 1959 SC 648
  18. In re: Kerala Education Bill, 1957, AIR 1958 SC 956
  19. State of Bombay v. N Balsam, AIR 1951 SC 318
  20. A.I.R. 1973 SC 1461
  21. State of Karnataka v. Ranganatha Reddy, AIR 1978 SC 215
  22. AIR 1977 SC 1825
  23. AIR 1978 SC 215, 249-250

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