Dr. V. Rajyalakshmi
Indian Constitution is the supreme law of our land. It was adopted on 26 November 1949. Therefore, this day marks a very precious day for all Indian citizens to celebrate it annually. Earlier Nov 26th used to be celebrated as Law day but from the recent past we have begun to celebrate it as the constitutional day. Celebration of constitutional day year after year means a lot to us for two mighty reasons. Firstly, it reminds us that India ceased to be a colony and is now enjoying the dignity of being an independent state. Secondly, it points out the inbuilt strength of the Indian Constitution to be able to hold on to its supreme importance till today irrespective of ensuing challenges and changing perceptions and needs of our dynamic society.
Our constitution is often hailed as a living document of great worth. Indeed it is a great document because it is the outcome of a most committed effort of its drafters in bringing out an enduring constitution of great spirit and substance. Constitutional Assembly was the forum in which our Constitution was formulated and adopted. The Assembly was established in 1946 for preparing the Constitution in order to facilitate appropriate transfer of sovereign power from British authorities to independent India.
A galaxy of wise men and conscientious individuals have thoroughly discussed and debated prior to final shaping of our supreme law of the land. Sri. B.N. Rau who was appointed as the constitutional advisor of the Assembly was instrumental in bringing out initial draft of our constitution. Thereafter, under the visionary leadership of Bharata Ratna, Dr. B.R.Ambdkar, the draft of Constitution is further refined through elaboration and incorporation of many changes that were agreed upon after intense deliberations. Other learned jurist members of the Committee who lent their wisdom in the process of constitution making were, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, N. Gopalaswami; K.M Munshi, Mohammad Saadulla, B.L. Mitter who was later replaced by Madhav Rau and D.P. Khaitan.
Out of a total of 165 sittings of the Constituent Assembly, 114 sittings were spent only on debating the draft constitution. Altogether the making of our constitution underwent the prolonged labour of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days. This illustrates the great investment of the time and efforts of wise minds and noble souls of the makers of our constitution for bringing out a robust constitution for serving the people of India.
Indian Constitution has the uniqueness of being the lengthiest written constitution available in the entire world. At the time of its adoption it contained 395 Articles, 8 schedules and 22 parts. Since then Constitution has been amended whenever necessary. Now it contains 448articles in 25 parts and 12 schedules. It is unique not just for its size. It is also unique for its content because our constitution is built upon the best features picked up from many of the constitutions of other countries. For example, the feature of Parliamentary Democracy from Britain, the ideal of Directive Principles of State Policy from Ireland, the ideology of Fundamental Rights and Judicial Review from USA, the concept of Federalism with strong centre from Canada, the notions of liberty, equality and fraternity from France, the German policy of restrictions on fundamental rights in case of emergency and the principle of Fundamental Duties from USSR are some of the features of foreign constitutions that are incorporated into our constitution. For this reason, many criticise that our constitution is a baggage of borrowed ideas, But one must understand that the exercise of conscientious selection of best features with a great vision to long serve the best interests of India cannot be equated with a frivolous exercise of mindless copying of foreign constitutions which would not have withstood the tests of time .
Indian constitution stands on the concept of constitutional supremacy. Therefore it has become our supreme law of the land. It laid down the structure of the government, fundamental political principles, procedures, rights, powers, and duties of the government. In view of the constitutional supremacy all institutions and laws must operate in accordance with constitutional prescriptions. The constitutional scheme of separation of powers between the three wings of the government, namely, legislature, executive and judiciary has the calibre to avoid the unhealthy institutional struggle for relative supremacy. Most importantly, the judiciary enjoys independence in the Indian constitutional scheme. It is this feature which strengthened the judiciary to become an effective guardian of our constitutional goals and values. It also helped in streamlining the erratic governance in many ways.
Our Constitution has characterised India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavouring to promote fraternity among them. The Constitution also provides persuasive guidance to the state for enhancing its good governance. This guidance is given in the form of the directive principles of state policy which are contained in Part IV of the Constitution. These principles are an avenue for achieving social justice. Though they are not enforceable for reasons of practical limitations, they carry great influential value for doing better. In fact the working of our constitution did prove this.
Another salient feature of our constitution is that it is both rigid as well as flexible in its character. It is rigid because there are some parts of the constitution which are extremely difficult to be amended. They require a support of two-third majority of the Parliament and also the support from not less than one-half of the state legislatures. At the same time the constitution is flexible because some parts of it can be amended only by a simple majority in the Parliament. This mixed character allowed our Constitution to remain intact in its fundamental features whereas it could also transform itself whenever necessary to meet the changing requirements.
So far as the people are concerned, Part III of Indian Constitution guarantees them the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Fundamental rights are very crucial for the survival and development of individuals with a sense of dignity. They are the basic rights that every Indian citizen has the right to enjoy, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion, place of birth, race, colour or gender etc. Part III of Indian Constitution secures various fundamental rights such as right to equality, right to life and liberty, freedoms concerning expression, religion, cultural and educational rights and rights against exploitation. Very importantly, right to get constitutional remedies in case of any violation of fundamental rights is itself recognized as a distinct fundamental right. The constitutionally assured judicial independence is immensely helping the people of India to enjoy the fruits of dynamic and meaningful interpretation of their fundamental rights by the Indian judiciary. In this process people have even begun to enjoy newer fundamental rights of contemporary importance such as the right to information, right to environmental protection, right to privacy etc though they are not expressly included in the Indian Constitution. Fundamental rights under Indian Constitution are subject to reasonable restrictions. This feature of reasonable restrictions contributes towards an approach of balancing the individual interests against social interests. Barring few disappointments, the judicial review is helping out the Constitution to retain its supremacy and allowing the people of India to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
A most significant feature of our constitution which deserves a special emphasis is the ideology of fundamental duties. When the Constitution was adopted in the year 1949, it did not contain any provision on Fundamental Duties. They have been introduced in 1976 through the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution, which is more than two decades after our constitution has entered into force in India. The concept of Fundamental Duties was taken from the constitution of USSR. Introduction of the fundamental duties into our constitution is a strong reminder to the people of India that they while they are quite enthusiastic about the enjoyment of their fundamental rights they should also be mindful of the fundamental duties they owe to the nation. In fact the notion of ‘duty’ is not unfamiliar to Indian culture. The civil behaviour of people of Ancient India essentially centred on the ideology of duties rather than that of rights. Seen from that angle, introduction of fundamental duties into our constitution is nothing but a reintroduction of our national ethos through formal writing. Such formal introduction helped to make duties explicit and allow them a high appeal by virtue of their constitutional standing. It is a necessary exercise because in modern times there is over emphasis on individual liberties with no focus on responsibilities which are useful for collective good.
There are a total of eleven fundamental duties. They are,
Firstly, every citizen has to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions. He should respect the national Flag and the National Anthem. The importance of this duty is self explanatory. When people ignore the ideas and ideals of our supreme law of the land, the destiny of the country would be anything but digressive. National flag and national anthem are the symbols of our hard earned independence. Disrespecting them is tantamount to disrespecting our self existence.
Secondly, it is the duty of every Indian to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired the national struggle for freedom. No citizen can ignore this duty if he understands that he is enjoying the fruits of hard fought freedom struggles based on such lofty ideals as right to self determination and non violence.
· Third is the duty to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. Obviously, our independence loses its meaning if the citizens neglect the need safeguard the sovereignty of their nation.
· Fourth duty mandates the citizens to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so.
· Fifth responsibility is promotion of harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. This duty has a special significance to contemporary India which is developing micro divisive mindset and also witnessing an increasing violent conduct towards women.
· Sixth duty of importance is to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture. India enjoys a unique distinction for being an abode of diverse culture. It is a matter of great national pride. This duty carries the implied responsibility for cultural harmony and tolerance.
· Ancient India maintained great reverence towards Nature in which process its people valued the Nature in the right way. But the new India like many other modern states has lost its harmony with Nature. Keeping this in mind, seventh fundamental duty is cast to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and also to have compassion for living creatures.
· Eighth duty expects Indian citizens to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. This is another vital duty in the contemporary era with a dominating presence of scientific endeavours. This duty necessitates the spirit of humanism not to be lost in the reforms based on development of scientific temper and enquiry.
· Ninth duty requires the safeguarding of public property and to abjure violence.
· Tenth duty calls on the citizens to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement. This duty reflects the constitutional hope on its people in building up India as a land of achievement.
· The 11th and latest Fundamental Duty added in 2002 requires parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child, or ward between the age of six and fourteen years.
An overall evaluation of our constitution reveals that it is an embodiment of lofty goals and precious values. It has an immeasurable scope to transform India to be a model state. But for this to happen what is most needed is a genuine political will and responsible public commitment to our constitutional mission and vision. It is high time for every individual to realise that constitution does not work out unless its people work it out in its true spirit.
Dr. V. Rajyalakshmi
Honorary Professor of Law