[9 May 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: A chance to settle a Constitutional clash

Mains PYQ Relevance: 
Q) Discuss the possible factors that inhibit India from enacting for its citizen a uniform civil code as provided for in the Directive Principles of State Policy. (UPSC IAS/2015)
Q) Examine the scope of Fundamental Rights in the light of the latest judgement of the Supreme Court on Right to Privacy. (UPSC IAS/2017)


Prelims:  Fundamental Right and DPSP;

Mains: Relation between FR and DPSP;

Mentor comments: The Constitution expressly makes Fundamental Rights enforceable, while DPSPs are regarded as goals that the state is expected to work towards. The tension between these parts has simmered through India’s history, reaching a boiling point in the 1970s when the Constitution was routinely amended, primarily to make certain kinds of legislation exempt from Judicial Review.

Let’s learn

Why in the News?

The recent case of Property Owners Association vs State of Maharashtra scrutinises two key questions: the meaning of “material resources of the community” in Article 39(b) and whether laws support the “common good”.

Present Dilemma before the Judiciary:

  • Supreme Court is presently considering a challenge to Chapter VIII-A of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Act, 1976. This chapter was added in 1986, which allowed the government to acquire “cessed” properties in Mumbai under Article 39(b). 
  • In 1991, the Bombay High Court upheld the amendment, citing Article 31C’s protection for laws related to Article 39(b). 
  • The appeal reached the Supreme Court in 1992, focusing on whether “material resources of the community” in Article 39(b) encompass private resources like cessed properties.
The conflict between Fundamental Rights (Part III) and Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) (Part IV):

Ongoing Conflict: Despite attempts by the Supreme Court to clarify, the conflict between fundamental rights and DPSP has persisted since the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973.
Uneasy Relationship between FR and DPSP: The relationship between fundamental rights and DPSP is described as uneasy, indicating tension between their implementation and interpretation.
Importance of Property Owners Case: The resolution of this conflict in the Property Owners case is expected to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of constitutional interpretation and governance.
Clarity in Constitution: Initially, the Constitution seemed clear on the matter, with Article 13 declaring laws violating fundamental rights as void and Article 37 stating that DPSPs are not enforceable by courts but should guide state action.
Treatment of DPSPs: Despite not being legally enforceable, DPSPs are considered fundamental principles for governance, and the state is obligated to apply them in legislation, as stated in the Constitution.
Hierarchy of Rights: Early court judgments, such as Chief Justice S.R. Das’s remarks in Mohd. Hanif Quareshi vs State of Bihar (1958), emphasised the importance of implementing DPSPs without infringing upon fundamental rights, highlighting the delicate balance required between the two parts of the Constitution.

Evolution of  Article 31C:

  • 25th Amendment(1971): The 25th Amendment to the Constitution introduced Article 31C, aimed at placing certain laws beyond Judicial Review, particularly those related to Article 39(b) and (c).
    • This amendment curtailed the Fundamental Right to Property. It provided that any law made to give effect to the Directive principle contained in Article 39(b)or 39(c)  cannot challenged on the grounds of violation of Rights guaranteed under Articles 14,19 and 31, ensuring exemption from judicial scrutiny.
    • This provision had significant implications. For instance, Parliament could nationalise the media under the pretext of securing the common good, without facing challenges related to freedom of expression.
  • Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973): A narrow majority (6:7) found that amendments conflicting with the Constitution’s Basic Structure would be void, partially questioning the validity of the 25th Amendment.
  • Judicial Review Principle: Justice H.R. Khanna’s opinion highlighted that the 25th Amendment limiting examination of laws regarding Article 39(b) and (c) infringed upon the principle of judicial review, although it upheld the exemption from challenges based on Articles 14 and 19.
  • Ambiguity in Kesavananda Verdict: Despite some aspects being found void, the Kesavananda case didn’t provide a clear stance on whether the amendment, regarding exemption from fundamental rights challenges, violated the Constitution’s basic features.

Changes to Article 31C and subsequent legal Interpretations:

  • 42nd Amendment (1976): The 42nd Amendment expanded the scope of Article 31C to encompass laws made in furtherance of any Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP), not just Articles 39(b) and (c), granting broader immunity to such laws from judicial review.
  • Minerva Mills Case (1980): In Minerva Mills vs Union of India, the Supreme Court declared the 42nd Amendment unconstitutional.
    • The ruling raised questions about the status of Article 31C. Does it revert to its original form from the 25th Amendment, minus the parts invalidated by Kesavananda Bharati? Or does its validity remain uncertain?
    • Presently, Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud emphasized that Fundamental Rights, such as Articles 14, 19, and 21, serve as essential safeguards against unrestricted state power.
  • Waman Rao Case (1981): In Waman Rao vs Union of India, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, while acknowledging his own opinion in Minerva Mills, upheld the validity of the unamended Article 31C. This judgment contradicts the stance taken in Minerva Mills.

Validity of Article 31C: 

  • The conflicting interpretations of Article 31C’s validity add complexity to its legal status. While some argue for its reinstatement in its original form, others question its compatibility with fundamental rights.
  • In Property Owners, the Court will assess the validity of a law allowing a State government board to control dilapidated buildings. Even if it aligns with Article 39(b), the question remains whether the law can be challenged under Articles 14 and 19.

Conclusion: Despite rulings like Waman Rao and Sanjeev Coke vs Bharat Coking Coal, the Supreme Court still needs to conclusively analyze Article 31C’s compatibility with the Constitution’s basic structure. Property Owner’s case offers a chance for resolution.

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