Fundamental Rights – Meaning And Concept

“All the world‘s stage,And all the men and women merely players;They have their exits and entrances;And one man in his time plays many parts.”

The famous English Poet William Shakespeare has highlighted the beautiful role played by men and women in this world. How unique and wonderful nature is. It has created man and woman. Men and women come into the world to play their roles and disappear. Thus, by birth development and disappearance are the universal rules of nature. To govern society, nature has created natural law. By the principle of natural law, nature is governing the whole universe. The principles of natural law are absolute, abstract and universally valid. They are considered to have emerged from the divine power without human intervention. Therefore they are called to be as divine law, universal law, and law of God. Human beings are unique creatures of nature. For the survival of human beings nature has provided natural rights and human rights to the individuals. Human rights are enjoyed by human beings from the very birth time. The Preamble to the Constitution of India declares India as independent sovereign Republic. The Preamble of the constitution of India says;

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens;

JUSTICE, social, economic and political

LIBERTY of thoughts, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and opportunity; and to promote among them all,

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of individual and unity and integrity of the Nation:

The expression of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity does not indicate any clear-cut meaning but they have been enacted keeping in view the different provisions of the Constitution particularly of Part III, dealing with the fundamental Rights and Part IV dealing with directive Principles of State Policy. The Preamble to the Indian Constitution declares all those rights and freedoms which the people of India.


  1. The purpose behind the inclusion of the Fundamental Rights in the constitution is to establish a government of law and not of man. That is a governmental system where the ruler cannot oppress the rules by encroaching on citizen’s basic rights.
  2. The incorporation of the fundamental rights in the Constitution vests them with sanctity which the ruler dare not violate them so easily.
  3. In a parliamentary system of government those who form government are also the leaders of the majority party in the legislature and can get the laws made easily. Therefore the danger of encroachments of one’s right cannot be ruled out in the absence of prescription of limitation of authorities of the state by the declaration of Fundamental rights.
  4. The fundamental rights incorporated in the Constitution can be classified under the following heads:
  1. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which deals with right to life and personal liberty has provided with the concept of fundamental rights in a broader and in a dynamic sense.
  2. The categories of fundamental rights enumerated in Part III of the Indian Constitution are not exhaustive and any right which is inextricably attached with any of the fundamental rights can be exercised with the same dignity as the basic fundamental rights itself. Thus, the scope of fundamental rights has been widened by a catena of judgements.


The concept of equality has been held basic to the rule of law and is regarded as the most fundamental postulate of republicanism. The Supreme Court in Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, [1] has held that the right to equality conferred by Article 14 is a basic structure of the constitution and an essential feature of democracy or rule of law. It has been held to be “a right which more than any other is a basic postulate of our Constitution”.  The equality clause embodied under Article 14 does not speak of mere formal equality before the law but also embodies the concept of real and substantive equality which strikes at the inequalities arising on account of vast social and economic differentiation and is thus consequently an essential ingredient of social and economic justice.[2] The essence of the principle behind Article 14 is a basic structure. In fact the essence is more important than equality in abstract or formal sense.[3]

The Supreme Court in the case Naraindas v. State of MP has laid down the applicable principle in the following words:[4] “If power conferred by the statute is vagrant and unconfined or no standards are laid down by the statute to guide the exercise of such power, it would be violative of equality clause because it would permit arbitrary exercise of powers, which is the antithesis of equality before the law”.[5]

The Supreme Court by 6:5 majority overruled its earlier decision in Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[6] and Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan [7] and held that Parliament no power to amend the Fundamental Rights. The Supreme Court has also observed that, “…. Our Constitution envisages a society governed by Rule of Law. Any guidelines which are denial of equality before the law is the antithesis to Rule of Law.”[8]

The Supreme Court has given a dynamic connotation to the equalizing principle contained in Article 14. The court declared this equalizing principle contained in Article 14 as a “founding Faith” a way of life and for that reason, it must not be subjected to a “narrow pedantic or lexicographic approach”. Justice Bhagwati and Krishna Iyer propounded the new concept of equality from a positivistic point of view and observed that-

“Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be “cribbed, cabined and confined” with traditional and doctrinaire limits”. From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch. While an act is arbitrary it is implicit in that it is unequal both according to the political logic and constitutional law and therefore is violative of Article 14.[9]

In the seminal Keshavananda Bharati case,[10]Sikri, C.J., mentioned the following as the basic foundation and structure of the constitution i.e. Supremacy of the Constitution; Separation of Powers; Equality before the law; Secular Character of Constitution[11]; Unity and Integrity of the state;[12] Federal character of the Constitution. In Keshavananda case, 7 of the 13 judges, observed that parliament in the exercise of its amending power under Article 368 could not alter basic structure or framework of the constitution. The basic structure has been, thus, held to be a limitation on the amending power of parliament.

In S.R. Bommai V. Union of India,[13] The Supreme Court has held that “Secularism is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution”. The State shall treat equally all religions and religious denominations. Religion is a matter of individual faith and cannot be mixed with secular activities. Secular activities can be regulated by the state by enacting law. Justice Ramaswami observed that secularism is not Anti- God. In the Indian context secularism is a positive concept. Thus, the Indian context embodies the positive concept of secularism and has not accepted the American doctrine of secularism that is the concept of erecting “a wall of separation between Religion and State”. The concept of positive secularism separates spiritualism from individual faith. The state is neither anti-religion nor pro-religion. In matters of religion, the state is neutral and treats every religion equally.

In the case of Balaji v. State of Mysore[14], the Supreme Court held that while the backward classes are entitled to positive and protective discrimination and such protective discrimination should not negate the right of equality and equal protection of law guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. union of India[15] which is also known as a watershed in the Indian Judicial Activism is one of the judgments which revolutionized the interpretation of Article 21 which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. In Minerva Mills limited v. Union of India[16], the Supreme Court of India has highlighted the position of Part IV of the Indian Constitution and observed that “The Constitution is founded on the bedrock of the balance between Part III and Part IV of the Indian Constitution. To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution. This harmony and balance between the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy is an essential feature of the basic structure of the Constitution.

[1] AIR 1975 SC 2299.

[2]Secretary HSEB vs. Suresh, AIR 1999 SC 1160.

[3]I.R Colheo v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 2007 SC 861.

[4] AIR 1974 SC 1232.

[5]  RaichurmathamPrabhakar v. RawatmalDugar AIR 2004 SC 3625.

[6]Shankari Prasad v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 458.

[7]Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1965 SC 845.

[8]Sudhir Chandra v. Tata Iron & Steel Co. Ltd., AIR 1984 SC 1064, 1071.

[9]E.P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1974 SC 555.

[10]KeshavanandaBharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[11]State of Kerala v. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, AIR 2004 SC 2081.

[12]RaghunathRao v. Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 1267.

[13] AIR 1994 SC 1918

[14] Balaji v. State of Mysore, A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 649.

[15] A.I.R 1978 S.C 597.

[16] Minerva Mills Ltd. v Union of India, A.I.R. 1980 S.C. 1789.

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About Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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