Fundamental duties: is the unaccountability justified?

Tanya Arora[1]

Let’s begin this paper by defining what ‘duty’ actually is. According to the oxford dictionary, duty can be defined as a legal or moral obligation while in jurisprudential terms, duty is a legal obligation for a person to conduct himself to a certain standard, failing which he could be liable for negligence if damages occur in the result.[2] Thus, duty is an obligation that is identified and effected by law, which allows us to abide by a particular standard of conduct towards each other, deviation from which is considered wrong and punishable. However simple this definition seems to be, it raises its own share of confusions. One is bound to question the standards that are set, the ones who set them and the basis on which our conduct is judged. More such questions arose on the topic of Fundamental Duties, described in Part IV of the Constitution of India, which were introduced in correlation to the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to us. Moving forward in this paper, we’ll deal with the question whether the unaccountability of the fundamental duties is justified or not.

Since the Vedic era, people were expected to perform certain duties. These duties, which can also be called commands, have to abide by. The fundamental duties were introduced for ensuring that a “democratic balance” is maintained in the society. Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, added after the 42nd Amendment Act, 1972, contains 11 duties that are deemed to be statutory and obligatory for the citizens of India. The government thought that incorporating such duties in correlation to the fundamental rights will fill the missing part in the framework of our constitution. The paradox behind the development of these duties was that the preparatory work for these duties started when the fundamental rights were suspended due to the imposition of Emergency. These fundamental duties obligate the citizens of India to respect and cherish their national heritage, promote a feeling of common brotherhood amongst each other, educate their children, protect the environment and strive for excellence. The makers of the Constitution provided us with certain rights which were enforceable and protected us from injustice while these duties were made obligatory with no accountability. These duties were the civil obligations that were to be performed by the citizens in order to enjoy their freedom and fundamental rights. These duties were not made enforceable and no remedy is available for their violation. For these duties to become enforceable and have the force of law, it needed sanction from the state.

Even though these fundamental duties are not made enforceable, few of these provisions are implemented as acts, having the force of law. Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides us with various laws that have the objective of criminalizing violence, such as section 153-A, 295 and 295-A. Other laws such as the Wildlife Protection Laws (1972) which was enacted to protect our flora and fauna, the Environment Protection Act (1986) which imposes a duty over every citizen to ‘protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife’[3], the Integrity- Anti National Activities Laws (UAPA etc.) which gives government the power to deal with activities that are directed against sovereignty and integrity of India and lastly, the Sedition Laws under Section 124-A, which prescribes a punishment of life imprisonment to anyone who attempts to promote contempt or hatred towards the government.

Notwithstanding the non-enforceability of the fundamental duties, parliament, by law, can impose penalties to those who fail to fulfil their duties. However, the conditions attached to the case and the people against whom such penalties are to be imposed are considered before the decisions are given. Thus, it can be derived that the fundamental duties are not self-executing and need State’s support for implementation. This can be understood with the help of certain cases. In Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan[4], the court established that if the non-observance of a duty by one leads to the violation of the right of another, proper remedy can be sought by that person.

In M.C.Mehta vs Union of India[5], the Supreme court laid down that under Article 51-A(g), it was the Central Government’s duty to introduce compulsory teaching of lessons for a minimum of one hour in a week on the issue of improvement and protection of the natural environment in all the educational institutions around the country.

In Bijoe Emmanuel vs State of Kerala[6], the Supreme Court overruled the previous decision of the Kerala High Court and gave the decision that even though the Constitution provides that the National Anthem should be respected by every citizen, while singing the National Anthem is not a part of this respect and thus, simply standing for the National Anthem is enough.

In AIIMS Students Union vs AIIMS[7], a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court declared that although the fundamental duties are not enforceable by a writ, they provide valuable aid and guidance in interpretation of legal and constitutional issues. 

In Mohan Kumar Singhania vs Union of India[8],the decision to give paramount importance to the training programme for the Indian Administrative Service candidates was upheld by gaining support from the Article 51-A(a) of the Constitution.

In Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs State of Uttar Pradesh[9],a ban on the mining operations happening in the Mussoorie hills was sustained by deriving support from the Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution.

In a country where citizens are only concerned about their rights and are unwilling to actively be a part of the government by assuming responsibilities, performing their citizenship duties and coming forward to do their best for their country, such a democratic polity cannot succeed. John F. Kennedy rightly said “Do not ask what the country can do for you, but ask what you can do for the country.”[10]Behind every attempt to make these fundamental duties enforceable is the lurking thought that these duties are some kind of quid pro quo for the rights provided to us. The thought of doing well for your own country and promoting harmony cannot and should not be forced upon the citizens of India. There are three ways that can be useful in building a nation. The first one is through noble ideas. The second is dependent on the capability and the will of the citizens for achieving these ideals. And lastly, the constant and persistent efforts put in by each and every citizen into taking their country forward. The duties mentioned in Article 51-A weren’t meant to be made enforceable but to be followed as moral guidelines. They were added with a suggestive intention and are vague, complex, and clash with the religious principles and our fundamental rights. Thus, even though their unaccountability is justified, the government needs to create more awareness about these duties so that everyone can perform their own part.


[1] Student, 3rd Year, B.B.A., Ll. B (Hons.) Amity Law School, Amity University, Uttar Pradesh.

[2] DUHAIME,Duty(June 25, 2018) http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/D/Duty.aspx.

[3] Explore Laws, EDUGREEN (June 27, 2018), http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/laws.htm

[4] Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241.

[5] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1983) 1 SCC 471.

[6] Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, 1986 SCR (3) 518.

[7] AIIMS Students Union v. AIIMS, AIR 2001 SC 3262.

[8] Mohan Kumar Singhania v. Union of India, 1 1991 SCR Supl. (1) 46.

[9] Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1987 SC 359.

[10] Fundamental Duties, LEGALSERVICEINDIA (June 28, 2018) http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-132-fundamental-duties.html.