Fundamental rights: reasonable restrictions justified?

Shalu Gupta[1]


We live in a democratic country where we have certain rights that must be enjoyed by everyone.  But do you really think every human being are aware of these rights? Perhaps not. These rights are guaranteed by the Indian constitution and known as fundamental rights. From childhood days we often used to talk about right our rights like a right to exist, right to eat, to be left alone and to remain silent but do you know what does the term right mean? Does this right exist? A right is something what we want others to do for us and another human being should not disrupt the same. For ex. carrying a weapon to protect oneself is a right and pointing the same weapon at an innocent person is violation of his right.


Fundamental rights are recognized by the society or state and they place obligations upon the action of the state and individuals also but do you know why these rights are regarded as fundamental?  Here is why, because these are essential for the existence and moral development of the people and allow to satisfy our spiritual and other needs. These are the basic rights without which a man cannot live as a human being and democracy cannot work. These rights are enshrined under part III of the constitution of India and are not absolute in nature i.e. reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the larger interest of the society. State can take back these rights during the emergency. The framer of the Indian constitution guarantees six fundamental rights of the citizens i.e. right to equality, right to freedom, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights.

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Restrictions on fundamental rights

The constitution of India guarantees right to freedom to all its citizens. This right is given under article 19-22. Article 19 of the constitution has been categorized into six fundamental freedoms:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Freedom to form association or unions or co-operative societies
  • Freedom of movement
  • Freedom to reside and settle
  • Freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business
  • Freedom is the most precious possession of every living being.

 Freedom is defined as right to act or speaks as one wants without any restraints i.e. free to do whatever we want. Each and every individual wants to enjoy freedom but there are some restrictions upon enjoyment of these so that public order, morality and health maintained. The purpose of providing this freedom is to maintain the proper functioning of the democracy. The state has been authorized to impose the reasonable restrictions as may be necessary in the larger interest of the society.

Freedom of speech and expression may be restricted in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and security of India, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Ex. restrictions on the movement of person/groups to prevent spread of violence.

Freedom of assembly may be restricted in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. Ex. restrictions on the trade of gambling and prostitution

Freedom to form association or unions or co-operative societies may be restricted in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order or morality. Ex. restrictions on the trade of gambling and prostitution

Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India and to reside and settle in any part of India maybe restricted in the interest of the general public or for the protection of the interests of the Scheduled Tribe.

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Freedom to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business may be restricted in the interests of the general public.

Grounds on which restrictions can be challenged

Restrictions means to put limit. A restriction is a rule or order that limits or prevents us from doing what we want to do. Any restrictions imposed by the state may be challenged on the ground that the restrictions are unjust, arbitrary and unreasonable. Now a question that comes to one’s mind is what if the state misuses its power on the name of reasonable restrictions? Who will decide the reasonableness of the restrictions placed on fundamental rights? As per the Indian constitution only court can decide this issue. It is the duty of the court to determine whether any restriction is reasonable or not. If the court is of the opinion that a particular restriction is not reasonable it will declare as void. This is how it widens the scope of judicial review and the courts are bound to declare as void any law that is inconsistent with the fundamental rights. Legislative determination as to reasonableness is not final and it is subjected to judicial scrutiny.

Justifiability of fundamental rights

The restrictions imposed on fundamental rights are justified in the interest of safety and integrity of the country. It is totally acceptable. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens from internal as well as external disturbance. If we are not safe then there are no reasons to have rights. Now a question arises why these rights are made justifiable?  Here is why, in case of violation of these rights individual can approach the court for the protection and duty of the court is to protect and safeguard them if someone’s rights are violated. If a government enacts a law that restricts or violates any of these rights, it will be declared invalid by courts.

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In conclusion fundamental rights are not absolute rights and will be subjected to reasonable restrictions. The state can impose reasonable restrictions to protect the legitimate interest of the state. Any law passed by the state or action that result in an infringement of the rights will be subjected to judicial review. Some people think that restriction is restriction whether it benefits or not. Our constitution grants some fundamental rights with one hand and takeaway with the other.

[1] Student, GGSIPU University.