Polity

Swaran Singh Committee: Fundamental Duties

Swaran Singh Committee

The Indian Constitution, undoubtedly, provides a vast list of Fundamental Rights which is indeed the bedrock of its democracy. However the Indian Constitution, initially, did not mention any fundamental duties. Maybe because the framers of our constitution did not feel the necessity to incorporate the fundamental duties. But enlisting the fundamental duties is indeed necessary, as citizens of India must have a knowledge of their duties towards the nation, and every citizen must serve the nation. So, the Indian National Congress, in 1976, set up the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee which was entrusted with the job of making recommendations about the fundamental duties.

Swaran Singh Committee
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But there’s an interesting fact, the major democratic countries around the world like the United States, France, Germany, Australia, etc, doesn’t specify a list of fundamental duties. And the only democracy which mentions such a list in its Constitution is Japan. The list of fundamental duties was mentioned in the constitution of the erstwhile USSR, and it is a characteristic feature of socialist countries to enshrine the duties of the citizens towards the state. Similarly, the Constitution of the erstwhile USSR made the citizens exercise of their rights and freedoms conditional to the performance of their duties and obligations.

Swaran Singh Committee
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However, making the citizens exercise of their rights and freedom conditional to the performance of their fundamental duties isn’t very democratic in nature. In this article, we’d be discussing the recommendations of the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee and the fundamental duties, along with the questions like whether the fundamental rights were made conditional to the fulfillment of the duties, and whether the existence of fundamental duties is necessary?

Sardar Swaran Singh Committee

Formation
Swaran Singh Committee
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Sardar Swaran Singh Committee was set up by the Indian National Congress in 1976. The main motive of the committee was to make recommendations about the fundamental duties. The need for enlisting fundamental duties was felt during the time of internal emergency between 1975-1977.

Swaran Singh Committee members
  1. Sardar Swaran Singh, Chairman (Former Minister of Railways)
  2. Abdul Rahman Antulay (Former Chief Minister of Maharashtra)
  3. C. Mathai Stephen (Former Union Minister of India)
  4. Siddhartha Shankar Ray (Former Chief Minister of West Bengal)
  5. H.R. Gokhale (Former Cabinet Minister of Law and Justice)
  6. Rajni Patel
  7. V.A. Sayed Muhammad
  8. D.P. Singh
  9. Vasanth Sathe
  10. B.N. Banerjee
  11. Dinesh Goswami
  12. V.N. Gadgil
Recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee

The Committee recommended the inclusion of a separate chapter of fundamental duties in the Constitution of India. This was done to ensure that the citizens should become conscious that, in addition to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms, they have certain duties to perform as well.

These recommendations of the committee were accepted by the central government. So, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act was enacted in 1976. Through this amendment, a new part, Part IVA, was added to the Indian Constitution

Part IVA consists of only one article, Article 51A. Article 51A of the Indian Constitution provides for a code of ten fundamental duties of the citizens of India (However, the Swaran Singh Committee recommended the incorporation of only 8 fundamental duties).

Moreover, there were also certain recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee which were not accepted by the ruling Congress Party and were not incorporated in the Constitution, these recommendations were-

  • The Parliament of India may provide for the imposition of such penalty or punishment as may be considered appropriate for any non-compliance with or refusal to observe any of the duties.
  • No law imposing such penalty or punishment shall be called into question in any court on the ground of infringement of any fundamental rights or on the ground of repugnancy to any other provision of the Constitution.
  • The duty to pay taxes should also be a fundamental duty of the citizens.
List of Fundamental Rights mentioned in the Constitution
Swaran Singh Committee
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  1. to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
  2. to cherish and follow the noble ideals that inspired the national struggle for freedom;
  3. to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India;
  4. to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
  5. to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
  6. to value and preserve the rich heritage of the country’s composite culture;
  7. to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures;
  8. to develop scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
  9. to safeguard public property and to adjure violence;
  10. 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.
  11. And to provide opportunities for education to his child or ward between the age of six and fourteen years

*the eleventh fundamental duty was added to the list by the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002.

Features of the Fundamental Duties
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First of all, unlike some of the fundamental rights which are provided to both the citizens of India and foreigners, the fundamental duties are confined only to the citizens of India.

The fundamental duties are, like the Directive Principles of State Policies (DPSP), not justiciable. And as discussed earlier, the recommendation to impose a penalty or punishment for non-compliance was not accepted by the government. So, no provision was provided for their direct enforcement and no legal sanction against their violation. But the Parliament is always free to legislate suitable laws for their enforcement.

The fundamental duties refer to the values which have been a part of Indian tradition, religion, mythology, and practices.

The list of fundamental duties consists of both civic and moral duties, such as respecting the National Flag, National Anthem, and the Indian Constitution, and moral duties such as cherishing noble ideas of freedom struggle.

The Constitution does not make the enjoyment of rights dependent or conditional upon fulfillment of duties. Hence, the inclusion of fundamental duties has not changed the status of our fundamental rights.

Arguments supporting Fundamental Duties

The foremost significance of enlisting fundamental duties is that it reminds the citizens that while enjoying extensive fundamental rights, they should also be conscious of the duties that they should fulfill being the citizens of India. They should also be conscious of their fundamental duties towards their society and fellow citizens.

Hence, these fundamental duties provide incentives and encouragement to the citizens to fulfill their national duties and respect our nation and also actively participate in the realization of national goals. They also help in promoting discipline and commitment among the citizens.

Swaran Singh Committee
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Moreover, they are also warning against the anti-national and anti-social elements in the country. They also discourage anti-national activities such as the burning of the National Flag, disrespecting the National Anthem, and destroying public property in the name of protests.

The fundamental duties are enforceable by law and hence the Parliament of India has the full authority to legislate and pass laws for the imposition of appropriate and reasonable penalty or punishment in case of non-compliance.

The fundamental duties also help the courts in determining the constitutionality and legitimacy of any law. As the Supreme Court of India, in 1992, ruled that while determining the constitutionality of a law, if the court finds that the law in question seeks to give effect to any fundamental duty, then it may consider such law to be reasonable in relation to Article 14 (equality before law) or Article 19 (six freedoms).

Arguments against the Fundamental Duties

The first and foremost critic of the fundamental duties is that this list does not cover certain other important duties such as paying taxes, casting votes, family planning, etc.
*The fundamental duty to pay taxes was originally recommended by the Swaran Singh Committee but was not accepted and incorporated in the constitution.

Image by- Amar Chitra Katha

Moreover, their not-justiciable nature, like the Directive Principles of State Policies, was also heavily criticized. As without being justiciable, they are more or less a code of moral precepts.

The incorporation of fundamental duties in the constitution has been considered ‘superfluous’ by the critics. Because these duties would’ve been performed by the people of India even without the incorporation of this list of fundamental duties in the Constitution.

Some of the duties mentioned in the list are also quite difficult and ambiguous to comprehend clearly by a common man. For example the phrases like ‘composite culture’, ‘noble ideas’ and ‘scientific temper.’

Many critics also state that the inclusion of the list of fundamental duties in Part IV of the Constitution has reduced their value. So, instead of being included in Part IV of the constitution, they should’ve been included in Part III of the Constitution, which would have kept these fundamental duties on par with the fundamental rights.

H.R. Gokhale (then law minister) on the incorporation of fundamental duties-
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“In post-independent India, particularly on the eve of emergency in June 1975, a section of the people have showed no anxiety to fulfill their fundamental obligations of respecting the established legal order …. the provisions of chapter on fundamental duties would have a sobering effect on these restless spirits who have had a host of anti-national subversive and unconstitutional agitations in the past.”

Indira Gandhi (then Prime Minister) on the inclusion of fundamental duties-
Swaran Singh Committee
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“The moral value of fundamental duties would be not to smoother rights but to establish a democratic balance by making the people conscious of their duties equally as they are conscious of their rights.”

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