A new set of Fundamental Duties can go a long way towards instilling a reinvigorated sense of civic responsibility among citizens.
The Constitution of India, the longest written Constitution of the world, has envisaged a holistic approach towards civic life in a democratic polity. Certain rights have been guaranteed within the Constitution as Fundamental Rights. Since human conduct cannot be confined to the realm of Fundamental Rights, the Constitution has envisaged certain duties, which are correlated to the rights, and those duties have been described as Fundamental Duties.
The framers of the Constitution did not deem it appropriate to incorporate those duties in the text of the Constitution when it was originally promulgated. However, the post-Constitution civic life, for around a quarter century, did not portray a rosy picture, and therefore, it was thought fit to have a framework of duties in the Constitution itself. It may sound paradoxical that the preparatory work for the introduction of Fundamental Duties by the Swaran Singh Committee was done when the Fundamental Rights were under suspension during the Emergency.
The Fundamental Duties
The following ten Fundamental Duties were introduced by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 — Article 51-A: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India: To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem; to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so; to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures; to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform; to safeguard public property and to abjure violence; 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. Subsequently, another duty was added by the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002: for a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education of the child or ward between the age of six and fourteen.
Since then, the scope of Fundamental Rights under Part III of the Constitution has seen significant expansion through judicial pronouncements; the right to free legal services to the poor, right to speedy trial and right to live in a clean and healthy environment are just a few examples. As a result, an imbalance has been created between the current set of Fundamental Rights and Duties. Here is an attempt to examine if a few additional Fundamental Duties in the Constitution of this country could help in balancing out the rights of its citizens and further make them more responsible towards the country’s development.
Duty to vote: Article 326 of the Constitution read with Section 62 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 confers the right to vote. However, quite often the question arises as to whether that right also implies an obligation. The voter turnout during the last general election amounted only to about 67 per cent. This voter apathy should be taken seriously and an attempt should be made to make voting a citizenship obligation.
The state can take several steps to ensure that this duty to vote is made operational and effective. One method through which this may be achieved is by developing a system of incentives for voters and conversely disadvantages for those who abstain from performing their duty to vote. A very large section of people can be motivated to vote this way.
Duty to pay taxes: The tax gap (the revenue that a government is expected to receive as against the revenue it actually collects) continues to increase every year. The greatest indicator of this is the fact that the size of India’s shadow economy as a share of the GDP reached 24.3 per cent in the year 2012. Research has found that tax evasion is a direct result of lack of trust among the people, in general, and the government, in particular. Citizens must believe that their taxes are bound to be used for public good. The incorporation of the right to pay taxes as part of Fundamental Duties in the Constitution will shift the onus onto the taxpayer to pay taxes rather than the tax department to collect them.
Duty to help accident victims: Every 60 minutes, 16 persons die in traffic accidents in India. According to the Law Commission of India, at least 50 per cent of fatalities can be prevented if road accident victims receive medical attention within the critical first hour after the accident. The Karnataka government’s decision to frame a ‘Good Samaritan law’ is a step in the right direction. With the increase in the number of accidents, it has become pertinent for India to recognise this duty as one owed by its citizens towards each other.
Duty to keep the premises clean: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission has received tremendous support from people from all walks of life. The most effective mechanism to tackle uncleanliness is to sensitise people about this duty. Therefore, it is imperative that a Fundamental Duty to this effect be added to the Constitution.
For a better society
Duty to prevent civil wrongs: It is not enough that a citizen refrains from committing wrong; he has a duty to see that fellow citizens do not indulge in the commission of wrongs.
Duty to raise voice against injustice: Today people seem to have stopped reacting to atrocities; they neither report crimes nor volunteer to testify in a court. The duties of a victim or a witness can be classified into two main categories, viz. duty to report a crime and duty to testify in court. The state must also on its part work to ensure that the fight to bring the offender to book does not become a Kafkaesque nightmare for the victim or witness.
Duty to protect whistle-blowers: With the coming into force of the Right to Information Act, 2005, every citizen has become a “potential whistle-blower”. While the state has a great deal of responsibility in providing for their protection through appropriate legislative instruments, the responsibility to protect torchbearers of transparency vests on each one of us.
Duty to support bona fide civil society movements: Citizens have a moral duty to organise themselves or support citizen groups so that the gaps in governance left by the executive can be filled and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are made available to every citizen. Therefore, it is proposed that there must be an addition to Part IV-A of the Constitution to that effect.
Reinvigorating civic responsibility: In the modern context, it has become increasingly important to instil a reinvigorated sense of civic responsibility among Indian citizens. This can be achieved by adding new duties to the existing list of Fundamental Duties while also laying emphasis on the performance of the existing ones. The significance of Fundamental Duties is not diminished by the fact that there is no punishment prescribed for not following them. Fundamental Duties constitute the conscience of our Constitution; they should be treated as constitutional values that must be propagated by all citizens.
It appears our polity is not even aware of such a noble part of our Constitution. This should be included in the curriculum of high school students at least.
Justice Kurian Joseph is a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. This article is adapted from a speech he delivered.