Expanding horizons of Fundamental Rights; Enforceability against State and others
Founding fathers influenced by Bill of Rights of American Constitution, Declaration of Rights of Man of France, The Irish Constitution of 1935, the post war Constitution of Japan & Burma, the Universal Human Rights’ Chapter & Nehru Report of 1928 engrafted fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution of India and conferred on the judiciary of the country the power to ensure that no fundamental right is allowed to be violated. Article 32 of the Constitution which casts an obligation on the highest Court of the country to ensure protection of fundamental rights itself is a fundamental right. This clearly gives a direction and indication on the responsibilities of not only the Apex Court for the protection of sacred provisions of Part III of the Constitution but it confers a responsibility on the entire judicial system of the country to discharge the obligation cast on the Apex Court and High Courts qua fundamental rights, infact it is the responsibility of all the Courts having jurisdiction in the matter to ensure protection of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
The voyage for opening the horizons of fundamental right began right from Communist Leader A.K.Gopalan’s case, in the year 1950 wherein Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri opening gate for wider interpretation to be given to fundamental rights held-
“The insertion of Fundamental Rights in the forefront of the Constitution coupled with an express prohibition against legislative interference with these rights and the provision of constitutional sanction for the; enforcement of such prohibition by means of judicial review…is a clear; emphatic indication that these rights are to be paramount to ordinary State-made laws.”
In Madhu Limaye’s case, in the year 1969, the Apex Court advanced the cause of personal liberty by construing Article 22 (1) to mean that detenu has right to know at the time of his arrest the exact charge of accusation against him so that he may consult lawyer of his choice for defending himself and an order If remand can not cure the Constitutional infirmity.
In 1973 came Keshwanand Bharti’s case the epoch making judgment when Constitution Bench reversing Golaknath’s case held that though Parliament was competent to amend any part of the Constitution including Fundamental Rights but the Parliament was not competent to alter the basic feature of Constitution.
In 1978 came Maneka Gandhi’s historic verdict wherein the Constitution Bench overruled A.K. Gopalan’s decision and held that for curtailing fundamental rights, the procedure established by law must be fair and proper. The Apex Court imported the principles of natural justice In Article 21 and thereby equated the words used in our Constitution ‘procedure established by law’ American concept of ‘due process of law.’ Article 21 was given a wider interpretation and the Court held that the right to live should be construed mean right to live with dignity and in appropriate cases, a citizen can claim right even to go abroad as his fundamental right for purposes of his trade al profession. The Court reversed the view taken in A.K.Gopalan that eve fundamental right is a Code in itself. The Constitution Bench in this case he that the entire fundamental rights are to be interpreted in an integrated manner and they cannot be compartmentalised.
In 1979 Justice Bhagwati speaking for the Court in R.D.Shetty pointed out that the Corporations acting as instrumentality or agency of the Government would obviously be subject to the same limitations In the field of Constitutional or administrative law as the Government itself, though in the eye of law they would be distinct and independent legal entities. In this decision the Court also held that State or instrumentalities of the State are under an obligation to act in accordance with law and even in the matter of distribution of largesse’s, they cannot be permitted to act arbitrarily. A person having right or no right can always challenge an arbitrary action of the State or instrumentality of the State.
In 1980 Justice Iyer in Jolly George Verghese held that to cast a person in prison because of his poverty and consequent inability to meet his contractual liability is too flagrantly violative of Article 21 unless there is a proof of minimal fairness of his wilful failure to pay inspite of his sufficient means. The Court held that In execution of money decree, sending a person to civil prison for non-payment of dues despite the fact that he has no money to pay is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution as well as Article 11 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In this decision, the Supreme Court for the first time equated human rights conceived by International Covenants to be part of Art. 21 i.e., life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country.
In 1982 People’s Union for Democratic Rights came forward with a public interest petition for the redress of bonded labours. The Court gave an active interpretation to Art. 23 of the Constitution and held that it is not merely a ‘begar’ which is prohibited by Art. 23 but forced labour also comes in the category of begar and is violative of Art. 23 of the Constitution. It was held that whenever any fundamental right which is enforceable against a private individual such as a fundamental right enacted in Art, 17 or 23 or 24 is being violated, it is the Constitutional obligation of the State to take necessary steps interdicting such violations and ensure observance of fundamental rights by private individual who is transgressing the same. Any person aggrieved or any other person can always come forward to espouse the cause compelling the Government for enforcement of such rights against the individuals who are violating the guarantees contemplated by Articles 17, 23 and 24 of the Constitution.
In 1992 came famous verdict of Indra Sawhney, which upheld the reservation on the basis of Mandal Commission’s Report. The remarkable thing which is to be pointed out is that on the issue when Government took a decision to implement the Mandal Commission’s Report, the protest was such large and loud that the Government which decided to enforce the Report was dislodge from power. But when the Apex Court upheld the said decision, there was not voice raised. This shows, what implicit faith the people of this country have the Court and in the judiciary. In the same year in Mohini Jain’s case, the Apex Court held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution also includes a right to receive education.
In Rathinam’s case, in the year 1994 again interpreting Article 21 of the Constitution, the Court, held that any law which is based on cruelty is not in consonance with Art. 21 of the Constitution and held that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code holding a person punishable for attempting to commit suicide is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.
In 1995 in the case of Smt. Shakuntala Devi, the Apex Court exercising jurisdiction under Articles 142, 32 and 21 of the Constitution in a petition filed by the widow of a deceased employee of Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking, directed payment of Rs. one lakh as ex gratia compensation as one time decision. She did not have to undergo the procedure prescribed for claiming compensation under the Industrial Disputes Act. The Court came direct to her rescue though it was held that it will not be treated as precedent.