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Relationship between directive principles of state policy and fundamental rights

Initially, the courts adopted a strict and literal legal position in this respect. The Supreme Court adopting the literal interpretative approach to Article 37 ruled that a Directive Principle could not override a Fundamental Right, and, that in case of conflict between the two, the Fundamental Right would prevail over the Directive Principles.

This point was settled by the Supreme Court in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan AIR 1951, where a government order in conflict with Article 29 (2), a Fundamental Right, was declared invalid, although the government did argue that it was made in pursuance of Article 46, a Directive Principle. The Court ruled that while the Fundamental Rights were enforceable, the Directive Principle were not, and so the laws made to implement Directive Principle could not take away the Fundamental Rights. The Directive Principle should confirm and run as subsidiary to the Fundamental Rights.

In the course of time, a perceptible change came over the judicial attitude on this question. The Supreme Court came to adopt the view that although Directive Principle, as such, were legally non-enforceable, nevertheless, while interpreting a statute, the courts could look for light to the lode star of the directive Principle. The Courts therefore could interpret a statute so as to implement Directive Principle instead of reducing them to mere theoretical ideas.

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In Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala AIR 1973 it was observed that the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles constitute the conscience of the constitution. There is no antithesis between the fundamental Rights and Directive Principles and one supplements the other.

The Supreme Court in landmark judgment of Minerva Mills v. Union of India AIR 1980 said that the Fundamental Rights are not an end in themselves but are means to an end. The end is specified in the Directive Principles. Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles together constitute the core of commitment to social revolution and they together are the conscience of the constitution. the Indian Constitution is founded on the bedrock of the balance between the two. to give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the constitution. This harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles is an essential feature of the basic structure of the constitution.

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The Supreme Court further argued in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal corp. AIR 1986  that since the Directive Principles are fundamental in the governance of the country they must, therefore, be regarded as equally fundamental to the understanding and interpretation of the meaning and content of Fundamental rights.

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