There was no fundamental duties chapter in the Constitution that came into effect on 26 January 1950. That being said, there was a sliver of India’s constitutional tradition, mainly Gandhian, that talked about fundamental duties. Gandhi had said: ‘the true source of rights is duty, if we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek’. Narayana Agarwal gave this line of thinking a constitutional avatar in the Gandhian Constitution of Free India 1946.
The Gandhian Constitution conjoined fundamental rights and fundamental duties. After laying down fundamental rights, it goes on to say that ‘all these rights shall be contingent on the performance of the following fundamental duties’. This approach of conditioning of rights on the performance of duties is quite rare in Indian constitutional thinking including the formal constitution-making process.
Apart from one or two instances where members of the Constituent Assembly echoed Gandhian’s idea on rights and duties, we find no evidence that suggests that the framers of our Constitution seriously considered adopting something that resembled fundamental duties in the Constitution even if had moral and political convictions about the importance of duties.
So how did fundamental duties become part of the Constitution?
They were added through the 42nd amendment in 1976 in the middle of Emergency as Part – 4A by Gandhi. She set up a committee chaired by then-External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh ‘to study the question of amendment of the Constitution in the light of experience…’ The All India Congress Committee (AICC) suggested to the Swaran Singh Committee to ‘formulate some proposals for inclusion in the Constitution certain fundamental duties and obligations which every citizen owes to the nation…’.
The committee then drew up a list of fundamental duties, which included the duty to adhere to the Constitution, uphold India’s sovereignty, and contribute with national service among other things, which the Congress party tweaked. Interestingly, the Congress rejected the committee’s proposal to give Parliament the power, by law, to impose punishment and penalties on citizens who didn’t adhere to the fundamental duties.
By November 1976, both Houses of Parliament passed the 42nd amendment, which included a new fundamental duties chapter to the Constitution containing 10 duties. In 2002, one more duty was added to the list. It said that every citizen ‘who is a parent or guardian, to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen year’.
A version of this piece appeared in ThePrint on 26 November 2019