Fundamental rights are considered as the hallmark of democracy and are meant for the development of the individual as well as the society. They are justiciable in nature and they operate as limitations of the executive and arbitrary laws of the legislature. Broadly fundamental rights are classified into the following groups:
1. Right to Equality (Art. 14 -18):
- Article 14 – Equality Before Law
Right to equality has been protected in two forms firstly the right to equality before law and secondly the right to equal protection of law.
Right to equality before the law means that no man is above the law or in other words all individuals are subject to the law of the land. It embarks upon the principle of “Rule of law”, which means the absolute supremacy of ordinary law of land as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power of the ruler. In Keshavananda Bharati Vs State of Kerala (1973, Supreme Court), it was held that rule of law is part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Right to equal protection before the law means equality of treatment for the like, the State is allowed to classify people in groups and accord same treatment to the people of the same group.
- Article 15 – Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
No citizen shall be denied access to shops, restaurants, places of public entertainment and use of anything maintained wholly or partly out of State funds. However, the State is empowered to make special provisions for women, children and for the uplift of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes (OBC’s). The State can reserve seats for these categories in educational institutions, grant fee concessions or arrange special coaching classes.
- Article 16 – Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
There shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or residence in matters relating to employment in public services. Constitution guarantees equality of opportunity in matters relating to employment or appointment to public services to all citizens. However, certain limitations have been provided to the enjoyment of these rights.
- Article 17– Abolition of untouchability
Article 17 abolishes the practice of untouchability in all forms. Untouchability Offence Act, 1955 which was later renamed as Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 describes penal provision for the same. Any person who has committed the offence of untouchability is liable either for an imprisonment of six months or fine of Rs. 500/- or both. Such a person cannot contest for the election of Parliament and State Legislature.
- Article 18- Abolition of titles
Article 18 abolishes titles like Maharaja, Dewan, Bahadur etc. which were conferred to Indians during colonial rule. It is to be noted that the ban does not operate against Public Institutions like universities and they can confer titles or honours.
2. Right to freedom (Art. 19-22):
- Article 19- Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
It guarantees the following six freedoms to all its citizens-
a) Right to freedom of speech and expression: Every citizen of India has theright to express his views and beliefs freely by word, picturing, printing or any other manner.
b) Right to assemble peaceably and without arms: This freedom cannot be exercised in private land and this right does not include right to strike. Violent and riotous assembly are not involved in this.
c) Right to form associations or unions or cooperative societies: The right to form association implies that several individuals get together and form an association with a common objective and interest. The right to from association has a very wide arena including all sort of associations such as political parties, clubs, societies, companies, etc. Like all other rights, it is not absolute in nature. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of the right of association in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, public order and morality.
d) Right to move freely throughout the territory of India: The right to move means right of locomotion and the word ‘freely’ connotes that freedom to move without a restriction is absolute. However, reasonable restrictions can be imposed in the interest of general public and for the protection of interest of schedule tribes.
e) Right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of Union of India: The purpose is to remove the internal barriers within the territory of India so as to enable every citizen to travel freely and settle in any part of the state. Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right in the interest of general public and for the protection of interest of Scheduled Tribes. In order to protect the distinctive culture of Scheduled Tribes the right of outsiders to settle in tribal areas is restricted.
f) Right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business: The state can prescribe technical qualifications necessary for practicing any profession. Moreover, it can carry by itself any trade or businesses as a monopoly. The right does not include right to practice immoral professions like human trafficking. State can make the practice of such profession punishable. These rights are not absolute in nature and are subjected to reasonable restrictions.
- Article 20– Protection in respect of conviction for offences
No ex post facto law – No person shall be convicted of any offence except for the violation of law in force at the time of commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of offence. This means that a person can only be convicted of an offence if the act charged against him was an offence under the law on the date of commission of an act.
No double jeopardy – No person shall be convicted of the same offence more than once. It is based on a Latin maxim nemo debet bis vexari which means that a man shall not be brought into danger for one and the same offence more than once. The protection is available only before the Court of law and Judicial Tribunals and not before administrative authorities.
No self-incrimination – No person accused of any offence shall be forced to witness against himself. However, it does not extend to compulsory production of material evidence, compulsion to give thumb impression, signature, blood specimen and compulsory exhibition of body.
- Article 21– Protection of life and personal liberty
It confers on every person the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.It declares that no person shall be deprived of his right to life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The term ‘life’ includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity and all those aspects which make a man’s life meaningful.
A.K. Gopalan vs The State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27
In this case the Supreme court gave a very narrow interpretation of Article 21. It held that the protection under Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not against arbitrary legislative action. State can deprive right to life and personal liberty of a person based on law.
Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597
The 7 Judges bench of the Supreme Court overruled the Judgement of Gopalan, and a wider interpretation of Article 21 was given. It was held that the right to travel and go outside the Country is included in the right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. The Court further held that the mere existence of an enabling law was not enough to restrain personal liberty. Such a law must also be “just, fair and reasonable”.
- Article 22- Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases
It provides for the right of detained person. It has two parts. The first part states the right of a person who is arrested or detained under ordinary laws. The second part of the article protects the person who is arrested under preventive detention law.
3. Right against exploration (Art. 23-24):
- Article 23– Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour
It prohibits traffic in human beings, beggar and all form of forced labour. This right is available to both, citizens and non-citizens. Selling and buying of women, men and children, slavery, prostitution etc. all fall under the term traffic in human beings. These acts are punishable under Immoral Traffic Prevention act, 1956.
The second clause of the Article states that nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them. State can impose compulsory service for public purpose for example military service.
- Article 24– Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.
It prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous activities.The provision is in interest of health and strength of young person and is in keeping with the directive principle in Article 39(f) of the Indian Constitution.
4. Right to freedom of religion (Art. 25-30):
- Article 25- Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
All citizens are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion. Freedom of conscience connotes a person’s right to entertain beliefs and doctrines concerning matters. The right to profess means the right to freely declare one’s faith.
- Article 26- Freedom to manage religious affairs
It confers upon the religious groups the freedom to manage religious affairs, as said in the above clauses. The right guaranteed by Article 25 is an individual right whereas the right guaranteed by Article 26 is the right of an organised body like the religious denomination or any section thereof. The right to administer property owned by a religious denomination is a limited right, and it is subject to the regulatory power of the State.
- Article 27– Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion
No person shall be compelled to pay taxes for promotion or maintenance of any religious denomination.The state shall not spend money collected from taxes for the promotion of any particular religion. Only levying of taxes is prohibited by the article. Fees can be levied on pilgrims to provide them some special service or safety measure.
- Article 28- Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions
No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds, moreover, no person shall be compelled to take part in a religious instruction at an institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds.
5. Cultural and Educational Rights (Art. 29-30):
- Article 29- Protection of interests of minorities
Any section of citizen residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. It further provides that no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of the State funds on the grounds only of religion, race, caste language or any of them. Both religious and linguistic minorities are protected under Article 29.
- Article 30– Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions
It grants the following right to religious and linguistic minorities-
(a) All the minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
(b) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, the State shall ensure that the amount fixed or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under the clause.
(c) The State shall not in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
6. Right to Constitutional Remedies (Art. 32):
The fundamental rights will be meaningless if there will be no machinery to enforce them. Article 32 provides for right to Constitutional remedies which means that one can approach the Supreme Court for the enforcement of the fundamental rights. Article 32 is described as the basic feature of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. These writs are – Habeas Corpus, Certiorari, Quo-Warranto, Prohibition and Mandamus.