Directive Principles of State Policy: Theory and Practice

Oxford Handbook for the Indian Constitution, Oxford University Press, 2015, Forthcoming

30 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2014

Date Written: March 18, 2014


The Directive Principles of State Policy (“DPSPs”) occupy an ambiguous place in our Constitutional scheme. They are framed as a set of obligations incumbent upon the State. Nonetheless, the constitutional text expressly renders them unenforceable. The members of the Constituent Assembly were deeply divided over the DPSPs. Many could not see the utility of an unenforceable set of exhortations. Some recommended scrapping the Chapter altogether, while others argued for placing it within the domain of Part III and the fundamental rights. Still others argued over the level of detail that the Principles set out. And some of them pointed out the contradictions inherent in placing abstract principles of economic justice alongside concrete policies like prohibition and controlling cow slaughter.

Nonetheless, Part IV survived the birth-pangs of the Constitution relatively unscathed. Yet its life after that has been anything but straightforward. Judicial approaches to the interpretation of Part IV as a whole, to individual Principles, and to their relationship with fundamental rights, have been inconsistent. And lately, directive principles such as the provision of universal primary education have been shifted from Part IV to Part III via Constitutional amendment – raising the question whether there is any genuine conceptual distinction between fundamental rights and directive principles in the first place. In this medley of diverging voices and with such a checkered history, is it at all possible to ground the DPSPs within a coherent intellectual vision, one that is justified both constitutionally and philosophically?

In this essay, I shall argue that it is. Drawing upon the text of the Constitution, its structure, its history, judicial precedent and political philosophy, I shall make two claims. First, the directive principles are best interpreted as providing the framework of values that structure and constrain the interpretation and construction of fundamental rights; and secondly, in giving teeth to the DPSPs, the Court has regularly adopted a limiting principle that constrains its own role in interpretive exercise, one that is grounded in ideas of institutional competence and legitimacy.

Keywords: Indian constitutional law, directive principles of state policy

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Bhatia, Gautam, Directive Principles of State Policy: Theory and Practice (March 18, 2014). Oxford Handbook for the Indian Constitution, Oxford University Press, 2015, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

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