Explained: What are Fundamental Duties?

An Individual plays a vital role in a State and its welfare and is entitled to exercise rights. India, the largest democracy in the world, whose Bible is the ‘Constitution’ enshrines in its Preamble for the “People of India”, the principles of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Fundamental duties play an important role in India, seek to achieve set parameters of progress which cannot be achieved without citizens performing their duties.

Fundamental duties were incorporated in Part IV-A of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendmen on the recommendations of Swaran Singh Committee and the eleventh duty was added to the ten fundamental duties by the 86th Amendment. The practice via which an individual has become a part of an institution like the State and the collective duty of the State towards a citizen, strengthens the notion of a responsible citizenry, ultimately to achieve progress and development of the society.

The framers of the Constitution had not included ‘duties’ separately, perhaps in the belief that citizens would not only be well aware of them but would be conscious enough to follow them. That clearly did not happen, which is why the Constitution was amended in 1976, and Part IV (A) was inserted pursuant to the Constitution (42nd) Amendment Act, 1976. This Part came after the existing Part IV which deals with Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 51A, which too came in the wake of the constitutional amendment, set in clear terms the ‘duties’ of every citizen towards the country.[1]

The Fundamental Duties were added in 1976 upon the recommendation of the Swaran Singh Committee that was constituted by Indira Gandhi just after the declaration of Emergency to study and amend the Constitution.

This Committee was under the chairmanship of Sardar Swaran Singh, India’s longest-serving Union cabinet minister. Based on his recommendations, the government incorporated several changes to the Constitution, including the Preamble. This was done through the 42nd Amendment (1976) and included 10 Fundamental Duties after the passage of 27 years of the Constitution. The 11th was added in 2002 through the 86th Constitution Amendment and was adopted from April 1, 2010, i.e. after eight years.

Scrutiny of the clauses of Article 51A indicates that several of them refer to values which have been part of Indian tradition, mythology, religion and practices. Exceptionally well-written, India’s Constitution is a perfect balance of citizens rights and duties. Fundamental Duties are defined as the moral principles set to be cherished and followed by all citizens to uphold the unity and dignity of the country. Fundamental Duties and Fundamental Rights are two sides of a coin and inseparable. The Constitution has provided various rights and expects its citizens to perform certain duties in return.

The Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties are sections of the Constitution that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the State to its citizens and the duties of the citizens to the State.

 “Moral duties” are those obligations towards your family, helping the poor and down-trodden, serving our village, province, nation and the world to all possible extent, retaining the dignity of the country and helping fellow countrymen during a crisis.

There are also “Civic Duties and Responsibilities”, quite like moral duties which are obligations such as paying taxes, obeying laws, serving on juries, etc., whereas civic responsibilities are things that one does to be a good citizen such as voting, doing volunteer work, helping people in need, reporting crimes and suspicious behaviour, etc.

“Legal Duties” include showing obedience to the Constitution, respecting the law pronounced by the State and remaining loyal to the country.

The Fundamental duties in 51A—It shall be the duty of every citizen of India—

(a) To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem– It means that every citizen should respect the national flag and national anthem.

(b) To cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom– It is the duty of a citizen of India to respect the sacrifice of our freedom fighters who lead to the freedom of India.

(c) To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India– It is the duty of every citizen to maintain the spirit of the constitution.

(d) To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so– It means case of war it is the duty of citizens to render their service whenever it is necessary.

(e) To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women– It is the duty of the citizens to maintain brotherhood irrespective of different religions believe, languages or sects of the society and abolish those activities which affects a woman dignity.

 (f) To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture–It is the duty of every citizen of India to protect the heritage and historical sites and maintain integrity towards the culture.

(g) To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures–It is the duty of the citizen to work towards conserving the natural resources and develop a sense of gratitude towards the living creatures.

(h) To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform–It means that it is the duty of the citizen to work towards development in the field of science and get evolved with the changing era.

(i) To safeguard public property and to abjure violence– It is the duty of the citizens to not violate the public property which is given for public enjoyment.

(j) To strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavor and achievement– An individual has a duty towards the Nation to ensure the development of the nation by his/her contribution.

(k) 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 years–It is the duty of every parent or guardian to ensure that their children are given the opportunity of being educated.[2]

Enforceability of Fundamental Duties

The fundamental duties enjoined on citizen under Article 51-A should also guide the legislative and executive actions of elected or non-elected institutions and organisations of the citizens including the municipal bodies.

Duties are observed by individuals as a result of dictates of the social system the environment in which one lives, under the influence of role models, or on account of punitive provisions of law. It may be necessary to enact suitable legislation wherever necessary to require obedience of obligations by the citizens. If the existing laws are inadequate to enforce the needed discipline, the legislative vacuum needs to be filled. If legislation and judicial directions are available and still there are violations of duties by the citizens, this would call for other strategies for making them operational.

The legal utility of fundamental duties is similar to that of the directives; while the Directives are addressed to the state, so are the duties addressed to the citizens, without any legal sanction for their violation. The citizen, it is expected, should be his own monitor while exercising and enforcing his Fundamental rights. He should keep in mind that he owes the duties specified in Article 51-A to the State and if he does not care for the duties, he does not deserve the rights.

The duties as such are not legally enforceable in the Courts of law, but if a law has been made to prohibit any act or conduct in violation of the duties, it would be reasonable restriction on the relevant Fundamental Rights. However, the fundamental Duties are not enforceable by mandamus or any other legal remedy

Directions to State/Central Government.—Since the Fundamental Duties are not addressed to the State, a citizen cannot claim that he must be properly equipped by the state so that he may perform his duties under Article 51-A. However, the Supreme Court has issued directions to the States, having regard to Article 51-A (g).

Protection of environmental—Duty of.—In view of the duty to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild-life and to have compassion for living creatures imposed on the citizens under Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held that it is a duty of the Central Government to take a number of steps in order to make this provision effective, and issued the following directions to the Central Government—

a) To direct all educational institutions throughout India to give weekly lessons in the first ten classes, relating to the protection and improvement of the natural environment including forest, lake, rivers and wild life.

b) To get text books written for the said purpose and to distribute them free of cost.

c) To introduce short term courses for training of teachers who teach this subject.

d) Not only the Central Government but also the State Government and local authorities are to introduce cleanliness weeks when all citizens including member of Executive, the Legislature and the judiciary should render free personal service to keep their local areas free from pollution of land, water and air.

There have been various judicial pronouncements with regard to Fundamental Duties. These include:

  • Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India (2017)

With reference to Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, the Supreme Court in a PIL held that one cannot be allowed to disrespect the National Flag and National Anthem. However, playing of the National Anthem in cinema halls on the screen may not be made mandatory and it left it to the Committee appointed by the government to decide. The Court further held that whenever the National Anthem is played or sung, people are bound to show respect.

  • M.C. Mehta (2) v. Union of India (1983)

The Supreme Court held that under Article 51A (g) of the Constitution, it is the duty of the government to introduce compulsory teaching in all educational institutions at least for one hour a week on protection and improvement of the natural environment. It directed the centre to get textbooks written on that subject and distribute them to educational institutions free of cost. In order to arouse consciousness of cleanliness of the environment, it suggested a keep the city clean week, keep the town clean and keep the village clean week throughout India at least once a year.

  • Aruna Roy v. Union of India (2002)

The validity of the National Curr­iculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) was challenged on the ground that it was violative of Article 28 and anti-secular and that it provided imparting of value development education relating to the basics of all religions. The Court held that the NCFSE does not mention imparting “religious instructions” as prohibited under Article 28. What is sought to be imparted is incorporated in Article 51A of the Constitution, clause (e), which states

“to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of woman”. And to see that universal values such as truth related conduct, peace, love and non-violence be the foundation of education. Accordingly, the Court held that such education is neither violative of Article 28 nor against the concept of secularism.

  • State of Gujarat v. Mirazpur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat (2005)

The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of the Bombay Animal (Preservation of Gujarat Amendment) Act, 1994, by which the State prohibited slaughter of cows and their progeny. They said this was violative of their right to carry on business under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Con­stitution. The Supreme Court held that the ban imposed by the Act was a reasonable restriction on their business and in the interest of the general public within the meaning of Clause (6) of Article 19. Restrictions imposed “for promoting the objectives of the directive principles in Article 48 and Article 51A of Constitution of India is a feasonable restriction on fundamental right of the petitioners to carry on business and therefore, valid”.

  • Government of India v. George Philip (2006)

This related to a case of service jurisprudence wherein the respondent challenged his compulsory retirement. This was imposed on him after an inquiry for overstaying in a foreign country. In spite of repeated reminders to come and join duty after the expiry of his leave, he failed to do so. The Supreme Court held that Article 51A (j) imposed a duty on a citizen to strive towards excellence in all spheres and it cannot be achieved unless he maintains discipline and devotion to duty. The Court further held that courts should not interfere and pass orders which, instead of achieving the underlying spirit and objects of Part IV-A of the Constitution, have a tendency to negate or destroy the same.

Recently, the Bombay High Court while taking note of a suo motu petition on the difficulties faced by migrant workers, daily wagers and health workers amid Covid-19, observed that the Union and state governments had been issuing notifications and guidelines asking people to avoid gatherings and congregations and maintain social distancing. Justice PB Varale held: “In this difficult time, we may remind ourselves that it is a fundamental duty of a citizen to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India and probably, this is an immediate need of the time.”

Further, the Court observed that there are still some citizens who are committing breach of these directions and guidelines very casually and some citizens are even indulging in acts of disturbance of social and communal harmony.

Thus, time and again, Fundamental Duties are being tested through judicial review and the sanctity and objective of Part IVA of the Constitution are being maintained throughout.

Addressing a joint sitting of Parli­ament on the 70th anniversary of the Constitution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the adoption of the Constitution to emphasise on people’s duties, saying “their rights were stressed upon earlier but time has now come to focus on citizen’s responsibilities as well. We cannot preserve our rights without fulfilling our responsibilities”.

Fundamental Duties are very important for building nationhood and no less important than Fundamental Rights. A right comes with an obligation to show respect for the rights of others. The obligations that accompany rights are in the form of duties. Rights and duties must exist together. Rights without duties will lead to anarchy. It is imperative for citizens to strive for promoting the “culture of duty and responsibility” that is the demand of rights, else the objective of Article 51A of the Constitution cannot be truly achieved in letter and spirit.

Fundamental duties bring sensitivity among the citizen for acknowledging their responsibility and become responsible for their actions.[3] Although fundamental duties cannot be enforced it is the moral duty of the citizens to follow it which means it is obligatory in nature but even the court cannot punish for violating the duties. In AIIMS Students Union v. AIIMS and Ors. (2002) 1 SCC 428, a three-Judge Bench said that though fundamental duties not enforceable by writ of the court, yet provide valuable guidance and aid to interpretation and resolution of constitutional and legal issues.

Fundamental duties are given to us as a responsibility towards the government and government is also responsible for providing us with certain rights. A state cannot function until unless both citizens for whom government works understand its duty and the government should also not violate their duty. For instance, every citizen has a right to vote although there is no punishment for not voting during the time of the election, it is the duty of every citizen to cast their vote and it is also the duty of the state to ensure the free and fair voting.


The main objective behind fundamental duty is to ensure that those who are anti-national can be identified and action can be taken against them as these duties ensure the peace and harmony of the state and those who are trying to go against the laws of the country. These duties are given to every citizen to respect the integrity and spirit of the constitution.

 For the success of the nation’s governance, there is a need for active participation of the citizens by following the guidelines given under Article 51A to avail of their fundamental rights. As citizen we are supporting the government for maintaining peace, harmony and law and order by simply following the duties, for instance, there is right to education which is given to every citizen under Article 21A of fundamental rights but it is the fundamental duty of every parent of child to provide their child with the opportunity to be educated.

In present scenario, every citizen of India is aware of their rights, laws and consequences of any criminal act and what actions they can take in court of law for violation of their rights, but very few accept their duty towards their nation, for instance, when an individual is not given the right to practice their religion or beliefs they know about the action they can take to avail justice. But it is also the duty of every citizen to accept different ideologies for maintaining the incredibility of India.

When an individual starts acknowledging their duties then the violation of rights will also not take place. There are few duties which go hand in hand with the rights of the citizen, for instance, it is the duty of every citizen to maintain the dignity of woman and when everyone starts following it then the crime rate against the woman will also decrease.

However, state takes an active participation in spreading awareness towards their rights and the ways they can avail it, but there is no active participation for spreading awareness towards their duties and there are so many instances where the State government or Central government is blamed for not maintaining the law and order properly but as a citizen, we never talk about the duties which we have towards maintaining law and order.

All the fundamental duties which are provided to us as citizen of India must be followed from paying homage to the National flag and National anthem to protection of the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India to providing education to their children, from conserving the biodiversity to maintaining historical sites so that the peace in the Nation prevails. With rights, duties too come and also as a citizen of India we need to be aware of our duties as we are aware of our rights.

[1] Explained: What Fundamental Duties mean, , The Indian Express (2019), https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-fundamental-duties-mean-6145712/ (last visited Jun 21, 2021).

[2] Are you a good citizen? Follow these 11 fundamental duties, , https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/in-focus/article/are-you-a-good-citizen-follow-these-11-fundamental-duties/238881 (last visited Jun 21, 2021).

[3] Fundamental Duties: Article 51 A of the Constitution of India, , The Fact Factor (2019), https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/constitutional_law/fundamental-duties/1349/ (last visited Jun 21, 2021).

Author: Debika Banarjee from KIIT School of Law, Odisha.

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