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Analysis of Constitutional Morality

GS PAPER-2

Syllabus: Indian Constitution

Source: TH

Context: The article criticizes the recent government’s actions for disregarding the Indian Constitution.

Examples of Recent Government Actions Against the Constitution:

  • Preemptive Decision-Making: The government approved a ₹20,000 crore scheme (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi) before ministerial portfolios were allocated.
  • Cabinet Actions Without Portfolios: The first cabinet meeting decided on assisting three crore additional households under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana without assigned portfolios, raising procedural legitimacy questions.
  • Extension of Tenures: The Government extended the tenures of the National Security Adviser and the Principal Secretary prematurely, using the old Appointments Committee setup without reconstituting the Cabinet Committee.

What is Constitutional morality?

It refers to adherence to the core principles and values enshrined in a constitution, guiding the conduct of both the government and its citizens. It encompasses values such as justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, and the rule of law, ensuring the Constitution’s spirit is upheld beyond mere legal compliance. In India, the term was first used by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

Pillars of Constitutional Morality:

  1. Constitutional Values: Justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, secularism, dignity.
  2. Rule of Law: Supremacy and accountability under the law for all, including officials.
  3. Democratic Principles: Functioning representative democracy with citizen participation.
  4. Fundamental Rights: Respecting and protecting rights like equality and freedom of speech.
  5. Separation of Powers: Balancing legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  6. Checks and Balances: Preventing power abuse and protecting individual rights.
  7. Constitutional Interpretation: Promoting principles and adapting to societal changes.
  8. Ethical Governance: Ensuring transparency, accountability, and integrity in public service.
Constitutional Morality
Fig:1.1

Significance:

  1. Safeguarding Democracy: Constitutional morality ensures the preservation of democratic values and prevents authoritarianism.
  2. Protection of Rights: It upholds individual rights and freedoms, ensuring that laws and governance are aligned with constitutional mandates.
  3. Judicial Benchmarks: Serves as a guiding principle for the judiciary in interpreting and applying the Constitution.
  4. Social Justice: Promotes social justice by ensuring that marginalised communities are protected and their rights respected.
  5. Bring positive change in society: It can be used to interpret laws or statutes no longer consistent with recent times, thus bringing positive societal change.

B.R. Ambedkar’s View on Constitutional Morality:

  1. Cultivation Needed: Constitutional morality is not innate; it must be cultivated.
  2. Respect for Forms: It involves a paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution.
  3. Sacredness: The forms of the Constitution must be sacred to both those in power and their opponents.
  4. Essential for Democracy: Constitutional morality ensures accountability and adherence to democratic principles.

Key Case Laws Upholding Constitutional Morality in India:

  1. Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018): Decriminalisation of Section 377 IPC, which criminalised consensual homosexual acts. The Supreme Court emphasised constitutional morality over social morality, decriminalising consensual homosexual acts among adults.
  2. Sabarimala Temple Case: Ban on entry of women of menstruating age into Sabarimala temple. The Supreme Court held the ban unconstitutional, which affirmed the constitutional morality of gender equality and non-discrimination over religious customs.
  3. Joseph Shine v. Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court decriminalised adultery, stating that the law was archaic and violated constitutional guarantees of equality. This highlighted the importance of individual autonomy, equality and human dignity to all.
  4. NCT of Delhi vs. Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court equated constitutional morality with the spirit of the Constitution itself. It held that Constitutional morality, in its strictest sense, implies a strict and complete adherence to the constitutional principles as enshrined in the Constitution.
    1. 7th Schedule- Division of powers between centre and states.

Challenges to Constitutional Morality:

  1. Social and Cultural Norms: Deep-rooted societal and cultural norms often conflict with constitutional values, leading to resistance to implementing judicial decisions.
    1. Example: Resistance to the Sabarimala judgment due to traditional beliefs.
  2. Political Influence: Politicians may undermine constitutional morality for electoral gains, promoting majoritarian views over constitutional principles.
    1. Example: Political backlash against electoral bonds ruling of the Supreme Court.
  3. Lack of Awareness: Insufficient awareness and understanding of constitutional values among the general public can hinder the acceptance and enforcement of constitutional morality.
    1. Example: Many Indians still believe that Hindi is the national language.
  4. Subjectivity: Some argue that the concept of constitutional morality is highly subjective and that it can be used to justify different actions and decisions depending on the perspective of the person or institution interpreting it.
  5. Judicial Limitations and Overreach: Balancing judicial activism to uphold constitutional morality without overstepping the separation of powers can be challenging.
  6. Economic and Social Inequality: Economic and social inequalities can limit the ability of marginalised groups to seek justice and uphold constitutional morality.

Conclusion:

Constitutional morality is a cornerstone for ensuring that the spirit and values of the Constitution are upheld in governance and society. While key judicial rulings in India have reinforced this principle, various challenges such as societal norms, political interference, and lack of public awareness persist. Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from all branches of government, civil society, and citizens to truly embed constitutional morality in the fabric of the nation.

Mains Link:

Q: What is meant by the term ‘constitutional morality’? How does one uphold constitutional morality? (UPSC 2019)