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Indian Polity

Constitutional Morality

  • 09 Apr 2024
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: Constitutional morality, Pillars of Constitutional Morality, Conditional Morality and Indian Constitution, Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Rights, Amended IT Rules 2023, Appointment Committee for the Election Commission

For Mains: Challenges to Constitutional Morality in India, Judicial Pronouncements Related to Constitutional Morality in India.

Source: IE

Why in News?

The recent arrest of a serving chief minister on corruption charges raises legal, political, and constitutional concerns and poses questions about its consistency with constitutional morality, especially in a parliamentary democracy like India.

What is Constitutional Morality?

  • About:
    • Constitutional morality (CM) is a concept that refers to the principles and values underlying a constitution that guide the actions of both the government and the citizenry.
      • The concept of constitutional morality was propounded by the British Classicist George Grote in the 19th century.
        • He described CM as a “paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution” of the land.
      • In India, the term was first used by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
  • Pillars of Constitutional Morality:
    • Constitutional Values: Upholding the core values enshrined in the Constitution, such as justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, secularism, and the dignity of the individual.
    • Rule of Law: Upholding the supremacy of the law where everyone, including government officials, is subject to and accountable under the law.
    • Democratic Principles: Ensuring the functioning of a representative democracy where citizens have the right to participate in decision-making processes and hold their elected representatives accountable.
    • Fundamental Rights: Respecting and protecting the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, such as the right to equality, freedom of speech and expression, right to life and personal liberty, etc.
    • Separation of Powers: Maintaining the separation and balance of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful.
    • Checks and Balances: Establishing mechanisms and institutions that provide checks and balances to prevent abuse of power and protect the rights of individuals.
    • Constitutional Interpretation: Interpreting the constitution in a manner that promotes its underlying principles and values while adapting to changing societal needs and circumstances.
    • Ethical Governance: Ensuring ethical conduct in governance, transparency, accountability, and integrity in public service.
  • Conditional Morality and Indian Constitution:
    • The term "constitutional morality" is not explicitly mentioned in the Indian Constitution.
      • However, the concept is inherent in the document's core principles, emphasising values like justice, equality, and liberty.
      • These principles are found throughout the constitution, including the Preamble, Fundamental Rights, and Directive Principles of State Policy.
    • Its essence is also reflected in various Supreme Court judgements.
  • Judgments Upholding Constitutional Morality:
    • Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973: This case established the "basic structure doctrine," which essentially limits Parliament's power to amend the Constitution and ensures its core principles remain intact.
      • This can be seen as an early instance of the court upholding the spirit of the Constitution.
    • SP Gupta Case (First Judges Case), 1982: The Supreme Court labelled a constitutional breach as a severe violation of constitutional morality.
    • Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi, 2009: This judgment decriminalised consensual same-sex relationships between adults.
      • The court emphasised that "constitutional morality" should prevail over societal perceptions of morality, upholding individual rights.
    • Manoj Narula v. Union of India, 2014: SC stated that "Constitutional Morality means to bow down to the norms of the Constitution and not act in a manner which would become violative of the rule of law of action in an arbitrary manner.
    • Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala (Sabarimala Case), 2018: The court struck down the practice of excluding women of a certain age group from the Sabarimala temple.
      • It emphasised that "constitutional morality" includes principles of justice, equality, liberty, and fraternity, which outweighed religious customs restricting women's entry.
    • Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, 2018: This case read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality.
  • Challenges to Constitutional Morality in India:
    • Political Interference: One of the significant challenges is political interference in the functioning of constitutional bodies and institutions.
    • Judicial Activism vs. Judicial Restraint: Balancing judicial activism with judicial restraint is another challenge.
      • While judicial activism can promote the protection of rights and enforcement of constitutional values, excessive activism can encroach upon the domain of the executive and legislature.
    • Enforcement and Compliance: Despite having a robust constitutional framework, ensuring effective enforcement and compliance remains a challenge.
      • Implementation gaps, delays in justice delivery, and lack of awareness about constitutional rights among the general populace contribute to this challenge.

Way Forward

  • Strengthening Institutions: Upholding constitutional morality necessitates strengthening the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of institutions such as the Election Commission, National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
    • Ensuring transparent appointments, reducing political interference, and enhancing accountability mechanisms are critical steps.
  • Promoting Civic Education: Increasing awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and values among the public, especially youth, is vital.
    • Civic education programs in schools and colleges can instil a sense of constitutional responsibility and empower citizens to participate meaningfully in democratic processes.
  • Enhancing Access to Justice: Improving access to justice, particularly for marginalised and vulnerable communities, is essential for upholding constitutional principles.
    • This includes expanding legal aid services, reducing judicial backlog, simplifying legal procedures, and promoting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Encouraging Ethical Leadership: Promoting ethical leadership and governance practices at all levels is vital for upholding constitutional values.
    • Leaders and public officials should demonstrate integrity, accountability, and a commitment to serving the public interest, thereby setting a positive example for society.
  • Adapting to Evolving Challenges: Continuously adapting legal and institutional frameworks to address emerging challenges to constitutional morality, such as technological advancements, globalisation, and environmental concerns, is necessary for relevance and effectiveness.

Do Chief Ministers in India Lack Immunity from Arrests?

  • Constitutionally, only the President of India and Governors of states enjoy immunity from civil and criminal proceedings until the conclusion of their terms.
    • Article 361 of the Constitution stipulates that these officials are not liable to any court for acts performed in the discharge of their official duties.
  • However, this immunity does not extend to Prime Ministers or Chief Ministers, who are subject to the principle of equality before the law as advocated by the Constitution.
    • Despite this, arrest alone does not warrant disqualification.
Drishti Mains Question:

Q. Assess the contemporary challenges to constitutional morality in India, considering factors such as judicial activism.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year’s Questions (PYQs)


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

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