The nation celebrated Constitution Day on November 26 to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution in 1949. Since 1979, this day was observed as National Law Day, and from 2015, it has being observed as Constitution Day.
The traditions and temperament of Indian thought through the ages laid greater emphasis on duties. Swami Vivekananda even termed “devotion to duty” as the highest form of worship of God. The Constitution of India, originally, did not contain the aspect of fundamental duties for citizens. However, during discussions on the draft Constitution and fundamental rights therein, in the constituent assembly, few members had raised their voices in favour of citizens’ duties towards the nation. Prabhu Dayal Himatsingka, a member of the Constituent Assembly representing West Bengal during the discussion on the draft constitution on November 18, 1949, had said: “I wish along with fundamental rights there were certain fundamental duties also. If we think more of our duties than of our rights, a lot of our difficulties will be over and the rights will take care of themselves and there will be no occasion to feel any difficulty for want of those rights”.
Along similar lines, the Constituent Assembly members — Krishan Chandar Sharma (United Province), Thakur Das Bhargava (East Punjab), Arun Chandra Guha (West Bengal), Nand Kishore Das (Orissa), Durgabai Deshmukh (Madras), Har Govind Pant (United Provinces), B Pattabhi Sitaramayya (Madras), K T Shah (Bihar), Shibban Lal Saksena (United Provinces), Hriday Nath Kunzru (United Provinces), and Kaka Bhagwant Roy (Patiala and East Punjab State Union), emphasised that rights must co-relate to some duties.
Seventy years after the adoption of the Constitution, this idea offers a new paradigm that can help rethink individual duties towards the nation. And, at a time when New India has set high targets for leading the 21st century, combating climate change is crucial in the country’s journey towards becoming a $5 trillion-strong economy in a time-bound manner. Invariably, it also brings responsibility on ourselves to act dutifully towards adopting a lifestyle that helps the nation to move ahead for achieving these targets.
Earth has limited natural resources. The 20th century witnessed large-scale developmental activities and progressive changes such as industrialisation and infrastructure building. It saw the use of other improved methods for production through the massive use of natural resources — reflecting the self-centered approach of mankind. The fact is that with such exploitation of nature, concerns related to duties towards future generations were largely ignored.
While governments, institutions and civil societies work for citizen’s rights, inherent duties remain crucial for individuals in order to ensure the efficacy of the system at large. However, in practice, everywhere — schools, homes, workplaces, or at the courts — “rights” have taken up more space then “duties”, when actually they are the two sides of the same coin. It is the moral duty of citizens to introduce and enhance a positive “work consciousness” and reject the tendency to find loopholes in rules and laws in order to suit convenience.
Citizens need to fulfil their duties and obey laws too. For instance, citizens have the right to get better roads, infrastructure and better traveling facilities. But following traffic rules is their duty. Having basic household amenities like electricity and clean tap water are citizens’ rights. However, it is their duty to end practices that lead to the wastage of electricity and water. It is the citizen’s right to get clean streets, but it is the individual’s duty to stop throwing garbage on roads, and put trash into the right bins or dispose it in a proper manner. Citizens are entitled to get better health and healthcare facilities, but it is the duty of individuals to act towards swachhta and vaccination. It is indeed the right of the people to get a pollution-free atmosphere and natural calamity-free ecosystem. But for that to happen, voluntary citizen service is required for planting trees, reforesting wasteland, cleaning rivers, protecting forest cover, and population control measures, along with requisite governmental efforts.
India is the largest democracy of the world. Citizens have the right to vote, but casting that vote is their duty. Citizens are certainly entitled to get better civic facilities for easier daily living, but their responsibility also includes timely payment of taxes for the welfare of the nation.
It is imperative for citizens to strive for a perfect balance between their rights and duties in order to achieve local and national development goals. Unless we promote the culture of duty and responsibility, the aims and objectives enshrined in the Preamble, and under Article 51A of the Constitution, cannot be truly achieved in letter and spirit. Any step towards a “duty-bound lifestyle” in our daily lives — be it at home, the workplace or public spaces will be a humble tribute to the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 27, 2019 under the title ‘Two sides of a coin’. The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.
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