Rights versus duties: the debate goes on

Rights and duties go hand in hand. One's right becomes another's duty and vice-versa. Out of the two which takes precedence is always a point of debate. The rights and duties which are indispensable for a man being part and parcel of society have been enshrined in the Constitution as the Fundamental Rights and Duties. The Constitution covers a broad spectrum of domains to protect the rights of the common man by introducing six rights as Fundamental Rights. Manoranjan Kalia writes.
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Updated on Oct 27, 2013 10:47 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByManoranjan Kalia

Rights and duties go hand in hand. One's right becomes another's duty and vice-versa. Out of the two which takes precedence is always a point of debate. The rights and duties which are indispensable for a man being part and parcel of society have been enshrined in the Constitution as the Fundamental Rights and Duties. The Constitution covers a broad spectrum of domains to protect the rights of the common man by introducing six rights as Fundamental Rights.


These are Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural and Educational Rights, Right against Exploitation, and Right to Constitutional Remedies. Similarly, the Fundamental Duties are also emphasised upon by the Constitution.

After Independence, the emphasis was primarily on duties. 'Country first, self afterwards', 'What can you do for the country, and not what the country can do for you?', and 'Service before self' are the adages that emanate from the principle of duties. The principle of duties insulated the minds of Indian polity for more than six decades and kept the citizens of India tolerant and non-vocal towards the deficiencies and failures of the government to provide basic amenities of life to the common man.

During the past three to four years, many rights have got legal sanction by way of amendment in the Constitution and separate enactment by Parliament, namely Right to Food, Right to Education, and Right to Employment. There is another right which is in the form of 'Street Hawkers Bill' pending in Parliament.

Implementing rights

Now the question arises as to who is duty-bound to implement these rights. Clearly, it is the government that is duty-bound to implement these, or it is the government against whom these rights are to be endorsed. Thus all these rights will bind the government constitutionally to do its duty to which it is otherwise morally/politically duty-bound. In other words, it is also admission of the failure on the part of the government in performing the duties of a welfare state.

The UPA government has enacted these rights without financial closure. Education is in the concurrent list, where both the Centre and state can enact laws. The effect of the Right to Education Act passed by the Centre will be felt by the state exchequer as most of the states are financially starved and the Centre has not made any extra financial provisions in the Central budget to set off the additional fiscal burden to be borne by state governments for infrastructure and establishments. Similarly, to implement the Right to Food, the Centre will have to depend on the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is full of deficiencies.

Had the Centre plugged the pilfering points in the PDS and developed a mechanism of utilisation of buffer stock of foodgrain within its shelf-life span, there would have been no need to make the law of Right to Food. The Street Hawkers Bill will give the right to street hawkers to be implemented against the municipal bodies. Is the UPA government not encroaching upon the domain of the local government? Will it not demolish the three-tier system of governance -- Central, state and local government?

Different eras

The Ramayana and Mahabharata depict different pictures of Indian society at different periods of time. The Ramayana depicts the duty-bound society where everyone, from the king to the general public, prefers duties to rights and had a peaceful living even at odd times. On the other hand, Mahabharata delineates the rights-based society where everyone, from the king to the general public, prefers rights to duties and everybody demands their respective rights. Consequently, everybody went restless which culminated in a great war.

Is the UPA government converting society into a rights-based one? What kind of Bharat will be delivered to the future generation -- intolerant, restless, selfish India, caring only for rights and not for duties? Will the land of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi be able to give the world the message of peace and brotherhood in future? Why can't the corrective measures be taken with regard to the functioning of the government by performing its duty properly instead of giving a legal shape to a right? Introspect lest it should be too late.

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