India as a Welfare State

Welfare State is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of economic and social well-being of its citizens. A welfare state is based on the principles of equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth. It also focuses on the governmental responsibility for those who are unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions of a good life.

Under this system, the welfare of its citizens is the responsibility of the state. India was not a welfare state before independence. The British rule was not very interested in protecting and promoting the welfare of the people. Whatever it did was in keeping with the interests of the British colonial government and not in the interests of the people of India.

When India attained independence, it had innumerable problems and challenges. The social and economic inequality was all pervasive. Economically, India’s situation was miserable. Socially also India was having a number of problems. There were social inequalities and all the vulnerable sections of the society such as women, dalits, children were deprived of basic means of living. The Constitution makers were very much aware of the problems. That is why, they decided that India would be a welfare state.

India is described as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Accordingly, the Constitution has extensive provisions to ensure social and economic welfare of the people of India. In this regard two specific provisions have been made, one in the form of Fundamental Rights and the other as Directive Principles of State Policy.

The Fundamental Rights embodied in Part III of the Indian Constitution act as a guarantee that all Indian citizens can and will enjoy civil liberties and basic rights. These civil liberties take precedence over any other law of the land. They are individual rights commonly included in the Constitutions of liberal democracies. But this was not enough. Indian citizens also needed opportunities for economic and social development. That is why Part IV on Directive Principles of State Policy was included in the Indian Constitution.

Directive Principles of State Policy

The fundamental rights provided in the Indian Constitution are primarily political rights. The Constitution makers were well aware that even if all the fundamental rights are truly enforced, the goals of Indian democracy would not be realised unless the people of India could avail of social and economic rights.

However, they were also alive to the limitations of the abilities of Indian state which attained independence after centuries of foreign rule and was at a low level of socio-economic development. In that situation, if the economic and social rights had been included in the list of fundamental rights, the Indian state would have failed to enforce these rights because of its own limitations. But at the same time, these rights needed to be given special importance. This was done by including a separate Chapter as Part-IV known as the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.


The Directive Principles of State Policy are guidelines to the central and state governments of India. The governments must keep these principles in mind while framing laws and policies. These provisions of the Constitution of India are non-justiceable, which means that these are not enforceable by any court of law. But the principles are considered fundamental in the governance of the country.

It is the duty of the central and state governments to apply these principles in making laws to establish a just society in the country. The principles have been inspired by the Directive Principles stated in the Constitution of Ireland and also by the principles of Gandhian philosophy.

The main aim of these principles is to create social and economic conditions under which all the citizens can lead a good life. In other words it is to establish social and economic democracy in the country. These principles act as a yardstick in the hands of the people to measure the performance of governments in respect of achieving the objective. All executive agencies have to be guided by these principles. Even the judiciary has to keep them in mind while deciding cases.

The Directive Principles of State Policy have been listed in the Constitution under articles 36 to 51. A new directive was added by 42nd Amendment. It speaks about the duty of the state to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.

Types of Directive Principles

Directive principles are of different types. Some are concerned with socio economic development, some are related to Gandhian thought, and some to foreign policy. The Constitution does not classify them under different heads, but for better understanding, they are classified under the following specific categories:

  1. Principles promoting social and economic equality
  2. Principles related to Gandhian thought
  3. Principles related to International peace and security
  4. Miscellaneous Principles

A. Principles promoting social and economic equality

There are certain principles that are very important for realising the goals of social and economic democracy in India. Many people in India have been suffering from social and economic inequalities since ages. The following principles are aimed at ensuring economic and social equality:

  1. The state should ensure for its people adequate means of livelihood.
  2. The state should ensure fair distribution of the material resources of the country for the common good.
  3. The state should distribute the wealth in such a way that the wealth is not concentrated in a few hands.
  4. There should be equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
  5. The state is directed to take steps to impart compulsory and free education to the children up to the age of 14 years.
  6. The state should try to secure participation of workers in the management of the factory.
  7. Childhood and Youth should be protected against exploitation. Men, women and children should not be forced by economic necessity to enter jobs and vocations not suited to their age or strength.
  8. The state should ensure to the people (a) the right to work (b) the right to education (c) the right to state assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement.
  9. The state should make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work for the workers and maternity relief for women.

B. Principles related to Gandhian thought

Gandhian thinking promotes a non-violent social order. Swaraj (Self-rule), Sarvodaya (welfare for all) and svavlambam (self-reliance) are the basic principles of Gandhian thought. Mahatma Gandhi was in the forefront of freedom movement. His philosophy and actions guided not only our freedom movement but also the framing of the Indian Constitution. The following Directive Principles in particular reflect Gandhian thought:

  1. The state shall promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society and in particular the interests of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
  2. The state shall take steps to organise the village panchayats. These panchayats should be given such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self government.
  3. The state shall make efforts to prevent the consumption of alcoholic drinks and other harmful drugs.
  4. The state shall try to promote cottage industries in rural areas.
  5. The state shall take steps to improve the quality of livestock and ban the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.

C. Principles related to International Peace and Security

The Constitution makers included some principles which provide guidelines to foreign policy. These are:

  1. The state shall promote international peace and security.
  2. The state shall endeavour to maintain just and honorable relations with other nations.
  3. The state shall foster respect for international laws and treaty obligations.
  4. The state shall encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration, i.e. mutual agreement.

D. Miscellaneous Principles

Besides, there are some notable Directive Principles which do not come under any of the categories. These are:

  1. The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
  2. The state shall take steps for the maintenance and protection of the historical monuments, places or objects of national importance.
  3. The state shall aim at establishing a uniform civil code for all citizens throughout the country.
  4. The state shall take steps to separate the Judiciary from Executive.

Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Rights

The Directive Principles aim at establishing a welfare state. The aim of Fundamental rights is also the same; but there are some basic differences between the two.

First, Directive Principles are not justiceable. No constitutional provision or law binds the government to implement these. Fundamental rights are justiceable and enforceable. Fundamental rights cannot be denied to any citizen. These are protected by the Supreme Court and High Courts.

Second, these principles are only instructions or directions for the state to frame policies to implement them. Such policies should be a step towards realising the goals of a welfare state. Fundamental Rights have been ensured by the Constitution and the state is bound to protect the rights of all its citizens.

Third, even in respect of the placement in the Constitution, the Directive Principles come after the Fundamental Rights. It means that importance of Fundamental rights is more than that of Directive Principles.

However, Directive Principles cannot be ignored even if these do not have the same kind of constitutional sanction as the Fundamental Rights. Implementation of Directive Principle enhances the credibility and popularity of any government, which is the basis for regaining power in a democracy.

Moreover, it is also apparent that the aim of both the Fundamental rights and Directive Principles is the same. They are not contradictory but complementary to each other. Fundamental Rights guarantee political democracy and Directive Principles are there to establish social and economic democracy.

The real strength of the Directive Principles is derived from vigilant public opinion. The policies which are favoured by most citizens are usually implemented with great enthusiasm. No government can ignore the public interest. Each one of us is a vehicle for public opinion.