Significance and characteristics of Fundamental Rights of COI
The fundamental rights were included in the constitution because they were considered essential for the development of the personality of every individual and to preserve human dignity.
The writers of the constitution regarded democracy of no avail if civil liberties, like freedom of speech and religion, were not recognised and protected by the State.
According to them, democracy is, in essence, a government by opinion and therefore, the means of formulating public opinion should be secured to the people of a democratic nation.
For this purpose, the constitution guaranteed to all the citizens of India the freedom of speech and expression and various other freedoms in the form of the fundamental rights.
All people, irrespective of race, religion, caste or gender, have been given the right to petition directly the Supreme Court or the High Courts for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
It is not necessary that the aggrieved party has to be the one to do so. Poverty-stricken people may not have the means to do so and therefore, in the public interest, anyone can commence litigation in the court on their behalf. This is known as "public interest litigation".
In some cases, High Court judges have acted suo moto on their own on the basis of newspaper reports. These fundamental rights help not only in protection but also the prevention of gross violations of human rights.
They emphasise on the fundamental unity of India by guaranteeing to all citizens the access and use of the same facilities, irrespective of background. Some fundamental rights apply for persons of any nationality whereas others are available only to the citizens of India.
The right to life and personal liberty is available to all people and so is the right to freedom of religion. On the other hand, freedoms of speech and expression and freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country are reserved for citizens alone, including non-resident Indian citizens.
The right to equality in matters of public employment cannot be conferred to overseas citizens of India. Fundamental rights primarily protect individuals from any arbitrary state actions, but some rights are enforceable against individuals. For instance, the Constitution abolishes untouchability and also prohibits begar.
These provisions act as a check both on state action as well as the action of private individuals. However, these rights are not absolute or uncontrolled and are subject to reasonable restrictions as necessary for the protection of general welfare. They can also be selectively curtailed.
The Supreme Court has ruled that all provisions of the Constitution, including fundamental rights, can be amended, but that Parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution.
Since the fundamental rights can be altered only by a constitutional amendment, their inclusion is a check not only on the executive branch but also on the Parliament and state legislatures.
A state of national emergency has an adverse effect on these rights. Under such a state, the rights conferred by Article 19 (freedoms of speech, assembly and movement, etc.) remain suspended.
Hence, in such a situation, the legislature may make laws that go against the rights given in Article 19. The President may by order suspend the right to move the court for the enforcement of other rights as well.