The Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution are characterised by the following:
- Some of them are available only to the citizens while others are available to all persons whether citizens, foreigners or legal persons like corporations or companies.
- They are not absolute but qualified. The state can impose reasonable restrictions on them. However, whether such restrictions are reasonable or not is to be decided by the courts. Thus, they strike a balance between the rights of the individual and those of the society as a whole, between individual liberty and social control.
- All of them are available against the arbitrary action of the state. However, some of them are also available against the action of private individuals.
- Some of them are negative in character, that is, place limitations on the authority of the State, while others are positive in nature, conferring certain privileges on the persons.
- They are justiciable, allowing persons to move the courts for their enforcement, if and when they are violated.
- They are defended and guaranteed by the Supreme Court. Hence, the aggrieved person can directly go to the Supreme Court, not necessarily by way of appeal against the judgement of the high courts.
- They are not sacrosanct or permanent. The Parliament can curtail or repeal them but only by a constitutional amendment act and not by an ordinary act. Moreover, this can be done without affecting the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. (The amenability of fundamental rights is explained in detail in Chapter 11).
- They can be suspended during the operation of a National Emergency except the rights guaranteed by Articles 20 and 21. Further, the six rights guaranteed by Article 19 can be suspended only when emergency is declared on the grounds of war or external aggression (i.e., external emergency) and not on the ground of armed rebellion (i.e., internal emergency). (The suspension of fundamental rights during a national Emergency is explained in detail in Chapter 16).
- Their scope of operation is limited by Article 31A (saving of laws providing for acquisition of estates, etc.), Article 31B (validation of certain acts and regulations included in the 9th Schedule) and Article 31C (saving of laws giving effect to certain directive principles).
- Their application to the members of armed forces, para-military forces, police forces, intelligence agencies and analogous services can be restricted or abrogated by the Parliament (Article).
- Their application can be restricted while martial law is in force in any area. Martial law means ‘military rule’ imposed under abnormal circumstances to restore order (Article 34). It is different from the imposition of national emergency.
- Most of them are directly enforceable (self-executory) while a few of them can be enforced on the basis of a law made for giving effect to them. Such a law can be made only by the Parliament and not by state legislatures so that uniformity throughout the country is maintained (Article 35).
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