‘Good virtue and tolerance can safeguard the right to dissent’

“There is one duty that needs to be added to the list of Fundamental Duties in the Constitution and that is the duty to practise tolerance. Good virtue, positive attitude and tolerance are essential because they safeguard the right to dissent, which is the spirit of democracy,” said Soli J. Sorabjee, the former Attorney General of India.

He was delivering a lecture on ‘Fundamental Rights and Duties’ organised by the Indian Institute of Science Alumni Association Science Forum under the Popular Lecture Series here on Saturday.

The eminent jurist maintained that fundamental rights and duties go hand in hand. Expressing concern over increasing intolerance and “banning” culture in the country, Mr. Sorabjee said, “We need to develop an environment and culture of tolerance. It is imperative if our democratic society has to prosper and be vibrant.”

He also said he was against the “self censorship” that newspapers and news channels indulged in fearing intolerance by certain groups.

According to Mr. Sorabjee, the original Constitution did not have any specific provision for duties. The chapter on fundamental duties was introduced in 1976. “When Article 51 (A) was introduced, people viewed it with scepticism, given the timing. In part three of the Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights, it is apparent that the duties are implicit. The Constitutions permits imposition of reasonable restrictions in public interest.”

Later, responding to questions from the audience, he said judicial activism was necessary. Noting that judicial activism “does go berserk sometimes”, he said, “Judicial activism has been a boon in the country as it has helped the underprivileged”.

Mr. Sorabjee said that the unique feature of the Constitution was Article 32 which allows any citizen to approach the Supreme Court directly for enforcement of fundamental rights. Constitution architect B.R. Ambedkar had noted that this was “the heart and soul of the Constitution.”

R.V. Raveendran, the former judge of the Supreme Court, said Article 32 has been diluted because too many people approached the Supreme Court with frivolous cases.

“Not being able to handle so many cases, the Supreme Court watered it down and asked the petitioners to approach the High Court.”