Article 47 of the Constitution of India

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Introduction

Article 47 of the constitution of India is one of the directive principle of the state policy, and therefore it holds only persuasive value which means that state can take them into consideration while formulating policies but state can not be made liable if the policies so formulated are not in accordance to directive principles. These principles are non-justiciable and therefore cannot be enforced by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws, as it is expressed in article 37 of the constitution. Article 47 contains provisions for public health, standard of living and prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs.

Article 47

Article 47 states that ‘State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.’ Article 47 provides social security and justice to the citizens by enumerating duties of the state which are important for achieving the goal of a better society, and it includes better conditions of living, access to healthy and nutritious food and public health and hygiene. As intoxicating drinks and drugs are injurious to health and therefore it has been expressly provided by article 47 that state should take steps to reduce or stop the consumption of such injurious drinks or drugs.

Right to health is not directly incorporated in fundamental rights. However, the framers and the founding fathers of the constitution had imposed the duty on state in the nature of Directive Principles of State Policy under Part IV of the Constitution wherein it is the responsibility of the state to ensure social and economic justice to its citizens. Therefore, it is generally inferred that Part IV of the Constitution directly or indirectly relates to the public policy in terms of health.

Drafting of Article 47

While in the draft phase, The draft Article 38 (now Article 47) was debated on 23rd and 24th November, 1948. Article 38 was that ‘The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.’ Two amendments were made to this first is that the scope of this article must be expanded by adding the sentence 'and shall endeavour to bring about the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health'. This amendment was supported by another member who in turn added another sentence 'except for medicinal purposes' which was the second amendment to article 38. the debates in assembly were based on these two amendments.

While those who were in favour of these amendments contended that it makes economical sense as the revenue lost by the 'increase of crime, disease and the loss of efficiency' was three times higher than the loss of revenue earned from the sales of alcohol. And also working class and Dalit families would be benefited from this ban, as these communities spent a substantial amount of their wages on liquor. On the other hand critics contended that this ban on alcohol had been proven expensive and unsuccessful which can be seen in case of America and Madras. And a complete ban of alcohol infringes the personal liberty of citizens. The chairman of the drafting committee responded to these arguments by reminding that these directive principles are non-justiciable and therefore they are not legally binding. And therefore both of these amendments were accepted.

Judiciary on Public health and Liquor Consumption

Improving public health is an important aspect of article 47 and for providing social justice to the citizens, the government should take the necessary steps for it, and judiciary must stand there to guide and keep an eye on such steps.

In case of Consumer Education and Resource Center Vs Union of India[1], the Supreme Court has held that the right to health and Medical care is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the constitution as it is essential for making the life of the workman meaningful and purposeful with dignity of person. “Right to life” in Article 21 includes protection of the health and strength of the worker. The expression ‘life’ in Article 21 does not connote mere animal existence. It has a much wider meaning which includes right to livelihood, better standard of life, hygienic conditions in workplace and leisure.

In case of Vincent Panikulangara vs. Union of India[2] the court opined that maintenance and improvement of public health have to rank high as these depends the building of the society of which the constitution makers envisaged. Attending to public health is therefore of high priority.

In the case of Ratlam Municipal Corporation[3], the court held that it is the primary duty of the state under Article 47 of the Constitution to ensure the living conditions of the people are healthy and enforce this duty against any governmental body or authority who defaults in doing so irrespective of the financial resources it has.iii

In Kirloskar Brothers Ltd v. Employees State Insurance Corpn.[4] The Supreme Court, has held that ‘right to health’ is a fundamental right of the workmen. The Court also held that this right is not only available against the State and its instrumentalities but even private industries to ensure to the workmen to provide facilities and opportunities for health and vigour of the workman assured in the provision of Part IV of the Constitution which are ‘integral part of right to equality under Art 14 and right to invigorated life under Article 21 which are fundamental rights to the workmen.

Ban on alcohol consumption by the state governments is a much debated topic while some calls it illiberal and unreasonable, others applauds the decision. However judiciary stands with a view that banning alcohol consumption, distribution, possession, etc. Is a privilege available to the state governments under article 47 and using this privilege is the decision of the state government.

In case of State of Kerala v. Kandath distilleries[5], the supreme court of India observed that Article 47 of the constitution is one of the directive principle of state policy which is fundamental in the governance of the country and the state has the power to completely prohibit the manufacture, sale, possession, distribution and consumption of liquor as a beverage because it is inherently dangerous to the human health. Consequently, it is privilege of the state and it is for the state to decide whether it should part with such privilege, which depends on the liquor policy of the state state has, therefore, the exclusive right or privilege in respect of portable liquor, a citizen has therefore no fundamental right to trade or business in liquor as a beverage and the activities which are res extra commercium, cannot be carried on by any citizen and the state can prohibit completely trade or business in portable liquor and state can also create a monopoly in itself for the trade or business of liquor. State can also impose restrictions and limitations on the trade or business in liquor as a beverage, which restrictions are in nature different from those imposed on trade or business in legitimate activities and goods and articles which are res commercium.

in 2016 article 47 came into limelight when state of Bihar prohibited alcohol and the chief minister Nitish Kumar supported this ban by giving reference to this directive principle. "Article 47 of the Constitution gives direction that the state should protect health and nutrition of its citizen and strive to achieve total prohibition," he said, to justify his government's decision to put a complete ban on alcohol and making possession of alcohol punishable.[6] However, the Patna High Court struck down the Bihar government’s policy of total prohibition, extending to putting behind bars members of a household on whose premises liquor is found. The court struck it down on the ground of being violating article 14 and article 21 as no one can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except for the procedure prescribed by law.

In Balsara case[7] Court referred to Article 47 and opined that the idea of prohibition was connected with public health. The challenge to a prohibition law under the Constitution was made under Articles 14 and 21. The Court held that absolute prohibition of manufacture or sale of liquor is permissible and the only exception can be for medicinal preparations. The concept of inherent right of citizens to do business in liquor is antithetical to the power of the State to enforce prohibition laws in respect of liquor.

  1. Consumer Education and Resource Centre vs. Union of India.AIR (1995) 3 SSC, 42.
  2. 1987 AIR 990, 1987 SCR (2) 468
  3. Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Shri Vardhichand & Others, 1980 AIR 1622, 1981 SCR (1) 97
  4. Kirloskar Brothers Ltd vs. Emplyees’ State Insurance Corpn.1996) 2 SCC 682.
  5. State of kerala v. Kandath distilleries, AIR 2013 SC 1812
  6. https://www.news18.com/news/india/prohibition-in-conformity-with-article-47-of-constitution-nitish-1238420.html
  7. 951 AIR 318, 1951 SCR 682