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Court Has Necessarily To Take An Activist Role To Achieve Social, Economic and Political Justice: AG KK Venugopal

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
22 Feb 2020 8:55 AM GMT
Court Has Necessarily To Take An Activist Role To Achieve Social, Economic and Political Justice: AG KK Venugopal

"With the collaborative efforts of the Government of India and the Supreme Court of India, in the area of reducing the poverty of this section of the people, one could well hope that poverty could be eradicated in the next few years from the face of India", He said

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"The Preamble of the Constitution of India requires "Justice, Social Economic and Political as well as Equality of Status and of Opportunities" to be extended to all people, and hence a Court has necessarily to take on an activist role", said Attorney General for India KK Venugopal on Monday.

He was speaking at International Judges Conference 2020 at Supreme Court of India.

Here Is The Full Text of His Speech;

Taking Poverty To The Courts

22nd February 2020

Address by the Ld. Attorney General for India, Shri K.K. Venugopal

[Approximately 1400 words]

1. The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India, the Hon'ble Minister for Law and Justice, Hon'ble Justice N.V. Ramana, Hon'ble Justice Arun Mishra, Hon'ble Justice L. Nageswara Rao, esteemed judges from India and abroad, my colleagues at the Bar, ladies and gentlemen:

2. The theme of this short presentation is "Taking Poverty to the Courts".

3. The first question which will come to one's mind is what have the Courts to do with poverty. One would think that whatever the extent of poverty, it is the duty of the State to undertake the effort of giving certain relief to the poor, the deprived and the hungry. But my concept of the State is not of the Executive and Parliament alone, but also comprehends within its scope the Judiciary as well.



4. It is now fairly well settled that the failure to eradicate poverty would be a violation of human rights.

5. The traditional concept of human rights is a right not to subject a person to torture or to deprive him of the right to speak freely or to incarcerate him. However, as stated by Scott Leckie:

"However, when people die of hunger or thirst, or when thousands of urban poor and rural developers are evicted from their homes, the world still tends to blame nameless economic or development forces or the simple inevitability of human deprivation, before liability is placed at the doorstep of the State".

6. A quote from Mary Robinson, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights is pertinent:

"Extreme poverty… is the greatest denial of the exercise of human rights. You don't vote, you don't participate in any political activity, your views aren't listened to, you have no food, you have no shelter, your children are dying of preventable diseases – you don't even have the right to clean water. It's a denial of the dignity and worth of each individual which is what the Universal Declaration proclaims".

7. When such gross violation of human rights takes place, one would expect food riots or at least civil disobedience, but so far as India is concerned, the people generally are fatalists. In Kannada, there is a phrase, "hanebaraha", which would mean "what is written on one's forehead". This results in people believing that it is destiny which commanded that they would be subjected to a life of hunger and suffering.

8. But, nevertheless, throughout the country, there have been social justice lawyers who would come to the rescue of this section of the population for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the Supreme Court of India, which has original jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution, the horrendous deprivation suffered by a section of the people of the country.

9. One should realize that India is a vast country with a population of about 1.3 billion souls. When the British withdrew from India, the 1950 census showed that poverty existed at the level of 70% . Today, by the strenuous efforts of the Government through a series of schemes covering every area of deprivation suffered by people, poverty has been brought down to 21%.

10. These committed lawyers have approached the Supreme Court of India from various parts of the country with a new mechanism and procedure which has been labelled 'Public Interest Litigation'. They are lawyers who have physically perceived the extent of child mortality, maternal mortality and hunger which resulted in what could be described as 'absolute poverty', 'dire poverty' or 'extreme poverty'.

11. I have mentioned that the Governments have brought in a series of projects involving huge outlay of funds for creating a dent in multi-dimensional poverty, affecting the people and seeking to attack every aspect which has resulted in such deprivation.

12. To mention a few of the schemes, out of a total of around 50, which have been embarked upon by Governments at huge expense to the exchequer:

a. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, a social security measure that aims to guarantee the 'right to work' for the rural poor.

b. The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (Prime Minister's Life Insurance Scheme).

c. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana  (Prime Minister's people wealth scheme), a financial inclusion program that aims to expand and make affordable access to financial services such as bank accounts, remittances, credit, insurance and pensions. 

d. The Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana 2015 (Prime Minister's All India Mass Medicine Project), to make quality medicines available at affordable prices for all, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

13. To cap it all, in 2013, the Government of India passed the Food Security Act, which aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two- thirds of the country's people.

14. As I stated, the massive poverty extending to 70% of the population stands reduced to about 21% of the population who are below the poverty line. But, nevertheless, the huge explosion in the population of the country has resulted in the absolute number being high.

15. It is here that the Supreme Court of India had a vital role to play in ensuring that wherever there was a gap and an area where the Government's relief schemes did not reach, the Court had to step in at the instance of these pro-bono lawyers.

16. The Supreme Court, in several cases, has expounded on the rights of the people, stating:

a. In Chameli Singh v. State of U.P., (1996) 2 SCC 549 that the right to live guaranteed in any civilised society implies the right to food, water, decent environment, education, medical care and shelter.

b. In M.C. Mehta (Child Labour matter) v. State of T.N., (1996) 6 SCC 756, the Court said, 'Let the child of twenty-first century find himself into that "heaven of freedom" of which our poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore has spoken in Gitanjali'.

c. In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corpn., (1985) 3 SCC 545, 'If there is an obligation upon the State to secure to the citizens an adequate means of livelihood and the right to work, it would be sheer pedantry to exclude the right to livelihood from the content of the right to life'

d. In Unni Krishnan, J.P. v. State of A.P., (1993) 1 SCC 645 , the Court said that 'Victories are gained, peace is preserved, progress is achieved, civilization is built up and history is made not on the battlefields where ghastly murders are committed in the name of patriotism, not in the Council Chambers where insipid speeches are spun out in the name of debate, not even in factories where are manufactured novel instruments to strangle life, but in educational institutions which are the seed-beds of culture, where children in whose hands quiver the destinies of the future, are trained.'

17. If anyone wonders as to how is all this part of the traditional adjudicatory functions or an application of the principles of law, the answer is that the Court in a developing country has a unique role. The Preamble of the Constitution of India requires "Justice, Social Economic and Political as well as Equality of Status and of Opportunities" to be extended to all people, and hence a Court has necessarily to take on an activist role.

18. Added to this, is Article 21 of the Constitution which declares "No person shall be deprived of his right to life or liberty other than by a procedure established by law."  What is meant by this right to life? The Court has held that this right is not one, to live a mere animal existence but to have a roof over his head, be free of hunger with a right to food, shelter, and a job and all that elements which a person would desire to lead a life as a full human being.

19. Armed with this interpretation, the Apex Court of the country had no hesitation in extending the full course of the law to the aid of these sections of the population living in some cases in sub-human conditions.

20. With the collaborative efforts of the Government of India and the Supreme Court of India, in the area of reducing the poverty of this section of the people, one could well hope that poverty could be eradicated in the next few years from the face of India.

***

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