Issues Related to Poverty in India

The concern for the poor is reflected in the various parts of the Constitution of India. The Preamble, fundamental rights, Directive Principles of the State Policy and other provisions could be perused in this regard.


The Preamble forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The Preamble reveals that people are the ultimate authority and the Constitution emerges from them. Further, it is meant to serve them. Its purpose is to take them on the path of development and progress.

THE PEOPLE of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a ‘SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC’ and to secure to all its citizens; JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all; FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

The key words are ‘we, the people of India’, ‘to secure to all its citizens’, justice, social’, ‘equality’, ‘among them all and ‘dignity of the individual.’

The implication of the words WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA is quite profound.

The words obviously imply that the Constitution of India is of, for and by the people. It was designed by the people of India and not by foreigners. It was drafted for the people who are Indians. India has a large number of its citizens who are poor and lack basic amenities. Thus, the users and beneficiaries of the Constitution would include, poor also.

The use of the words ‘to secure to all its citizens’ leaves no doubt that the expectations and obligations from the Constitution are that it would aim at and serve all the citizens of the country. It caters not only the rich or those from the so called upper strata but on the other hand proceed to cover all citizens.

Social justice is based on the concept of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution.

These policies aim to achieve improved equality of opportunity and to introduce equality of gains.

Social justice is the signature tune of the Constitution. Its objective is to promote welfare of the vulnerable sections of community. The Planning Commission has also underlined the need to develop social, administrative, bureaucratic and other techniques which support the poor. These are vital to bring social justice into practice. The judicial system has also become an effective vehicle of social justice. The significant work of judges is both constitutive and conceptive. Their decisions influence our perceptions of Indian society and develop a theory about distribution of entitlements and powers. As conceptive ideologies they determine the manner and framework which value preferences and public policy. There also exists class of jurists who advocate strict adherence to letters of law and to administer justice logically. Thus, the judges have performed the role of creator, planner, architect and social visionary in building a new society out of old one through juridical engineering.

The task of judiciary and other organisation of governance is challenging. It is meant to be aim at the development and maintenance of effective means for achieving distributive justice. Distributive justice is directed at the proper allocation of things – wealth, power, reward, respect – among different people.

Social Justice cannot be administered without inclusion of poor. It enables the courts to uphold legislation to remove economic inequalities, to provide a decent standard of living to the working people. Further, it helps framing of laws to protect the interests of the weaker sections of the society.

‘Equality of status and opportunity’. This objective would be attained and rendered meaningful by bringing within their ambit poor and down-trodden.

Socialistic Concept

The term refers to any political movement that seeks to establish an economy based on economic democracy by and for the working class. It is a broad political concept that seeks to propagate the ideas of socialism within the context of a democratic system. Democratic socialism aims to end poverty, ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity.

A resume of Constitutional Provisions having a bearing on Poverty and Development

The duties of the citizens have been listed out. But the Constitution does not mention any legal sanction for their violation. No penalty has been prescribed for their disregard. The citizen, it is expected, would remember that he owes the duties to the State. The duties are not addressed to the State.


Citizenship is a status which is enjoyed by a person who is a full member of a community.

Article 5. Citizenship at the commencement of the Constitution

Right of citizenship is vested in every person who has his domicile in the territory of India and either of whose parents was born in the territory of India. Under the Constitution, there is only one domicile i.e., domicile of the country. The economic status is of no concern. Citizenship has three components viz., civil, political and social. Civil aspect relates to rights in the nature of individual freedoms which have been institutionalized through law courts. Political citizenship confers a right to participate in the exercise of political power in the community. Social citizenship relates to the right to share suitable standard of living by way of welfare and educational schemes of the society.

Right to Equality

Equality Before Law

Article 14 relates to equality before law. It mandates “that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” The Preamble to the Indian Constitution speaks of equality of status and of opportunity. This articles gives effect to that principle in the text of the Constitution.

Thus, rich and poor, haves and have nots are provided equality before law. Parliament and the legislatures in the country cannot transgress the basic features of the Constitution, namely the principle of equality enshrined in article 14; Indira Sawhney v. Union of India, MANU/SC/0771/1999 : (2000) 1 SCC 168.

The “creamy layer” in the backward class is to be treated ‘on par’ with the forward classes and is not entitled to the benefits of reservation. Article 14 forbids discrimination in matters of procedure also. However, discrimination in favour of persons residing in backward areas is permissible; Madhya Pradesh Oil Extraction v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1977) 7 SCC 592.

Article 15. Prohibition of Discrimination

Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste etc., provided under article 15 would afford suitable shelter to the poor, marginalised and socially unprivileged people. However, vide clause (2) of this article, the State is not to be prevented from making any special provision for women and children. Similarly, clause (3) would permit the State to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

Article 16. Equality of opportunity in matters of Public Employment

Besides the right to equality of opportunity in general terms, article 16(2) prohibits discrimination against a citizen on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, and residence, subject, of course to article 16(3). The main object of this article is to create a Constitutional right to equality of opportunity and employment in public offices. Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment under article 16 shall also disallow any discriminatory treatment of poverty stricken or the so called backward segments of the society.

Article 17. Abolition of Untouchability

The principle object of article 17 is to ban the practice of untouchability in any form. Social disabilities imposed on certain classes of persons by reason of their birth in certain castes would be repugnant to the mandate of article 17.

Article 21. Right to Life

The Article provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Protection of life and personal liberty has been held to extend certain provisions of relevance to poverty and development.


1. Child offenders are entitled to speedy trial.

2. The State and Municipal Corporations have constitutional as well as statutory duty to provide to poor and indigent weaker sections, residential accommodation.

3. Legal aid is the entitlement of poor people who cannot afford a counsel and where they are charged with an offence punishable with imprisonment.

4. Right to livelihood is an integral facet of the right to life.

5. Right to privacy is a part of article 21.

Article 21A

Right to education provided under article 21A emerges as a significant provision providing a meaningful fundamental right to education. The article ensures provision of free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. Effective steps to give practical shape to this mandate are to be taken by the State, by law.

Directive Principles of State Policy and Poverty in India

Following Constitutional provisions would squarely apply to the efforts required to ameliorate the conditions of poor and socially disadvantaged.

Article 38 – State to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people. It looks for a social order in which justice, social, economic and political attainable. Further, inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities are to be eliminated.

This clause has often been relied upon to sustain and demand social welfare measures and to sensitize the State about the kind of society, the Constitution expects it to create.

Social Justice

This term has no precise definition. It is based on the idea of a just society in which individuals and groups are given fair treatment and a just share of the benefits of the society. Thus it is justice that is applicable to the entire society. Social justice is concerned with equal justice, not just in the courts, but in all aspects of society.

Article 39. Certain principles of policy to be followed by the State. This article specifically requires the State to ensure for its people adequate means of livelihood, fair distribution of wealth, equal pay for equal work and protection of children, labour and youth. This article provides that men and women doing the same work or work of similar nature should get equal pay. The article contains one main objective, namely, the building of a welfare State and an egalitarian social order.

The word ‘egalitarian’ means asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people especially in political, economic or social life.

Article 39A. Equal justice and free legal aid. The legal system should be operated on the basis of equal opportunity. Provision of free legal aid is to be ensured.

Article 40. Organisation of village panchayats. The State shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-governance. Since poverty is mainly concentrated in the rural areas, this article is geared towards empowering villages to have a meaningful share in self-government.

Article 41. Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases. The term public assistance has reference to economic assistance or relief to people who are unemployed, old, sick or disabled. The right to work has been addressed in the context of limits of economic capacity and development of the State.

Article 44. Provides that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. A uniform code can be a very useful and practical tool to present a viable and common legal regime to deal with marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, succession and other related issues which have a direct bearing on economic means and relief, social status and right to development of widows, single mothers, orphans, minor, old and destitute etc. However, as commented by the Supreme Court in Shah Bano’s case, article 44 has remained a dead letter. There is no evidence of any official activity for framing a common civil code for the country. A belief seems to have gained ground that it is for the Muslim community to take a lead in the matter of reforms of their personal law. No perceptible change has taken place in last 27 years since the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on 23 April, 1985.

Article 45. Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years.

This Article should be read in conjunction with article 21A.

Article 46. Promotion of educational and economic interests of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other weaker section. The State is expected to take special care in this regard.

Article 47. Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve public health.

This Article directs the State to 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.

Fundamental Duties

The duties have been addressed to the citizen without any legal sanction for their violation. The citizen is expected to remember that he owes the duties to the State. The duties are not addressed to the State.

Article 51(A)(k)

The duty cast on every citizen of India under article 51A(k) is relevant in this regard. It enjoins every parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the age of six and 14 years.

It would be interesting to compare and contrast between article 21A, 41 and 51A of the Constitution. The aim and purpose of these provisions require a careful scrutiny. The following stand out.

1. Article 21A was inserted by the Constitution (Eighty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 whereas article 41 was included in the Constitution original text and is to be read in the context of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement.

2. Article 21A is aimed at children between the age of six to 14 years, it is not so under article 41.

3. Article 21A provides a fundamental right and is thus enforceable whereas article 41 finds place amongst the Directive Principles of the State Policy, which cannot be claimed as a right.

4. Article 51(A)(k) is a corresponding duty cast upon every parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or ward.

Other Provisions

Article 243D

Reservation of seats for SC and ST in every panchayat, corresponding to their population in the area concerned.

Article 325

No person to be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex. There has to be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either House of Parliament or House of the Legislative of a State.

Article 325 is of crucial significance for maintaining the secular character of the Constitution, a basic feature of the Constitution.

Part XVI-Articles 330 to 342

Special Provision relating to certain classes.

Poverty law has been defined as the legal statutes, regulations and policy that apply particularly to financially poor in their day-to-day life.

According to eminent thinker Dr. Karan Singh, “As long as millions go without the basic necessities of civilized existence, it is utterly unreal to talk to them about things of the spirit, and that the basic material needs of men must be satisfied. This can be achieved only when we succeed in motivating the people of India to put in several decades of hard, disciplined effort for the production of wealth and simultaneously adopt policies to ensure that the wealth so produced is distributed fairly to all sections of the society. This can be achieved not by propagating the bitter doctrine of implacable class warfare but, rather, by trying to involve the nation as a whole in the mighty effort required to break the poverty barrier that still persists around us.”


































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