Poverty is a universal phenomenon. Not one country has been able to assert to be entirely unfettered by poverty. Poverty can be regarded as the single most universal phenomenon forming an unvarying and uniform thread that transcends all boundaries and nations. The brunt of poverty on human existence can be gauged from the fact that the United Nations (‘UN’) designated 1996 as the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty and 1997-2006 as the Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, affirming that “eradicating poverty is an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind.” A whole gamut of complexities is encompassed by the single word ‘poverty’.
When one talk about poverty and poor a very basic image comes to his mind, that, a person who is poor would not have enough money and resources to sustain a good life likewise, poverty is a condition in which a person is so deprived of basic necessities that he/she may not be able to survive after a period of time or might die due to hunger. This is an economic perspective. But from the legal lens we can see that poverty is more than just money and food. Measurement of poverty is a legal matter. The most commonly applied technique to assess poverty is based on incomes. The approach centres on the lack of basic necessities. The legal way stresses inadequacy compared to average living standards. Poverty is a multi-dimensional concept. Law says that it should not be measured through the pathway of means but according to the ends. In India, the initiation was done by focusing on economic mobility from which emerged the concept of income/consumption poverty line. After the development of initiatives, it was soon realized that, this definition captured a limited perspective and the premise of ‘income poverty’. So it was broadened into the tenet of ‘human poverty’. Now the word ‘poverty’ began to be used in two main connotations, in a constricted sense for purposes of measurement where it was defined as low income or consumption and as an expansive blanket word to express the complete continuum of deprivation. If one concurs with the former, then the direction of control strategies would centre on economic mobility. If one has leanings of law, then the focus would be on social mobility. This brought in its wake the necessity for development and introduction of a scheme of indicators for poverty appraisal from a new perspective. The Rural Development Ministry, in 1997 recommended conducting of survey of below poverty line families on the basis of multiple criteria. With the emergence of the concept of the ‘Human Development Index’ and ‘Human Poverty Index’, a composite measure reflecting health, education and economic attainment for the country, came to the fore.
When an individual is poor he has to go through a lot of issues such as they are deprived of basic Human Rights, they are unaware of their own rights, they are exploited by the other sections in the society, social inequalities, lack of education and opportunity. Over the period of time India as a nation realized that poverty cannot be defined by focusing on only one perspective that is 'income poverty' but it should be 'human poverty' i.e. in a broader perspective. Defining poverty has been an ongoing endeavour. The definitions have altered but slightly, in their intent, objective and outcome, although they might have changed in their manifestation. All theoreticians are unanimous in their opinion that poverty is a genuine deprivation of life’s basic necessities and incapacity to meet minimum biological, social, and cultural needs. The perception of basic necessities varies. What some societies consider as necessities, it may perhaps be regarded as extravagance or opulence in others. Within the same society, when sub-groups become used to a certain standard of living, that level of existence becomes a necessity, leading to the propensity of a measured but steady ascent in the benchmark level of what is considered as basic necessities. A broad-spectrum range of deficiencies and disadvantages of which, poverty is only one component is termed ‘deprivation’. The other constituents include social inferiority, isolation, physical weakness, vulnerability, seasonality, powerlessness and humiliation. The relativities have come to be reflected in the modern trends of poverty evaluation. The concept of poverty has been determined to be a multi-dimensional issue. The UN and its agencies approach poverty from a more integrative perspective based on human dignity. It expressed in terms of social, economic, cultural and political parameters. Its been highlighted by the Indian judiciary in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi1) that “the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and co-mingling with fellow human beings. Of course, the magnitude and content of the components of this right would depend upon the extent of the economic development of the country, but it must, in any view of the matter, include the right to the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human-self.”
Dr. Justice AR. Lakshmanan considers poverty as a multi-faceted human rights violation. The Indian
Planning Commission too has recognized the need of this broader perspective of poverty.
Harvard Law defines poverty law as the legal statutes, regulations and cases that apply particularly to the financially poor in his or her day to day life. In a common sense, the goal of poverty law is to protect the disadvantaged poor from unfair treatment by the law. Poverty law includes benefits and welfare policies of the Government. It includes Medical assistance; cash public assistance (more commonly known as Welfare); and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Poverty law involves with administrative law, civil rights law, constitutional law, employment law, and health law. Law as to poverty deals with poverty of the people. It advocates of poverty reduction and usually operates within a nation-state context. It explores specific human rights initiatives that address particular aspects of poverty, including human rights conventions, measures to counter the tendency of intellectual property law to undermine food security, the right to food as framed in UN development documents. It may include of vision of constitutional law.
India’s plunge into mass poverty manifested during the colonial era. It accelerated poverty throughout that phase. Dadabhai Naoroji had to write his critically resented paper as far back as 1876. In the 1930s, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru expressed India’s state of affairs as “A servile state…her people poor beyond compare, short-lived and incapable of resisting disease and epidemic, illiteracy rampant, vast areas devoid of all sanitary or medical provision, unemployment on a prodigious scale, both among the middle classes and the masses.”
Later in his historic ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech Pt. Nehru reminded the nation that the service of India means the ending of poverty, ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity.
It involves several distinct essentials:
So law has an important role in the poverty alleviation measurements.
The right to be free from poverty includes:
‘Poverty’ as a term has not been mentioned in the Indian Constitution. The Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy stand testimony to the welfare state model. Bharat is a welfare state. It is committed to the development of its people. There are provisions in the constitution of India for the betterment of the poor. Just a law cannot suffice. The purpose of law has to be implemented with due respect and responsibility.
The constitutional responsibility is reflected via two modes:
The judiciary has kept an intense scrutiny and ensured that this constitutional mandate is properly enforced. Building upon Article 21, the judiciary has adopted an expansive interpretation bringing within its ambit almost all facets of poverty – direct or indirect.
The legislative intent is to be transcended into executive implementation. For instance,
The Development Programmes suffer from numerous defects including sub-critical investments, unviable projects, lack of technological and institutional capabilities in designing and executing projects, poor targeting of beneficiaries etc. Political leanings and interest groups play a strong role in the materialization of strategies and implementation of development policies. The strategies of development policies change in light of possible manoeuvring with succession and changes in polity. Besides, the programmes usually are beset with problems like corruption,46 improper direction, lack of sectoral integration and undue emphasis on time-bound target achievement. In fact, a relatively recent initiative on the part of the Planning Commission to curtail this growing trend of unaccountability too died a political death. Highlighting this, the 10th Five Year Plan states that weak governance, manifesting itself in poor service delivery, excessive regulation and uncoordinated and wasteful public expenditure is one of the key factors hindering growth and development.
The judiciary had to take steps to ensure that the executive arm does its job properly and ensures sufficient facilities to the indigent.
Another instance may be given that after observing the success of guaranteeing rural wage labour under poverty alleviation schemes, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution proposed a constitutional obligation on the State to provide to the citizens ‘Rural Wage Labour’ as a Fundamental Right and proposed the introduction of a new Art. 21B for this purpose.
Poverty and law are closely linked together. Poor people being the most deprived of their needs and education are mostly the part of a vicious cycle of crime and legal proceedings. Many a times it is seen that people just for their own greed makes the poor a pawn. Since the poor don't have enough resources and money they agree or sometimes they unintentionally do something which makes them fall into a legal trouble. Since they have committed a crime they are convicted and sent to jail. To protect the interest of the poor section of the society the state decided to make provisions for them with respect to free legal aid. But mostly lawyers or adjudicators don't want to serve people freely. So one of the requirements for the empowerment of the poor is a stringent legal system which does not only enacts law but also makes them implemented. Since poverty like pandemic has no boundary is a universal issue so the international organizations are also contributing for the upliftment of the poor and making provisions such as human rights for the whole world. Likewise government of India should also make certain provisions which can help for the betterment of the poor people.
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