This Paper concentrates on the evaluation of fulfillment of social and economic rights of the citizens of India, recognizing, however, their close inter-dependence with the necessary and simultaneous fulfillment of civil and political rights. Secondly, a Paper such as this does not purport to be comprehensive. It identifies critical achievements as well as significant failings. It also points to some of the lessons learnt and highlights factors that have constrained the pace of India’s progress. Thirdly, selectivity of only a few issues involves judgment and this itself signals a bias – one that is hopefully consistent with the aspirations of the majority and among them particularly the poorest and most vulnerable consisting mainly of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes. Finally, the paper raises some key issues and identifies critical areas for action that may help the country realize and fulfill its constitutional commitments.
1.2 An occasion to reviewing the working of the Constitution serves as one for the nation to recall with deep gratitude the services and sacrifices of all those who fought for independence and of those great persons who framed a noble Constitution for India with lofty ideals. In that sense it is an occasion to celebrate the Constitution.
1.3 Fifty years after the adoption of the Indian Constitution, how far has the State fulfilled the Constitutional obligation to assure every citizen – woman, man and child – a life of dignity? What has been the pace of social and economic progress in India? Has it been fair, fast and equitable? To what extent have the constitutional objectives and aspirations in respect of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes and the Women been realised and fulfilled? How has India fared vis-à-vis other developing countries? What has been India’s development experience after Independence? The paper deals with these critical questions.
1.4 The Supreme Court indeed spoke of the ‘fewer graces of human civilisation’, right to dignity, to health and healthy environment, to clean water, to free education upto 14 years and to shelter as parts of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution (See: Nalla Thampi1 1985; Francis Coralie2 1981, Mehta3 1987, Wadhera4 1996, Unnikrishnan5 1993, Mahinder6 1997, etc.). Even the so called ‘cost free’ liberties and freedoms are more in the nature of restraints on the State as distinct from the ‘costly’ Rights which involve positive action work, as long as the community cherishes and is committed to those values. They are not self-executing rights and liberties. “I cannot believe”, said Laski, “that constitutional expedients alone, however substantial, will prevent the invasion of liberty. They will work just so long as people are determined they shall work, and no longer. The fact is that any Bill of Rights for its efficacy depends on the determination of the people that it shall be maintained. It is just as strong, and no more, as the popular will to freedom.”
1.5 The Overview of the World Development Report 2000 mentions that “The development landscape is being transformed, presenting policymakers with new challenges at the global and local levels”. The Report recalls four critical lessons which 50 years of development experience have yielded. “First, macro-economic stability is an essential prerequisite for achieving the growth needed for development. Second, growth does not trickle down; development must address human needs directly. Third, no one policy will trigger development, a comprehensive approach is needed. Fourth, institutions matter; sustained development should be rooted in processes that are socially inclusive and responsive to changing circumstances.”.
1.6 Central to the process of development is the realization of rights. What does a rights based approach mean? It means that consideration of human rights, equity, equality, equal justice and the accommodation of diversity must be central to the conceptualization, design, implementation, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of all developmental process. The problems of social exclusion more virulent in India on account of caste system and caste-based oppression and discrimination and scourge of untouchability need systemic solutions. Law should address itself in action in non-governmental spheres as well.
1.7 Performance of Governments in the working of the Constitution over the fifty years of our Independence is, on a balance of the good and bad, achievements and failures, promises and performances of the lost opportunities as the following pages of this document indicate. The impurity of the social and political climate and its deadening effect on the creativity of the people present a depressing thought. There are, it is true, some splendid achievements. Much has been done and achieved but in the area of social justice performance falls greatly short of expectations.
1.8 What needs to be done to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development? Universal and free education – indeed quality education – is the utmost national requirement meeting of which should not be delayed any longer on any pretext. High rates of infant mortality, child anaemia and maternal anaemia cause concern and immediate measures are needed to ameliorate the situation. No child should be left malnourished or illiterate as India marches ahead in the twenty first century. Omnipotent and all pervading role of the State as the supreme arbiter in social, economic, political fields, developments in arts, culture, media, research, education, health and as main provider of services has sapped the energy and vigour of the society and its role has to change into an enabler to enable the civil society to play a purposive and meaningful role. The social and economic justice guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution still eludes majority of people comprising of the women, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, backward classes, unorganized workers and the poor. Focussed and targeted measures (growth does not necessarily trickle down) need to be urgently taken to ensure full enjoyment of constitutional rights by them. The paper seeks to raise debate on various remedial measures suggested in these areas.