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Poverty: An Obstacle To Realizing Various Human Rights

Being defined by Adam smith as the non-capacity to buy necessities that are required due to nature or custom, poverty as defined by the World bank is being deprived of well being. Further, it being multidimensional, it consists of having a low-income and not being able to buy the basic goods and services necessary to live a dignified life. It also results in low level of health, education, clean water and sanitation facilities, etc. resulting in not being able to make one’s life better.[1]

Multidimensional phenomenon and barriers:
Poverty being associated with social exclusion; the approach focuses on multidimensional deprivation in lack of access to goods and services that are necessary in the society even if they are not considered basic needs. According to the report of Tendulkar Committee, poverty is the notion believed by the society to be being depriving a person of basic human needs that may be[2]:
  1. Sufficient nourishment
  2. Shelter
  3. Clothing
  4. Basic education
  5. Freedom from distress
  6. Personal liberty to carry out social and economic activities

Thus, the multi-dimensionality of the concept of poverty maybe understood. This has also been highlighted by N. Krishnaji who condemned the calorie/income basis of marking poverty as being arbitrary.[3] This is because such criteria for determining poverty fails to realise the multi-dimensionality of the issue and while it examines one of the most important aspects of poverty (eg. income), it overlooks many other aspects as such.

The Human Development Report 1997 explains this issue with help of illustrations as follows[4]:
Scenario 1: A person may not receive primary education but may live a long and healthy life because he gets proper nourishment. This shows attention to one dimension compromises the other.
Scenario 2: Reversely, a person with good education may die earlier due to a prolonging illness not being treated due to unavailability of medical facilities or affordability.
Scenario 3: In contrast to both the above situations, even if both health and education are secured, the political rights of a person maybe affected as he may not be granted freedom to decide in issues that may affect him.

Thus, as is understandable, poverty denies the various choices/opportunities to an individual that may help him live a bearable life i.e. encompassing basic human development.[5]

Almost half (47.9%) of Indians bearing more than 5 children do not have proper shelter, water, sanitation, health and education facilities. This is in comparison to the global total of just 7.8%. Also, the number of poor people in India is so huge that it houses 24% of the total poor in the World. The gravity of the inequality can be understood by the fact that 58% of the Countries wealth is in the possession of the richest 1%.[6]

Estimations by UN World Population Prospects 2019 report show that by the year 2027, India may take over China to have the highest population in the world.[7]However, the attempt to reduce poverty is evidenced from the fact that the poverty rate has come down to 28% from the earlier 55% during the period of 2005-2016.[8] In the Global Multidimensional Poverty index that is used to measure poverty on the basis of various parameters such as nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and household assets [9] , India has ranked 62nd out of 107 countries. This led India’s score to be 0.123. The headcount data was 27.91% .[10]

  1. Adequate Shelter
    World: In a study conducted by United Nations throughout the World in 2005, almost 100 million people were discovered without any home . According to a 2015 Study, the estimate was 1.6 billion people around the World without any adequate housing resources.[11]
    India: According to the 2011 Census, there are 1.77 million homeless people in India. Also, some of the surveys conducted by other organizations claim the number to be more than 3 million. [12] According to another study, out of the 1.8 million homeless found in India, almost 52% of them were found to be living not in rural but in urban areas. Adding on to the Stats, almost 73 million people are deficient of proper housing facilities.[13] It was found that 80% of these people came from SC/ST background. Also, most of them (60%) being born in the same city/location where they reside now, it indicates that the poverty continued for generations.[14] Adding to the woes, despite various government programmes aimed at acquiring proper housing for citizens , almost 2,60,000 of them were rendered homeless as they were expelled from around 53, 700 constructions in 2017 , on the grounds of various initiatives like “slum free city /city beautification”.[15]
    Human rights affected:
    The right being covered under right to adequate standard of living, article 11, ICESCR, it has been held by the SC to be falling under the ambit of right to life under article 21 that includes a “reasonable accommodation for living”[16]. The Court contended and confirmed that right to livelihood is included in art 21, in Olga Tellis.[17] In Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, confirming the Constitutional obligation of the State under articles 38, 39 and 46, the Court has observed that the State must as a part of its socio-economic policy try to provide for socio-economic justice by availing to the people shelters to live in or resources to get settled, so that their right to life is perfectly realised.[18
  2. Basic Education:
    1. Literacy rate:
      World: According to a study conducted with data upto 2018, the world literacy rate for the category of youth (persons having age between 15 and 24) has sky rocketed from 83 to 91% in the last two decades. However, 59% of the illiterate persons of the category being females, it has also been observed that literacy of male youths is higher than that of females. The lowest rate is found in the least developed nations.[19]

      India: A literate according to parameters set in the Indian Census of 2011 is an individual over seven years of age able to read and write in any language. Accordingly, the rate being 74.04%, it has shown an increase from the previously calculated one. However, the gender gap has been observed whereby 82.14% males were literate and in contrast only 65.46% females were literate.[20
    2. School drop-out rates:
      World: According to a report by UNESCO, whereby 180 countries fell under the ambit of the study, it was found that 24 million children were estimated to drop out of schools and not re-join after the COVID-19 Pandemic ends.[21]

      Similarly, in India such a scenario has been forecasted by the Economic Survey 2019-2020.[22]A major hurdle is that people cannot afford higher education.[23]

      Human rights affected:
      The Right finds a mention in Article 24 of the UDHR and Article13, 14 of the ICESCR whereas in various other Convention.[24]In India, rights of children to not be employed in hazardous industries is a FR. However, beginning from when the Constitution was enforced, within ten years, the State owed a duty to provide free and compulsory education to children below the age of 14 years while such right to education within economic limits of the State is expounded in article 41, thus right to education being embedded explicitly only in the DPSPs.

      It was firstly held in Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka that this right is a fundamental right that can be enforced.[25] However, the proposition being re-examined in Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh, whereby the State had endeavoured to regulate the ‘capitation fees’ levied by private medical and engineering universities and the same being challenged by them as violative of their right to carry on business, the Court held that the passage of 44 years, almost 4 times than that mentioned in the Constitution to grant primary education to children was enough to convert the obligation to provide such education as expounded under article 45 into a right that is enforceable.[26] Further, it laid that article 41 helps realise the right to education part under article 21, thus being an implicit right under it which had been interpreted in such manner by the Court due to its fundamental importance.[27]
  3. Gender Equality
    Education for girls:
    Despite the fact that females account for approximately half India’s population, their education has not been preserved as almost 57% of them drop out from high schools. This is despite the presence of Right to education Act and consequential increase in the number of girls attending the school.[28]

    After COVID-19 Pandemic:
    As stated by Prof. Amita Rampal of DU, most of the girls being from migrant workers background, it is highly estimated that about 20 % of them won’t re-continue education after the Pandemic as they mostly may get married.[29]

    Reasons behind Girls Are Dropping Out:
    1. Household chores:
      In India, most of the household chores are done by young girls at home because mostly other members have to earn bread. This results in the girls dropping out of school (e.g. Almost 40% in 2019) and even if they don’t do so, they still may manage education, work and household chores altogether.[30]
    2. Menstrual Taboos and infrastructural hurdles:
      With infrastructural deficits, meagre knowledge on health and menstrual awareness and prevalence of various taboos with regards to taboos, it has been observed that girls during their periods, remain absent and then usually extend the leave. Almost 80% teachers in India observe such above mentioned taboos.[31] According to UNICEF almost one in five girls do not attend primary school as no sanitation facilities are available for adolescent girls.[32]
    3. No access to technology:
      As stated by Lydia Marshall, Oxford University, that technology is not easily available to Indian girls, this difference between access to technology for boys and girls has been observed in a Study which found that almost 80%girls in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana didn’t use the internet ever and almost 62% didn’t ever have access to a computer.[33]
  4. Poverty and health:
    1. Affordability of services and statistics:
      Healthcare facilities: With almost 41.6% of the homeless in India do not have access to health care facilities. Out of them 45% were found to be living almost near a healthcare facility.[34]
      Mental health: Further, not having any means of employment and source of income, poor people may suffer from anxiety depression and this may result in Severe mental illness. It was found that multidimensional poverty in India resulted in people suffering from it being more susceptible to severe mental illness.[35]

      Almost 90 % of poor people in India not having any insurance, before PMJAY, only 12.9% of these in rural and 8.9% in urban regions were having any government insurance scheme and amongst the poorest only 9.9% of the poorest in rural areas and 7.5% of that in urban regions had access to state sponsored health protection. [36]

      Human rights affected:
      Article 12 of the ICESCR also lays the responsibility of states to safeguard the citizens right to health. This includes the highest standards of both the components of physical and mental health. In India, right to health being considered a fundamental right as under the ambit of right to life under article 21[37]. It can be read along with various other DPSPs like reading it along with articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution helps realise the right to maternity relief. Similarly, making a joint reading of articles 39(e), 47 and 48A, the Court has elucidated the duty of the State to improve public health and the environment.[38]
    2. Adequate Nutrition:

      Stunting being a sign of long-term undernutrition, according to Global Hunger Index around 144 million throughout the world are stunted and 690 million are undernourished. Also suffering from acute undernourishment, almost 47 million children throughout the world are wasted. This has been supplemented by the fact that in 2018, due to wasting, almost 5.3 million children died.[39]

      India: In the Global Health Index of 2020, the position of India seems to be at 94 out of 107, thus the level of hunger being categorised as serious. Also indicated by the report is that wasting of children under the age of five i.e., their having less weight for their height is very high in India.

      Also, India has the most wasted children in the World (17.3%).[40] The plight can be understood as the impact of COVID-19 has yet not been covered under the above parameters, and it is expected to worsen.

      The most common cause of death of children in India under the age of five is malnutrition and in 2017 it amounted to 68.2% (706,000 deaths) of the total deaths. Further, it has been found that only 18% of the homeless people are able to get the benefits under public distribution system (PDS).[41]
    3. Right to water and Sanitation
      World: As per a report by UNICEF and WHO, around 2.2 billion people throughout the world don’t have access to safe drinking water supplies and 4.2 billion lack sanitation facilities with almost 3 billion having no proper facility to even wash hands.[42] Almost 88% of the deaths occurring due to diarrhoea are due to lack of safe and hygienic water supply and sanitation facilities. Also, most of the people (7/10) not having access to sanitation facilities were residing in rural areas.[43]

      India: With the situation already being worse in India due to climate change effect, approximately 163 million people and higher don’t have clean water to access. This number is the highest in the world forming almost 19% of the worlds people without access to clean water.[44]

      Human rights affected:
      The United Nations General Assembly has acknowledged “the right to clean water and sanitation” through Resolution64/292 [45]. It has also been embedded in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right’s General Comment 15 that stated that right to water is an indispensable asset towards living with human dignity and the realisation of various human rights. [46]

      In India, the Supreme Court has read the right to water to be included in the right to life under article 21 in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. UOI¸ whereby migrant workers working as bonded labourers in mines were not facilitated with clean drinking water and washrooms. The Court emphasized that providing such clean drinking water to the workers being quintessential for their health, it forms an indispensable part of “right to healthy environment” under the article.[47]

      This was again confirmed by SC in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, whereby it held that right to water free from pollution is a necessity laid by article 21 right to life.[48] However, it may not be the onus of the State to regulate water supply. Despite this, it has a responsibility in ensuring the water is safe and free from having any effects on health.[49]

  1. Voting:
    Whereas in most countries the poor population are mostly aloof from the political process and thus participate or engage less[50], in India, the poor people having more expectations from the government they usually caste more votes than the richer classes.[51]However, such rights of the people are easily maliced through money offerings and false promises by politicians.
  2. Right to a free and fair trial:
    A free and fair trial consists of various provisions like right to open trial and free legal aid, protection again illegal arrest, etc. However, justice seems to be far from achieved as in a Country like the US, almost half of the 2.2 million of the people imprisoned are poor and are in prisons just because they could not afford a bail.[52] A report by NCRB, India has elucidated that mostly people from socio-economically backward classes and illiterate people land up in jails. Almost 65%of the prisoners under trial were SC/ST/OBCs.[53]Also, according to a report, death sentences awarded were also mostly to people from poor and marginalised sections. [54]

The right to free and a fair trial has been embedded in Article 14 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In India, the same forms a part of articles14, 21, 22.

Having already regarded free legal aid as provided under article 21, in Khatri v. State of Bihar, the Court expounded that administrative and financial hurdles could not be excuses to facilitating such services.[55] It was held that in India, 70% of population being illiterate and ignorant of their rights, the promotion of legal literacy forms an inseparable part of the legal aid justice and the trial judge is to make sure that the indigent person in front is informed about his rights to avail of free legal aid services if in case he is not capable of paying.

Despite this the total beneficiaries of legal aid services from April2017 to June 2018 were approximately 8.22 lakh according to what has been state by NALSA[56] and the legal aid services are suffering certain deficiencies.

A summary of the various instruments and provisions granting various rights consists:
Human Right UDHR ICCPR ICESCR Indian Constitution Other Instruments
Shelter Article 11 Article21 read with articles 38,39,46.
Water and Sanitation General Comment 15 UNGA Resolution 64/292
Health Article 25 Article 12 Article 21
Basic Education Article26 Article13, 14 Article 21, 41,45 Many International instruments related to child rights
Free and fair trial Article 10 Article 14 Article 21
Free legal aid Article 14 Article 21,39A, 38

Thus, we can see that due to the incapacity of poor people to afford basic services such as basic education and proper health care facilities, etc. they suffer from many economic, political and social hurdles in the way of realising their rights. Accordingly, we have analysed that many such human rights e.g. Right to basic education, right to clean water facilities, right to shelter, right to free and fair trial, etc. granted by various International instruments like the ICCPR, ICESCR, UDHR, etc. as well as the Indian Constitution, are violated as a reason of this. Thus, poverty is an obstacle towards the full realisation of various human rights because of its multidimensional nature.

[1] Isis Gadis, Stephan Clasen and Rahul Lahoti, An individual look at poverty, across multiple dimensions, Dec18,2018,
[2] Government of India, Planning Commission, Report of the Expert group to review the methodology for estimation of poverty,(Tendulkar Committee), November 2009, pg2.
[3]N. Krishnaji, “Abolish the poverty line”, Economic and Political weekly, Apr14,2012, pg.10.
[4] UNDP, Human development report, New York 1997, pg.16.
[5] V.K.Puri and S.K. Misra, Indian Economy, Himalaya Publishing House, ISO 9001:2008, 35th Edition, pg. 292
[6]Sana Ali, For India’s poor, more children means worse deprivation,, Jan 28, 2021,
[7] Id.
[8] Eram Tafsir, Poor people in India vote less; here’s how deprivation affects voting patterns, Financial Express, April 19, 2019,
[9] PTI, Global Multidimensional Poverty Index : NITI to leverage monitoring mechanism, Sept7,2020,
[10] Niti Aayog, Press Note on Global Multidimensional Poverty Index and India, PIB Delhi ,Sept7,2020,
[11]GLOBAL HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS, Homeless World cup Foundation,
[12]Homelessness, Housing and Land Rights Netwrok,
[13]GLOBAL HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS, Homeless World cup Foundation,
[14] Evita Das, 1.77Mn Indians Are Homeless. 40% Of Them Are Getting No Lockdown Relief, India, May 13, 2020,
[15] Housing and Land rights network, Forced Evictions in India in 2017: An Alarming National Crisis, February 2018,
[16] Shanti Star Builders v. Narayan K. Totame (1990) 1 SCC 520(India).
[17] Olga Tellis v. BMC, 1985 SCC (3) 545(India).
[18] Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, (2001) 1 GLR 204(India).
[19] Literacy among youth is rising, but young women lag behind, ,Literacy, UNICEF,October 2019,
[20] Literacy, Know India, gov, in,,Mizoram%20(91.58%20per%20cent).
[21]Seethalakshmi S, Out-of-school children likely to double in India due to coronavirus, Livemint, Aug 16, 2020,
[22] Economic Survey, 2020 points out high drop-out rates in school, India TV, Jan 31,2020,
[23] Id.
[24] International Law, Right to education,,against%20Discrimination%20in%20Education%20(1960)
[25]Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, 1992 AIR 1858(India).
[26] Unnikrishnan J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) 1 SCC 645(India).
[27] Unnikrishnan J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) 1 SCC 645(India).
[28] Mary Seymour, Understanding India’s Dropout Rates for Girls, Borgen Magazine, Sep 25, 2020,
[29] Sanjay Singh, Experts Predict 20% Increase in Girl School Dropouts. What Can We Do About It?, June 19,2020, Better india,
[30] Seymour, note supra 28.
[31] Seymour, note supra 28.
[32] Global Wash Fast Facts, Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Center for disease Control and Prevention,,access%20to%20adequate%20sanitation%2015.
[33] Sanjay Singh, Experts Predict 20% Increase in Girl School Dropouts. What Can We Do About It?, June 19,2020, Better india,

[34] Evita Das, Supra note 14.
[35] Shvetali Thatte, The link between mental health and poverty in India, The Borgan Project,
[36] Swagata Yadavar, 90% Of India’s Poorest Have No Health Insurance, India Spend, Dec 6, 2019,,poverty%20line%20back%20into%20poverty.&text=India's%20catastrophic%20expenditure%20is%20high,a%202017%20World%20Bank%20report.
[37]Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India, 1995 AIR 922 (India).
, also see CESC Ltd. v. Subash Chandra Bose, 1992 AIR 573(India).
[38]M.C. Mehta v. UOI, 1987 SCR (1) 819(India).
[39] Aishwarya Upadhyay, India is home to world’s Most wasted Children as per the Global hunger index 2020, Swaccha India TV, Oct 20,2020,,-India%20ranks%2094&text=New%20Delhi%3A%20India%20has%20ranked,an%20overall%20score%20of%2027.2*.
[41] Evita Das, supra note 14.
[42] 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water – UNICEF, WHO, WHO, June 18, 2019,
[43] Global Wash Fast Facts, Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Center for disease Control and Prevention,,access%20to%20adequate%20sanitation%2015.
[44] Kiran Pandey, 19% of world’s people without access to clean water live in India, Down to earth, Mar 22. 2018,,group%20on%20water%20and%20sanitation.
[46]Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 15: The Right to Water (Arts. 11 and 12 of the Covenant), t E/C.12/2002/11), Jan 20, 2003.
[47] Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. UO, (1984) 3 SCC 161(India).
[48] Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, 1991 SCR (1) 5(India).
[49] M.C. Mehta v. UOI, 1987 SCR (1) 819(India).
[50] Ruth Patrick, How poverty makes people less likely to vote, The Guardian, May16, 2017,
[51] Himanshu, India’s politics and the poor, Economy and Society,
[52]Wendy Sawyer, Mass incarceration: the whole pie 2020, Mar 24,2020,
[53] Mukesh Rawat, Poor, young and illiterate: Why most Indian prisoners fight lonely battles for justice, India tv, Nov15,2019,
[54] Death Penalty India Report summary, Nlud,
[55] Khatri v. State of Bihar, AIR 1981 SC 928.
[56] Soibam Rocky Singh, Most free legal aid as last ditch opinion, The Hindu, July1, 2019,,April%202017%20to%20June%202018.

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