The 18th 19th and early 20th centuries of India have witnessed severe poverty
during colonial rule, even after the independence in 1960, the estimated poverty
in India was 59%. After a long economic and social struggle India is now a
developing country with better conditions than before, but poverty continues to
remain a multidimensional and unceasing phenomenon. Today, estimating poverty is
based on a lot of factors like social, economic and political elements.
with the increase in India's economic structure poverty remains a major
challenge. The issue of extreme poverty has been recorded to be declining in
India, but the pandemic has led to global health and economic crisis, across the
globe millions of people have been pushed towards poverty and India has been no
exception to this. The maker of the Indian Constitution was determined to remove
poverty from the country and look into the welfare of its citizens.
the condition of the country basic rights were instilled in the constitution of
India, to protect human rights. Human rights are some basic and birthrights of
every human being despite their caste, sex, religion on economic condition.
However, the socio-economic, cultural and political diversities take away the
free functioning of human rights for the poor and the minorities. The major
problem faced by a developing nation is that a large number of the human
population lives below.
The Poverty Line, who is being deprived of health,
education, housing, food, employment, justice and equity. It is the duty of the
nation to make sure that human rights are instilled in a country for the welfare
of its citizen.
This paper has been designed to portray the condition of poverty in India,
slightly touching its history and looking into the condition of poverty in the
country since the Covid-19 pandemic. The paper further looks into the
constitutional provisions and legislative efforts made towards eradicating
poverty and uplifting human rights. The conclusion has been made by discussing
the issue of poverty is violating human rights. The paper revolves around the
three themes of poverty and growth, human rights, and constitutional efforts for
Introduction, defining poverty and the history of poverty in India:
One of the biggest ironies of India's rapidly growing and developing economy is
that poverty continues to prevail in a widespread way, mostly affecting the
already poor and minorities of the society. The benchmark to measure poverty has
been revised by the World Bank multiple times basing on various factors, the
different definitions have resulted in widely varying estimates of poverty In
In 2019, the Indian government officially mentioned that about 6.7% of
its population is below The Poverty Line, and also the United Nations
Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) programme stated that 80 million people in
India, out of 1021 billion, is living below the poverty line in 2018-2019.
Poverty can be defined as a situation where a household or an individual lacks
the minimum financial resources to afford the basic minimum standard of living,
the definition of poverty is influenced by a lot of factors like income, food
intake, health, literacy and education, availability of work in the market, safe
drinking water and such other infrastructural facilities to keep a human
healthy and alive.
However, the perception regarding what is poverty and how
exactly it is measured varies over time and across countries, the conventional
approach of defining poverty was merely based on income and expenditure without
considering other important factors and this method does not completely bring
the right numbers of poverty in the country.
India's first specific official attempt to identify the condition of the poor
people and measure the extent of poverty was made in July 1962, when the
government of India set up an expert committee for this reason, and at that time
the desirable minimum level of consumer expenditure was at Rs. 20- Rs. 20 per
Before the independence, Dadabhai Naoroji's book Poverty and
Un-British rule in India
, was recorded to be the first document that traced out
the mass poverty and brought it in front of the public, at that time wealth from
the country was being systematically drained out through unequal rate, pensions
and unequal dividend salaries (1930's-40).
If we look into the condition of
poverty and the estimation of poverty in India after 2000, Suresh Tendulkar
committee group was organized in 2005, the committee submitted its report in
2009, the estimated population below the poverty line was 354 million about
29.6% of the population (2009-2010).
Later in 2014, the Rangarajan Committee
raised the daily per capital income-expenditure to Rs. 47 and Rs. 32 for urban
and rural areas respectively (from Rs.32 and 26 respectively), and also said
that the poverty line was 454 million, i.e., 38.2% of the population in
2009-2010. After the 2019 estimation of 6.7%, the situation of poverty in the
country after the Covid 19 pandemic has taken a toll and the estimated number of
poverty is expected to rise roughly around 381-418 million (from 265 million
people) in 2021-22.
To understand why poverty in India has been persisting for so long, we need to
discuss the basic causes and reasons that are fuelling poverty in India. The
high population growth rate is one of the biggest reasons for the persisting
poverty in India. The increasing population of the country fails to match up to
the available resources and the economic growth in the country creating poverty
mostly for the already poor group of people. The country fails to create enough
jobs to match the numbers of people in the country.
Inflation in the prices of
basic commodities is another reason for the ongoing poverty in the country. The
caste system and unequal distribution of wealth keep on increasing the poverty
in the country where already thousands of people are living below the poverty
line. Other than these, there are other reasons like gender inequality that
dominates women in society depriving them of education and work.
workers are paid very little than the amount of work they put in, mainly in the
unorganized sector of work. The Covid-19 pandemic has further increased poverty
and we shall look into why and how the pandemic has increased poverty in the
Covid 19, amplifying the return of mass poverty in India:
In addition to Covid-9's immediate effect on health, Coronavirus has impacted
the socio and economic structure of global proportion arising from the direct
and indirect effects of the illness, the preventive measures of the people and
the transmission control policies of the governments all around the world. The
Indian economy which was already moving in a very slowdown process was hit hard
by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The continuous lockdowns for a prolonged period to
prevent the virus took a toll on the economic and social structure of the
country. More than 121 million people were put out of jobs and pushed toward
poverty. 40 million workers including the migrant workers were cut off from
their jobs and forced to go back to their hometown devoid of jobs and sometimes
carrying along with the virus, many of these workers did not return to work
after the lockdown period was over.
These left not only the workers jobless but
also the family of these workers were pushed towards poverty. The state for over
the years has failed to uplift the agriculture sectors and invest in
infrastructures, like roads, irrigation etc., the government has also been
paying low wages to the farmers. Now when the Covid pandemic struck the country
the whole situation became much worse and the earlier negligence has ignited the
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has estimated that around 260
million people will be back in poverty at the end of 2020, most of these people
belong to the already poor sector of the country. This situation possesses a
serious threat to the country, especially the least developed states like Bihar,
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc.
India's GDP made a sharp drop after the first
wave of the Coronavirus and the situation got worse when the second wave hit the
already dying country. The Pew research categorised income level in India- Rs
147 and less per day income as poor and Rs. 147-378 per day as a low-income
group. The study estimated that the number of poor people with Rs. 147-150 per
day income increased from 6 cores to 13.4 cores and hence the numbers of poor
people have increased in India by almost 7.5 cores from the previous years.
The participants under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee
Act (MGNREA) are harsh proof that the poor are struggling to find work to
sustain themselves and their families. The middle-income groups of the country
that earns roughly Rs. 700-1,500 per day shrunk from 119.7 Cr. to 116.2 Cr. per
day (as per Pew study). Pew also further warned that the actual situation might
be worse than the outcome of the studies.
Constitutional and Legislative efforts towards eradicating poverty:
Right to Equality and Dignity for the poor:
The Indian Constitution holds a very strong opinion and a binding law that
clearly defines the rights of its people. The poor or the wealthy all are to be
treated equally in the eye of law. Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian
Constitution mentions the rights that are available to every people including
all the poor people of the country.
The purpose of Article 14 is to treat all people similarly under similar
circumstances, both in the case of privileges conferred and liabilities imposed.
Article 14, clearly commands the state not to deny, to any people 'equality
before the law' and also commands the state to 'provide equal protection of the
law'. While interpreting Article 14, the court mentioned that the right to
equality cannot be arbitrarily denied to the equals in the absence of a valid
classification, and the status of a person being wealthy or poor is not
certainly a reason for discrimination.
The Article has been also interpreted to
legally empower the poor people of the country. It is through this process of
systematic change and empowerment that will protect the poor and they will get
the advantage to use the law to protect their rights. Under the international
human rights framework, the 63/142 General Assembly resolution also gave a
special highlight for the legal empowerment of the poor stating that, the law
should be made for equal access of everyone, making it a basic human right.
The same has been embedded under Article of the Indian Constitution. Article 14
also prohibits discrimination and all discriminatory laws despite the status of
any citizen of the country. For better application of the article, it has been
widely interpreted by the court and is now considered that any authority
non-complying with the rules of natural justice will amount to violating Article
14 and hence any law that will be discriminating the poor will amount to
Other than Article 14, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has evolved over
the years and the court has been using Article 21 by all its best virtues and
now it stands as an important article protecting the human rights of the people.
Article 21 has been interpreted in a very broad way to include quality of life,
right to food and shelter, right to livelihood, right to honour and dignity,
The Supreme Court while dealing with Article 21 held that the right to life
with human dignity encompasses within the folds of humanity and is one of the
finer facets of human civilization which makes life worth living. Hence the
Constitutions make sure that the rights and dignity of the poor people are
safeguarded under the law.
Article 21 also provides equal protection of health
for the poor and the labour class, the Supreme Court held that the right to
health and medical aid to protect the health and vigour of a worker while in
service or post-retirement is a fundamental right covered under Article 21 read
with the Directive Principles in Articles 39(1), 41, 43, 48A to make the right
of the workmen meaningful with the dignity of the person. 
Right to education, work and equal pay:
For removing poverty from the country, the very first thing that needs to be
looked into is educating the children, the youth and the women of the country.
Without education, the development of a country is impossible and so are the
chances of removing poverty. The Indian Constitution over the years have evolved
regarding this matter, taking it seriously for the development of the country
and eradicating poverty.
The right to education was initially not included as a
part of a fundamental right and was only included as a directive principle under
Article 45, which mentioned providing free education up to the age of 14 years.
The question of the right to education as a fundamental right first arose before
a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Mohini Jain vs. State of Karnataka
where the court implied that, under Article 21, the word life
should include education
because education is the base for providing and
promoting a good and dignified life.
In this case, the court took an extensively
expansive view of the state obligation to provide education to everyone at all
levels. Subsequently the Constitution eighty-sixth Amendment Act, 2002
introduced Article 21A which made the right to education a fundamental right,
which requires the state to provide free and compulsory education to all
children (age of six to fourteen years) in manners as the state may, by law,
Other than providing the right to education the Constitution also mentions the
right to work in Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) under Article 41
of the Constitution, also Article 39 expressly and specifically requires the
state to direct policies for securing principles like 'Equal rights of men and
women to adequate means of livelihood', 'Equal pay for equal work for both men
and women. At this point it is important to understand that to pick the country
out of poverty, every people will need work including women too. Depriving women
of the country of education and jobs will not lead to the betterment of the
Saying that it is very important to look into that despite any gender
every people who are putting into equal work should be paid equally. According
to Article 39(d), of the Constitution, the state has to ensure that every person
is paid equally for equal work be it, men or women. The parliament has
introduced the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, to implement Article 39(d). The
main objective of this article is to prevent discrimination on the grounds of
sex in the work area. For reducing poverty equal distribution of wealth is a
very important factor to be looked into.
Even though Article 39(d) is part of
'Directive principles' but the Supreme Court has emphasized in the Randhir Singh
, that the principle of 'equal pay for equal work' is not just an
abstract doctrine. Though it is not expressly declared to be a fundamental right
yet it maybe deducted by constructing Article 14 'Equality before law', and
Article 16 'Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment in the light
of Article 39(d).
Right to Food, Livelihood and Housing:
Right to food, though not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, it has been
covered under Article 21 as the Right to Food is inherent to a life with
dignity. When reading Article 21 with Articles 39(a) and 47, it clearly shows
how the constitution makes it a duty of the state to raise the level of
nutrition of its people and the standard of living. Under means of livelihood,
as mentioned in Article 39(a), food is an important means for livelihood.
Supreme Court held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 includes the
'right to livelihood'. The court has argued in Olga Tellies, a case
where the pavement dwellers were resisting eviction from their habitat by the
Bombay Municipality Corporation that the right to livelihood is born out of the
right to life, as no person can live without the means of living that is the
right to livelihood.
The court also mentioned that 'if the right to livelihood
is not treated as a part and parcel of the constitutional right to life under
Article 21, then the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life is
to deprive him of his means of livelihood that includes factors like food,
living place and such basic needs that are required for bare survival.'
Deprivation of livelihood would not only denude the life of its effective
content and meaning fullness but it would also make life impossible to live.
Poverty arises when the basic needs of people comes into danger which includes
food and livelihood, keeping that in mind the Constitution evolved the
interpretation of Article 21 to include such wide interpretation for the
safeguarding of the poor people of the country.
In the case of Shantisar Builders vs. Narayan Khimlal Totame
, the Supreme
Court ruled that the right to life is guaranteed in every civilized society and
that would also include the right to food, clothing, right to a decent
environment and a reasonable accommodation to live in, this are human rights as
they will help him grow in every aspect, physically, mentally and
In several other cases, the court read that the right to shelter
in Article 19(1)(d) and Article 21 also guarantees the right to residence and
settlement for every people equally. Again in Chameli Sigh vs. State of UP
the court held that the right to shelter is not just merely for the protection
of his life but also it is an opportunity for him to grow and hence it includes
clean surroundings, pure air and water, electricity and other civic amenities.
Is poverty a violation of Human Rights? Challenges of eradicating poverty and
the way forward:'
India is known to be a country with diverse religions and cultures throughout
its history, though the Indian perspective of law considers every human being as
equal and considers the society as one organic whole place as per the
Constitution of India. But if we look into the practical aspects of how the
Indian society works, it is evident how division is made among people, for
instance, the division among the caste system in India is not a new issue. Other
than a hierarchical arrangement of high and low, pure and polluted is persistent
in Indian society.
The Constitution has given importance to preserving the basic
human rights of the people of the country under Article 14, 21 following with
the Directive principles, but failing to apply such law to every citizen in the
country is creating human rights issues. Human rights are basic rights of an
individual that includes the right to not merely exist, but to live with dignity
in the society, and have the right to avail the basic needs like food, water,
clothing, shelter and other civil, political and economic rights to live like a
The 223rd Report of the Law Commission of India explicitly mentioned that
extreme poverty is certainly a denial of human rights, the report that was
drawn in April 2009 also explained that often, poverty is the result of the
direct and the indirect consequence of society's failure to establish equality
and fairness as the basic ground of its social and economic structure of the
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions that every human
being is entitled to a standard of living adequate to provide for the health and
well-being of the individual and his family, and the covenants along with the UDHR mentions the right to economic, cultural, civil and political rights. The
increasing difference between the rich and the poor throughout the world and not
just in India is amplifying the violence in the world, which includes regional
and national conflict, crime and violence, use of illicit drugs and also
environmental degradation, creating place for more human rights violation.
After the implementation of the 1991 economic reforms, India slowly but steadily
made progress in terms of globalization, despite the rapid growth and
development India continues to have an unhealthy proportion of poverty in the
country. The need to remove poverty from the country has been the goal since the
Constituent Assembly meetings, to the five-year plan and the target remains in
the Millennium Development Goals.
It has to be noted that over the years, since
independence population living in poverty has declined but, the poverty lines
were set low and the decline was not as rapid as it was expected. A large number
of social protection schemes and programmes has been implemented by the
government in sectors of healthcare, providing works, education, security of
food but all of these programmes suffers an array of problems like rigidity,
non-adaptability to local conditions, late distribution of funds, misuse of the
funds given for helping the poor and the presence of corrupt officials in the
system has made the application of the social welfare programmes difficult.
For instance, the guarantee of 100 days of wage employment to one person in each
rural household annually scheme under MGNREGA, the achievement has been even
less than 55 days. Other than this the problem of having inadequate access to
healthcare, poor sanitary conditions, the continuous rising of hunger rates in
the country and inequality in the education system and unemployment remains.
lockdown due to the pandemic has increased unemployment, lack of food and
insufficiency in the healthcare system of the country in an unimaginable way.
The pandemic has also resulted in creating hindrance in the education system of
the country creating space for further decrease in the development of the
To eradicate poverty, it is very important to recognize that poverty in India is
divided into Urban poverty and Rural poverty, and both places require different
kinds of solutions for similar problems. Steps like removing the barriers in
applying for the social welfare programmes and investing in agriculture should
be the immediate target to shake the ongoing poverty in the country.
that there is a need for removing inequality among genders ad caste in the
education and the employment field and investment in infrastructure, creating
jobs and security for the labourers after the hit of the pandemic is a very
important issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible to stop the more
poverty hitting the country. Sticking to the Millennium Developmental Goals and
continuous economic growth is the only way out of the consistent poverty in the
- Number and Percentage of Population Below Poverty Line, Reserve Bank of
India 2013, (Accessed September
3rd 2021) https://web.archive.org/web/20140407102043/http://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/PublicationsView.aspx?id=15283
- 8% GDP growth helped reduce poverty: UN report, THE HINDU, (Accessed
September 3rd 2021) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/8-gdp-growth-helped-reduce-poverty-un-report/article6862101.ece
- Aasha Kapur Mehta, Amita Shah, Chronic Poverty in India: Overview Study,
Pp 2, Chronic Poverty Research Centre ISBN Number: 1-904049-06-0 (Accessed
September 4th 2021)
- More Sachin Sudhakarrao, Narendra Singh, POVERTY IN INDIA: concepts,
measurement and status, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/62400/1/MPRA_paper_62400.pdf (Accessed
September 4th 2021)
- Dr. Seema Gaur, Dr. N Srinivasa Rao, Poverty Measurement In India: A
Status Update, Pp 4-6, Ministry of Rural Development Working Paper No.
1/2020. https://rural.nic.in/sites/default/files/WorkingPaper_Poverty_DoRD_Sept_2020.pdf (Accessed
September 4th 2021)
- The pandemic has worsened India's poverty crisis', The Indian EXPRESS,
September 6th 2021)
- Covid-19, Amplifying the Return of Mass Poverty in India', INSTITUTE MONTAIGNE, https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/blog/covid-19-amplifying-return-mass-poverty-india (Accessed
September 9th 2021)
- Covid-19: Poverty doubled in India in 2020. Will second wave make it
worse?', INDIA TODAY, https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/covid-19-poverty-doubled-in-india-in-2020-will-second-wave-make-it-worse-1793826-2021-04-22
(Accessed September 9th 2021)
- Coronavirus | Pandemic may have doubled poverty in India, says Pew
study', THE HINDU, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-pandemic-may-have-doubled-poverty-in-india-says-pew-study/article34110732.ece (Accessed
September 9th 2021)
- Article 14- Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person
equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the
territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion,
race, caste, sex or place of birth.
- Virendra Krishna Mishra vs. UOI, AIR 2015 2 SCC 712.
- Legal Empowerment of the poor and eradication of poverty', Report of the
Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly, Sixty-fourth session
2009 https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/reports/Legal%20empowerment%20of%20the%20poor.pdf (Accessed
September 16th 2021)
- Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation vs. Bal Mukund Bairawa, AIR 2009
4 SCC 299.
- CERC vs. UOI, AIR 1995 SC 922.
- Id. 13
- Kirloskar Bros Limited vs. ESI Corporation, AIR 1996, 2 SCC 682; State of
Punjab vs. Mohinder Singh Chowla, AIR 1997 SC 1225.
- Mohini Jain vs. State of Karnataka, AIR 1992 SC 1858.
- Bachpan Bachao Andalan vs. UOI, AIR 2011 SC 3361; Kumar Thakur vs. UOI, AIR
2006 6 SCC 1.
- Randhir Singh vs. UOI, AIR 1982 SC 879; DS Nakara vs. UOI, AIR 1983 SC 130.
- Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilipkumar R Nandkarni, AIR
1983 SC 109.
- Olga Tellies vs Bombay Municipal corporation, AIR 1983 SC 180
- AIR 1995 SC 940
- AIR 1996 SC 1051
- Need for Ameliorating the lot of the Have-nots, Law Commission of
India, Report No. 223 https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report223.pdf (Accessed
September 26th 2021)
- Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Statement to the 49th session of the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights, https://www.bic.org/fa/node/299 (Accessed
September 26th 2021)
- Aasha Kapur Mehta , Poverty eradication - Why do we always fail?,
DownToEarth https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/poverty-eradication-why-do-we-always-fail-56927 (Accessed
September 26th 2021)