By Priyanka Ojha from Amity Law School, Noida
India is known to be the largest democracy in the world, governed by a detailed and written constitution. This research report discusses in detail the social welfare programs listed in the Constitution of India for the poor. The preamble of the Constitution uses terms such as “socialist”, “social economic justice”, “equality”, etc. These terms indicate that the state will participate in the people’s social welfare extensively and try to establish an equal society for all.
In addition, another chapter of the “Directive Principles of State Policy” specifically discusses the government’s welfare responsibilities and formulates ideal governance norms for the poor’s welfare. It has pointed out that the current government economic policies that are heavily influenced by globalization and capitalism do not meet their welfare obligations. On one hand, economic growth is very fast, but its benefits are limited to 10-15% of the population; the gap between the rich and the poor is expanding. Starting from the focus of economic development, the agricultural sector is neglected; the influence of neoliberal policies has made small -scale industries collapse; regional gaps have greatly increased.
There is an urgent need to change in economic policies by focused planning both in terms of expenditure and implementation. This paper puts forward some suggestions specifically for poverty eradication and inequality, fulfilling corporate environmental responsibilities, the revival of small-scale industries, and financial inclusion.
The main problem faced by every developing country is that a large number of their human sectors are below the poverty line. They are deprived of adequate access to basic life needs such as health, education, housing, food, security, employment, justice and peace, etc., which also include issues related to sustainable livelihoods. The social and political participation of vulnerable groups is the main problem of developing countries.
The Constitution of India guarantees the political, economic, social, and cultural rights to all people in the country. As announced in the preamble of the Constitution of India, the people of India are considered to be the highest authority of our country. The sovereignty does not belong to the Parliament, but to the people of the Union of India. Since independence, “social welfare” has been (at least in theory) at the center of our policymaking. From the “First Five-Year Plan” itself, programs related to social welfare issues have been launched, such as agricultural and rural development, employment and labor welfare, medical care, education, etc. Indeed in the first 20-25 years, despite the shortage of resources, economic means the government focused on welfare policies and inclusive of development.
However, due to the country’s poverty, customs and cultural practices, there are not many opportunities for various groups, resulting in depriving them of the same opportunity to be treated equally with the rest of society.
The embodiment of social welfare provisions in the Indian Constitution
According to the Indian Constitution, social welfare plans are reflected in various articles of the Constitution. Different clauses are implicitly and explicitly mentioned in the country’s social welfare obligations; we can study these regulations one by one:
The preamble of the Constitution of India declares India to be a “socialist” country. This term in itself fully proves that the government has social welfare responsibilities. The supreme court of India in the case D S Nakara vs. Union of India, made the following observations in relation to social welfare: “The principal aim of a socialist State is to eliminate inequality in income and status, and standard of life. The basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security from cradle to grave.”
Being a socialist state, the Indian government shall be responsible to take necessary steps to ensure that every citizen has the basic facilities of life and to maintain equality of income and resources as far as it is democratically possible. Socialist countries strive to realize many ideals, some of which are-
- Eliminate inequality in the distribution of economic resources
- Equal employment opportunities
- Equal pay for equal work.
- Eliminate the exploitation of labor
- Maintain a minimum egalitarianism
- Establish a welfare state
- Initiate plans for health, education, social security and other such basic matters.
Social and Economic Justice:
The preamble of the Constitution also uses two other concepts, assigning responsibility to the state to actively participate in social welfare, namely “social” and “economic justice”. Under the concept of social justice, the state is required to ensure that the dignity of groups that are not socially excluded is not violated by power, and that they should be treated equally with others. In the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India, the supreme court of India mentioned, “Social justice, equality and dignity of person are cornerstones of social democracy. The concept ‘social justice’ which the Constitution of India engrafted, consists of diverse principles essential for the orderly growth and development of personality of every citizen.”
According to economic justice, it is conceivable that the state will not make any distinction between citizens based on the economic resources it possesses. Economic justice also requires the country to narrow the resource gap between the rich and the poor through income and wealth distribution justice.
Directive Principles of State Policy:
The fourth part of the Indian Constitution deals with the directive principles of state policy (DPSP). These guiding principles are the most obvious examples of the social justice plan in our country’s constitution. These principles foresee many regulations concerning the well-being of the general population, involving education, environment, and promotion of justice, free legal aid, living wages, and protection of marginalized groups, forests and wildlife, Plants, etc. The government is required to take all possible measures for the fulfilment of directive principles in its economic capacity. Some of the directive principles are:
- Article 39: that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means to livelihood;
- Article 41: Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.
- Article 42: Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
Current Economic Policies Neglecting Social Welfare
The hope of adopting the globalization model is that it will bring prosperity to the country in terms of higher output and economic growth. In fact, since 1991, my country’s GDP has increased by 8-9%, and India has become a global economic power. India has attracted a large amount of foreign investment and the volume of international trade has been increasing. However, scholars have found that the benefits of globalization are limited to the elite of society, and its impact on social welfare has been negative.
Since 1991, my country’s economic policies have paid more and more attention to the development of capitalism and privatization, while the focus of continuous attention has been diminished from the issue of social welfare.
- Increased gap between rich and poor: The gap between the rich and the poor is widening all over the world. Globally, the income of the richest 10% of the population was 79 times that of the poorest 10% in 1980; until 2003, the income of the top 10% of the population was 117 times that of the poorest 10%. In India, the high GDP rate actually only benefits 10-15% of the high-income population, and the employment of the marginalized class is suppressed. The 10% of the population with the highest income accounts for about 52% of the national wealth. On the other hand, the proportion of the population with the lowest income of 10% has dropped to 0.21%.
- Destruction of small scale industries: According to observations, due to the impact of globalization and the reduction of bank loans provided to SSI, more than 300,000 small industries and more than 300,000 hand-looms and power looms have been closed. The funds allocated to SSI have also been decreasing in percentage; in the seventh five-year plan (1985-90), SSI’s expenditure was 0.42% of total expenditure; in the eighth plan, it dropped to 0.33%. In the 9th plan, it further dropped to 0.12%. During 1990-91, the growth rate was 6.88%, but until 2002-03, the growth rate had dropped to 4.69%. SSI is a very important unit that provides self-employment in rural and suburban areas. They have the potential to make the people self-sufficient. Therefore, by ignoring SSI, the government will definitely deviate from its welfare obligations to the people.
- Financial inclusion, a distant dream: Financial inclusion, which has been concerned since the beginning of independence, is still a distant dream. Half of India’s population does not have a bank account, 90% have no access to credit or life insurance, and 98% do not participate in the capital market.
A Critical Analysis
In this day and age, the concept of social welfare does not seem to be sincerely accepted by the government. The attitude of the government towards the people is not very friendly and cooperative. It can be seen from the recent debates on the Lokpal Bill and the disputes related to the determination of the poverty line for the poor. The Indian government does not seem to be sincere. There have been many scams and irregularities that have appeared against the central and state governments. So it has the responsibility to serve the people. Distorted policies related to expanding capitalism, favouring poor peasants to seize land, and neglecting agriculture and rural development have made the situation worse.
In recent times, the government’s policies do not seem to meet the obligations of the welfare state. By adopting a stance in favour of enterprises and ignoring the plight of the people, the state is detracting from its constitutional responsibility for establishing an equal society and providing social and economic justice. It must be remembered that people are not only a means to achieve higher economic growth. Every government policy must centre the people as beneficiaries.
From the preceding discussion following suggestions can be useful with regards to the welfare of the vulnerable groups in the country:
- Removal of disparities and inequalities: The state must not only eliminate poverty, but also eliminate inequality between all social strata. Although on one hand, the number of people who actually live below the poverty line has decreased, at the same time, the level of inequality has also increased significantly. The country must ensure that the benefits of globalization are not limited to certain specific areas, and the profits earned by enterprises must be shared by workers in an appropriate percentage.
- Financial Inclusion: The country must ensure that all people have access to at least basic financial services, because without financial services, it is almost impossible for marginalized people to escape the vicious circle of poverty. In fact, the state must concentrate its efforts to strengthen microfinance, expand branches in rural areas, establish special funds, and relax banking policies in disadvantaged areas.
- Changes in social welfare needs: As time changes, the content of social welfare policies will also change. The state must adapt to these changing needs and provide services in accordance with these changing needs. For example, in the 1970s, computer education was not a basic requirement of society, but in today’s world, it is extremely important. The state is constitutionally obliged to take care of the needs of society and maintain social, economic, and political justice; therefore, it must change its policies in accordance with the changing needs of the people, focusing on the welfare of the people.
- The Constitution of India, 1950