Poverty laws in India

Living in poverty refers to an economic situation in which individuals lack necessities for human survival. For example, poverty is when households lack access to clean water, sanitary facilities, and regular employment, and sick individuals cannot afford treatment. It may also be described as a circumstance in which one’s income from employment is insufficient to cover basic needs.

In this post, you will read about poverty and its types, the importance and need for poverty laws in India, the effects of COVID-19 on poverty, the various constitutional rights for the upliftment of disadvantaged groups of our society and the legislative efforts towards removing poverty from India.

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Identify the Type of Poverty

Based on social, economic and political aspects, there are different ways to identify the types of poverty:

Absolute Poverty

The lack of essentials, including food, clean water, health care, housing, education, and knowledge, is referred to as severe poverty or abject poverty. People who live in extreme poverty frequently struggle to survive and lose many children to illnesses like malaria, cholera, and those caused by tainted water.

Relative Poverty

Relative poverty indicates that a household can only afford basic necessities and nothing more since their income is half that of the average. The impoverished people in this group are not deprived of everything, but they are unable to enjoy the same level of life as the rest of the country; this may be permanent, but it is more likely to change as the economy grows. Consequently, it is a gauge of income disparity. For example, a family can be deemed poor, if it cannot afford to go on vacation, purchase festival presents for the kids, or send its children to college.

Temporary Poverty

Young individuals may experience temporary (or transitory) poverty, for instance, if they are college students living on their own while attending classes. However, their condition quickly changes once individuals begin occupations and acquire skills and work experience.

Secondary Poverty

A situation when a person makes enough money to live above the poverty line but spends it on things other than basic needs, such as drinking or gambling, is called secondary poverty.

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What Is the Law of Poverty?

According to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “No one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment.” This Article demonstrates how important it is to the global community to protect and uphold peoples’ moral and physical integrity. According to the definition of poverty law, these are “the legal legislation, regulations, and cases that expressly relate to the financially disadvantaged in his or her day-to-day existence.”

In a simple sense, poverty law protects the rights of the poor and protects them from legal injustice.

The aim of exercising poverty law is to make sure that those who are disadvantaged and underprivileged are treated fairly by law and society. In court, clients of poverty law aren’t always represented. Analysis of matters that affect the poor may be part of it. It might also include arguing for amending various rules and policies in favour of underprivileged people.

Need for Poverty Law in India

Poor kids are rarely given a good education, which prevents adults from the same socio-economic group from finding stable employment. Even if kids start school at a young age, they often have to leave out to help support their families, which keeps them in the same socio-economic class as their parents. The desire to gain access to resources and opportunities they have long been denied is one of the reasons why the poor participate in such illegal activities.

Because they committed the crime and satisfied all of the criteria for becoming a criminal, the legal system views them as criminals rather than impoverished people.

Although poverty has minimal effect on crime, criminality may keep someone in poverty because of things like criminal history and education. Without creating a social and political structure that ensures that everyone has a good life — one that includes adequate work, adequate income, healthcare, education, and access to nourishing food for children— crime cannot be eradicated.

Economically secure people are less likely than those who are not to become victims of crime. They become victims of crime as a result of other people’s greed; they are tools. For instance, a drug dealer who wants to supply the drug may need someone who is prepared to face legal repercussions if discovered. As a result, the dealer may pay a victimised person a certain sum of money in exchange for their cooperation.

COVID-19 Pandemic Effects on Poverty

The country’s economic and social structure suffered due to the extended, continuous lockdowns that were implemented to stop the virus. Over 121 million individuals lost their employment and fell into poverty. Forty million people, including migrant workers, were compelled to leave their workplaces and return home without employment, often bringing the virus with them. Many of these workers did not return to work when the lockdown period was finished. These forced the employees into poverty and rendered their families unemployed.

The whole problem got considerably worse when the COVID epidemic hit the nation, and the previous carelessness is what started the current crisis. Following the first wave of the Coronavirus, India’s GDP experienced a significant decline, and things only got worse when the second wave struck.

Millions of people worldwide are living in poverty due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the subsequent lockdown measures used to stop the virus’ spread. Data are still being obtained, but the epidemic might reverse any progress achieved thus far. Governments, big businesses, and all other key stakeholders must therefore take the initiative to create policies that help the most vulnerable.

International organisations are attempting to assist the poor and put protections like human rights into place for the entire globe since poverty, like a pandemic, knows no borders and is a global problem. Similarly to this, the Indian government has to take extraordinary measures to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate.

Abolition of poverty is the fundamental objective. India has pledged to “Leave No One Behind,” making the most vulnerable people its top priority.

Constitution of India for the Poor

The Indian Constitution, which is the ultimate authority on legislation in India, was written to give every person a chance to grow and improve. The Indian Constitution does not use the word “poor,” yet the Preamble, Fundamental Rights, and Directive Principles of State Policy all support the welfare state concept.

Here are some of the provisions incorporated in the Constitution of India that prevent disadvantaged people from injustice and give every citizen a chance to grow and improve:

Article 21: Protection of Life and Personal Liberty

Humans have the right to life, which no state may deny its citizens until a legal process is followed. This goes beyond just saying that life cannot be taken away or destroyed, except by the imposition and carrying out of a death sentence. The right to work is equally fundamental since no one can survive without a source of support.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nandkarni (1982), the right to life under Article 21 also includes the right to a living.

Article 39A: Equal Justice & Free Legal Aid

As per Article 39A, the government is responsible for ensuring that the legal system operates in a way that promotes equality of opportunity and justice and must, in particular, provide free legal aid through appropriate legislation or schemes or in any other way to make sure that no citizen is denied the opportunity to secure justice because of their financial situation or other disabilities.

Each side of the dispute has a legal right to appear in court to submit their position, but the processes also necessitate hiring an experienced attorney and paying court costs.

Since the poor find it difficult to pay the high fees, Article 39 of the Indian Constitution was amended to state that those needing legal assistance should receive it free of charge. This will ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to appear in court and that no one is denied justice because of their inability to pay.

Article 15 and Article 16: Reservation for Weaker Section of Society

As per Article 15 and Article 16 of the Indian Constitution, the State is given the power to provide specific provisions for socially and economically disadvantaged castes and groups. They include measures to provide preference to members of society who are socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged in state-owned businesses and government positions.

Constitutional and Legislative Efforts Towards Eradicating Poverty

Below are some of the efforts put through by the Indian judiciary to eradicate poverty from the nation:

Right to Education, Work and Equal Pay

Education for children, youth, and women must come first in the effort to end poverty in the country. It will be challenging for a nation to develop and end poverty without education. The Indian Constitution has evolved about this matter and is taking it seriously for the advancement of the country and the eradication of poverty.

The provision of free education up to the age of 14 was included in Article 45 of Directive Principles of State Policy, which is where the right to education was first recognised as a directive concept rather than a component of a basic right.

In Mohini Jain vs the State of Karnataka, a two-judge Supreme Court panel first considered whether education should be considered a fundamental right. The court implied that, under Article 21, the term “life” should include education because it serves as the cornerstone for ensuring and promoting a good and dignified life.

In this case, the court’s interpretation of the state’s duty to offer education to everyone at all levels was incredibly broad. Following this, Article 21A of the Constitution’s 86th Amendment Act of 2002 was enacted, making education a basic right and requiring the state to offer free and compulsory education to all children (between the ages of six and fourteen) in ways that the state may, by law, establish.

In addition to guaranteeing the right to an education, Article 41 of the Constitution also mentions the right to employment in Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy).

Additionally, Article 39 of the Constitution expressly and specifically calls on the state to implement policies that uphold values like “Equal rights of men and women to adequate means of livelihood” and “Equal pay for equal work for both men and women.” At this point, it’s crucial to realise that to lift the nation out of poverty, everyone — men and women alike — will need to find employment. Therefore, it won’t be beneficial for the country if women are denied access to education and employment.

Right to Equality and Dignity for Poor People

The rights of its citizens are firmly established by the Indian Constitution, which also serves as a binding legal document. In the eyes of the law, everyone, rich or poor, must be treated equally. The Indian Constitution states the rights that are accessible to all populations, including all of the impoverished people in the nation, in Articles 14 and 21.

Article 14’s goal is to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally in all situations, including when it comes to privileges granted and obligations placed upon them. According to Article 14, the state must “give equal protection of the law” and must not “deny to any people equality before the law.”

The court said that in reading Article 14, the right to equality cannot be arbitrarily denied to equals in the absence of a legal categorization and that a person’s financial situation is not always a justification for discrimination.

When addressing Article 21, the Supreme Court stated that the right to a life with dignity embraces all of humankind and is one of the more exquisite aspects of human civilization that makes life worthwhile. As a result, the Constitution ensure that the law protects the rights and dignity of the underprivileged.

Right to Food, Livelihood and Housing

Despite not being specifically addressed in the Constitution, the right to food has been protected by Article 21 since it is essential to living a life with dignity. The relationship between Article 21 and Articles 39(a) and 47 makes it evident how the Constitution requires the state to improve the standard of living and nutritional status of its citizens. Food is a significant means of subsistence within the definition of means of livelihood as stated in Article 39(a).

It was decided in Olga Tellies vs Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1983 SC 180 that the right to a living is derived from the right to life since no one can survive without the means of survival, which is the right to a livelihood. The court further stated that:

“If Article 21 of the Constitution does not recognise the right to livelihood as an integral aspect of the right to life, then the easiest way to deny a person his right to life is to deny him his means of livelihood, which includes factors like food, a place to live, and such basic needs that are required for bare survival.”

If one’s means of support were taken away, living would become difficult, depriving life of all of its essential richness and depth.


Law and poverty go hand in hand. Most often, a vicious circle of crime and court actions involves poor individuals who are most deprived of their necessities and knowledge. It frequently occurs that individuals use the impoverished as pawns out of pure avarice. The lack of resources and money causes the poor to agree or occasionally accidentally do something that gets them into legal problems.

Since poverty is like a virus, it knows no borders and is a global problem. International organisations are working to improve the lives of the poor and establish standards like human rights for everyone. Similarly, the Indian government ought to implement specific measures that would aid in improving the lot of the underprivileged.

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Suhani Dhariwal
WritingLaw » Law Articles » Role of Poverty Law and Constitutional Rights of the Poor in India Law Study Material
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