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  1. What triggered Supreme Court to tackle poverty related issues? Emergency was one trigger: Attorney General KK Venugopal

What triggered Supreme Court to tackle poverty related issues? Emergency was one trigger: Attorney General KK Venugopal

Poverty, human rights violations and public interest litigation formed the crux of Attorney General K.K. Venugopal's Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Memorial Lecture 2018.

By: | Updated: July 11, 2018 6:56 PM
Attorney General, K K Venugopal, CJI, Master of Roster, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, Supreme Court judges Citing how the Supreme Court has been pro-active in tackling the various facets of poverty such as the right to food, right to shelter, right to employment, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal explained how the Emergency was one of the triggers.

Poverty, human rights violations and public interest litigation formed the crux of Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Memorial Lecture 2018. Citing numerous Supreme Court judgments that have protected the human rights of the marginalized sections of the society, the Attorney General also cited the US Supreme Court judgment as early as in 1876 in Munn vs People of State of Illinois, 94 US 113, which tackled poverty by expanding the term ‘life’ to “something more is meant than mere animal existence.”

In his own words, “Poverty and illiteracy, which the British left us with was around 66%, but of course, the total population of the time was only 330 million. Today, we are 1.3 billion. The level of both poverty and illiteracy has been reduced to 30%. However, in absolute terms, it still accounts for 350 million people in our country. I have been advocating that poverty is a violation of human rights. We hear of girl children being sold by their own mothers because there are other children to feed! Even now in winters, there are districts where the poor simply die, freezing on the pavements.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal further stated, “The Supreme Court, through Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati expanded the concept of right to life not being a mere animal existence. Perhaps this is why Mahatma Gandhi once famously said that the world has enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed! Today, every State extends to its people a catena of basic rights, fundamental rights and human rights. But to me, these rights are meaningless to a population suffering from utter deprivation and poverty. Of what use is freedom of speech if you do not have a job to fetch you two meals, you have no shelter, no access to medical facilities or to basic education?”

Citing how the Supreme Court has been pro-active in tackling the various facets of poverty such as the right to food, right to shelter, right to employment, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal explained how the Emergency was one of the triggers, “What triggered the Supreme Court to enter this field, which till the 1960s, was considered to be an area of governance, to be dealt with exclusively by the legislative and executive wings? In my opinion, one trigger would have been the aftermath of the Emergency. As a result, a resurgent Supreme Court was able to freely, and with little dissent from the Legislative and Executive wings of the state, ensure that the failure of governance on the part of the Executive and the Parliament did not affect the people of the country, with the Supreme Court intervening in matters of far reaching public interest under the purported exercise of the judicial powers of the state.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal continued, “From 1970s onwards, a new wave of public interest litigation swept across the country and the Constitutional Courts played a major role in advancing the cause of the poor and the voiceless…. In Swaraj Abhiyan vs Union of India, the Supreme Court has almost taken the role of a monitoring authority and has monitored various schemes undertaken by the Union and State governments, such as MNREGA and Food Security Act. Though this would amount to usurpation of the role of the Executive, it cannot be denied that the implementation of the MNREGA scheme was tremendously improved after the Supreme Court took charge of monitoring the scheme. It is possible to argue that the Supreme Court is virtually encroaching upon the jurisdiction exclusively reserved under the Constitution to the Executive and to the Legislatures. It may be so, but we do not find any complaint to that effect being vociferously articulated by the political wing of the State. The reason is not far to see. It is the corruption, the indifference, and the apathy of the Executive to the rights of the people and the violation of such rights that has forced the submission to the will of the Court. Truly, it can be said that even if the Supreme Court of India were not able to wipe every tear from every eye, it is not because of any failure on its part to do its utmost in this direction.”

Also read: Supreme Court regards common man’s well being as its duty, says CJI Dipak Misra

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal also touched upon Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer’s contribution to the development of jurisprudence in the country, in the following words:

“In my opinion, Justice Krishna Iyer’s contribution to the development of jurisprudence in the country places him in the same class as a Denning or a Felix Frankfurter. I have personally known Justice VR Krishna Iyer for about 35 years, and what overwhelms me is his simplicity and his humanism. I have listened to him not only in India but also in Bangladesh and Pakistan at SAARC Conferences, where I saw Judges from Pakistan and Bangladesh crowding around him, bordering on reverence and one Judge was even helping him in carrying his suitcase! That’s how respected Justice VR Krishna Iyer was across countries. He was a brilliant lawyer, a Judge with a heart overflowing for the common man, the underdog and the underprivileged, a jurist with over 70 books and innumerable articles to his credit. A revolutionary, a statesman, an orator and above all, a good human being. Imagine a Judge describing the difference between the Presidential system of a Government in the United States and the Westminister system prevailing in Britain, in these terms:

“Not the Potomac, but the Thames, fertilizes the flow of the Yamuna., if we may adopt a riverline imagery.”

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