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The Hindu EDITORIAL

9-May-2024

1. A chance to settle a constitutional clash

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity
Context

The Property Owners Association vs State of Maharashtra case before the Supreme Court of India delves into the interpretation of Article 39(b) and the immunity of laws from challenges based on fundamental rights.

Stemming from historical tensions between fundamental rights and Directive Principles of State Policy, the case offers an opportunity for the Court to clarify the balance between these constitutional principles and reinforce the Constitution’s integrity.

 Introduction: The Interplay between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP)

  • In the recent hearings of Property Owners Association vs State of Maharashtra before a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India, two critical questions emerged, shedding light on the complex relationship between fundamental rights and DPSPs as enshrined in the Constitution.
  • Firstly, the interpretation of the term “material resources of the community” in Article 39(b) was scrutinized.
  • Secondly, the immunity of laws aimed at fulfilling Article 39(b) from challenges based on fundamental rights to equality and freedom was debated.

 

Historical Context: The Evolution of Constitutional Interpretation

  • The conflict between Part III (fundamental rights) and Part IV (DPSPs) of the Indian Constitution has persisted since its inception.
  • Despite Part III’s enforceability and Part IV’s status as aspirational goals, tensions have arisen, especially during the 1970s when amendments sought to shield legislation from judicial review.

The Introduction of Article 31C:

  • The 25th amendment introduced Article 31C in 1971, aiming to shield laws furthering Article 39(b) and (c) from challenges based on Articles 14 and 19.
  • However, this led to concerns regarding the erosion of judicial review and the potential abuse of legislative powers.
 The 25th Amendment:

● The 25th Amendment to the Indian Constitution was enacted in 1971.

It introduced Article 31C, which aimed to protect laws designed to achieve the goals outlined in Article 39(b) and (c) from legal challenges.

Article 39(b) focuses on ensuring ownership and control of resources are distributed to serve the common good.

Article 39(c) aims to prevent concentration of wealth and means of production.

Article 31C shields such laws from being struck down on grounds of violating the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (equality before law) and 19 (freedom of speech and expression).

Kesavananda Bharati Case: Clarifying the Boundaries

  • In the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973, the Supreme Court held that while certain amendments were permissible, those undermining the Constitution’s basic structure would be deemed void.
  • However, the verdict did not provide a definitive resolution regarding Article 31C’s compatibility with the Constitution’s core principles.

Further Amendments and Judicial Scrutiny

  • The 42nd amendment in 1976 expanded Article 31C’s scope to encompass laws furthering any DPSP, not just Articles 39(b) and (c).
  • Subsequent judicial interventions, such as the Minerva Mills case in 1980, questioned the constitutionality of this amendment, emphasizing the intrinsic connection between fundamental rights and the governance framework.
 The 42nd amendment:

The 42nd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, enacted in 1976, expanded the scope of Article 31C.

● Initially, Article 31C protected laws furthering the goals of Article 39(b) and (c) from legal challenges.

However, after the 42nd Amendment, Article 31C extended its protection to laws aimed at fulfilling any Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP).

● DPSPs encompass a wide range of social, economic, and political objectives aimed at promoting the welfare of citizens.

● This expansion allowed a broader range of legislation aimed at advancing societal welfare to be shielded from constitutional challenges based on Articles 14 and 19.

The Conundrum of Article 31C: Uncertainty Persists

  • Despite judicial interventions, clarity regarding Article 31C’s validity remains elusive.
  • Contradictory judgments, exemplified by Waman Rao vs Union of India, underscore the lack of consensus on whether laws aimed at promoting DPSPs can infringe fundamental rights.

Property Owners Case: A Crucial Opportunity for Clarity

  • In the ongoing Property Owners case, the Supreme Court faces the task of determining the validity of a law allowing a State government board to assume control over dilapidated buildings.
  • While examining its alignment with Article 39(b), the Court must grapple with whether such legislation can be subject to scrutiny under Articles 14 and 19.

Conclusion: Resolving the Conflict for Constitutional Integrity

  • The Property Owners case presents an opportune moment for the Supreme Court to reconcile the conflict between fundamental rights and DPSPs.
  • By providing clarity on Article 31C’s compatibility with the Constitution’s basic structure, the Court can reaffirm the primacy of fundamental rights while recognizing the importance of DPSPs in shaping India’s socio-economic landscape.
PYQ: “Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is a limited power and it cannot be enlarged into absolute power.” In the light of this statement explain whether Parliament under Article 368 of the Constitution can destroy the Basic Structure of the Constitution by expanding its amending power? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2019)
Practice Question:  Discuss the constitutional significance of the ongoing Property Owners Association vs State of Maharashtra case before the Supreme Court of India, particularly focusing on the interplay between fundamental rights and Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs). (250 Words /15 marks)

 

2. Giving primacy to human development

Topic: GS2 – Social  Justice, GS3 – Indian Economy – Inclusive Growth
Context

●  This article encapsulates key findings from the Human Development Report 2023-24 and the World Inequality Lab study, highlighting India’s progress and challenges in human development and income inequality.

●  It emphasises the need for a shift towards prioritising inclusive growth and addresses the implications of rising inequality and household debt levels.

 Introduction: India’s Development Challenges

  • The promise of development has become a central theme in political discourse, underscored by recent reports highlighting India’s progress and challenges.
  • The Human Development Report 2023-24 and a study by the World Inequality Lab offer insights into India’s human development and income inequality trends.

Human Development Index (HDI) Ranking and Gender Inequality:

  • India’s HDI ranking improved marginally, placing it at 134 out of 193 countries in 2022, but still lagging behind neighbouring nations like Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
  • Despite progress, India faces significant gender disparities, with a wide gap in labour force participation rates between men and women.

Rising Inequality and Implications:

  • The Human Development Report raises concerns about escalating global inequality, compounded by economic concentration and unequal distribution of wealth.
  • In India, adjusted for inequality, the loss in HDI is substantial, indicating the severity of income disparities.

Income Inequality Trends:

  • The World Inequality Lab study reveals stark income inequality in India, with the top 1% earning significantly more than the rest of the population.
  • Growth in incomes for the top decile (Wealthiest 10%) has outpaced the rest, potentially leading to the shrinking of the middle class.

Impact on Household Debt and Savings:

  • Household debt levels have surged, reaching a record high of 40% of GDP by December 2023, while net financial savings have plummeted.
  • High debt levels and low savings pose challenges for economic growth and human development.

Call for an Alternate Growth Strategy:

  • Given India’s development challenges, there’s a need for a paradigm shift towards prioritising human development over short-term gains.
  • Political will and a redefined narrative of development are necessary to address income inequality and promote inclusive growth.

Conclusion:

  • India’s development journey is marked by progress but also marred by persistent challenges such as income inequality and low human development indices.
  • Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts, policy reforms, and a commitment to inclusive growth for all sections of society.
Inequality in India:

Inequality Trends in India:

  • Wealth Inequality: Top 10% own 77% of national wealth; poorest half have only 4.1%.
  • Income Inequality: Top 10% and 1% hold 57% and 22% of total income respectively; bottom 50% share reduced to 13%.
  • Tax Burden: 64% of GST from bottom 50%; only 4% from top 10%.
  •  Global Hunger Index: India’s score at 28.7, considered serious; highest child-wasting rate.
  • Healthcare Accessibility: 63 million pushed into poverty annually due to healthcare costs; majority unable to access needed care.

(Source – The Economic Times, December 7, 2022)

Causes of Increasing Inequality in India:

  •  Unequal Access to Education: Disparities in educational opportunities perpetuate socio-economic inequalities, limiting upward mobility for marginalised communities.
  • Informal Sector Dominance: The dominance of the informal sector in India’s economy leads to low wages, insecure employment, and lack of social protection, exacerbating income disparities.
  • Unequal Distribution of Wealth: Concentration of wealth among a small elite contributes to widening income gaps and socio-economic inequalities.
  • Caste and Gender Discrimination: Persistent caste-based and gender-based discrimination marginalise certain groups, limiting their access to opportunities and resources.
  • Urban-Rural Divide: Disparities between urban and rural areas in terms of infrastructure, employment opportunities, and access to basic services widen income and wealth gaps.

Way Forward:

  • Investment in Education: Enhance access to quality education and skill development programs to promote equal opportunities for all.
  • Job Creation: Implement policies to stimulate job creation, particularly in sectors with high labour-absorptive capacity, to reduce unemployment and underemployment.
  • Social Protection: Strengthen social safety nets and welfare programs to provide financial support and assistance to vulnerable populations.
  • Progressive Taxation: Introduce progressive tax policies to redistribute wealth and reduce income inequalities.
  • Gender and Caste Equality: Promote gender equality and social inclusion through affirmative action policies and measures to address caste-based discrimination.
  • Rural Development: Focus on rural development initiatives to bridge the urban-rural divide and promote inclusive growth.
PYQ: COVID-19 pandemic accelerated class inequalities and poverty in India. Comment. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2020)
Practice Question:  Discuss the implications of India’s ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI) and income inequality trends highlighted in recent reports for the country’s development agenda. (150 Words /10 marks)

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