Right to livelihood under the umbrella of the right to life

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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The right to livelihood under the umbrella of the right to life has been a significant theme in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of India. Here are some pivotal judgments where the Supreme Court has touched upon or expanded this right:

  1. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India (1978): While this case primarily dealt with personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and the right to travel abroad, it opened the doors for a broader interpretation of Article 21. The Supreme Court held that the right to live doesn’t mean mere existence but living a life of dignity.
  2. Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985): Often cited as the foundational case for the right to livelihood under Article 21, the Supreme Court observed that “the right to life” assured in any civilized society would take within its sweep the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment, and a reasonable accommodation to live in.” The court went on to say that eviction of pavement dwellers in Bombay (now Mumbai) without offering them an alternative would amount to depriving them of their livelihood and thereby, their right to life.
  3. Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni (1983): In this case, the Supreme Court reiterated that the right to life includes the right to livelihood and therefore, any termination of an employee has to be consistent with the fairness and justness of Article 21.
  4. Chameli Singh vs. State of U.P. (1996): The Court remarked that the right to shelter is a fundamental right available under Article 21 of the Constitution as it is essential for the meaningful right to life with dignity.
  5. Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi (1981): The court in this case emphasized that the right to life embedded in Article 21 is not restricted to mere animal existence. It includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, such as the bare necessities of life including adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter.
  6. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) vs. Union of India (1997): This case is popularly known as the Right to Food case. While dealing with the starvation deaths in Rajasthan, the Supreme Court held that the right to food is integral to the right to life.

These judgments reflect the evolving and progressive nature of the Indian Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, particularly in relation to socio-economic rights under the framework of the right to life. The jurisprudence has transformed Article 21 from a mere right to survival to a right to live with dignity, encompassing various facets of life, including livelihood.