Right to Life / Livelihood

In 2006, the Government of West Bengal agreed to let Tata Motors Ltd. (Tata Motors) construct and operate a car manufacturing unit in their state (Small Car Project). Accordingly, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, Ltd. (WBIDC) acquired approximately 1000 acres of agricultural land for the project pursuant to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A. Act), affecting the livelihoods of approximately 25,000 people – farmers, sharecroppers, landless laborers, and rickshaw pullers. The claimants in this case were five farmers and small landowners. Objections were filed with the Land Acquisition Collector, who concluded subsequently that the land was being taken for a public purpose, namely employment creation and socio-economic development. The Collector then made an award of compensation to the existing landowners and the land was acquired by WBIDC. The acquisition proceedings were challenged before the High Court of Calcutta and were dismissed.

As a result of numerous local protests, the Small Car Project was halted and relocated to the State of Gujarat in 2008. The new Government of West Bengal then enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 (Singur Act) for the purpose of taking over the land covered by the lease to Tata Motors. Tata Motors challenged the constitutionality of the Singur Act before the Supreme Court of India (Court), arguing that it conflicts with the earlier L.A. Act and that the government cannot change its mind simply because a new political party takes power.

In considering the validity of the land acquisition, the Court rejected the arguments of Tata Motors. In relation to the preliminary objection regarding a change in political power, the Court noted that it is well established that a state government can change earlier laws especially if they were against public policy.

The Court determined that the land acquired by WBIDC for Tata Motors was not for a public purpose under the L.A. Act, but rather by the state government for a company. In this context, the previous government exercised its eminent domain power (i.e. the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation) without following the required procedure set forth in the L.A. Act (namely Sections 3(f), 4, and 6, and VII), depriving those who lost their land of their constitutional and fundamental rights. Further, the Court found that the inquiry contemplated under 5-A2 of the L.A. Act was not duly conducted by the Collector as some of the objectors had not been given a chance to be heard and the Collector denied their objections without genuine consideration.

The Court quashed the acquisition of the landowners’ land, declaring it illegal and void. The Court ordered the Government of West Bengal to conduct a survey to determine what land needed to be returned, and then to return it. The Court further ordered that the compensation which had already been paid to the landowners not be recovered by the state government, as reparation for having been deprived of the occupation and enjoyment of their lands for ten years; and permitting the landowners who had not already withdrawn their compensation to do so.


The State of Queensland submitted to the primary judge that its successive legislative regimes since 1877 had abrogated or extinguished any pre-existing native title rights to fish for commercial purposes and replaced them with rights conferred only upon those who held the necessary statutory licences.  The legislative history was said to have resulted in the extinguishment of any rights to take or use the resources of the claim area for trading or commercial fishing purposes.  

The Commonwealth submission, reflecting that of the State, pointed to a history of increasingly comprehensive management regimes and the retention by the Crown exclusively for itself and its agencies of the capacity to manage the seas, including those in the claim area.  Fisheries management had focused upon commercial fishing, reflecting the treatment of fisheries in the sea as a public resource and concerns about the long-term development and sustainability of the fishing industry.
The appellant submitted before the primary judge that the relevant native title right was the right to access and take marine resources and not a differentiated right to take resources for trade or commercial purposes.  Neither the State nor the Commonwealth argued that the native title right to take marine resources had itself been extinguished.  The appellant submitted that the effect of the successive regulatory schemes was to regulate the exercise of native title rights and not to extinguish them or their incidents.  There was nothing to suggest, and no party suggested, that native title holders had ever been precluded from applying for licences to fish for commercial purposes under the successive regimes or are now precluded from doing so.  

Court ruling:

Rights, extinguishment and statutory construction

"Extinguishment" in relation to native title refers to extinguishment or cessation of rights.  Such extinguishment of rights in whole or in part is not a logical consequence of a legislative constraint upon their exercise for a particular purpose, unless the legislation, properly construed, has that effect.  To that proposition may be added the general principle that a statute ought not to be construed as extinguishing common law property rights unless no other construction is reasonably open.  Neither logic nor construction in this case required a conclusion that the conditional prohibitions imposed by successive fisheries legislation in the determination area were directed to the existence of a common law native title right to access and take marine resources for commercial purposes.  In any event, nothing in the character of a conditional prohibition on taking fish for commercial purposes requires that it be construed as extinguishing such a right.

Recognition of the distinction between a broadly stated right and its exercise in particular ways or for particular purposes is implicit in the legislative scheme of the NT Act dealing with extinguishment.  The NT Act contemplates the existence of legislative or executive acts which "affect" native title rights and interests by constraint or restriction but do not extinguish them.  Section 227 provides:

"An act affects native title if it extinguishes the native title rights and interests or if it is otherwise wholly or partly inconsistent with their continued existence, enjoyment or exercise."


The claimants on the case were representatives of local communities, herders living in Tuya bag, and the NGO “Owners of Huvsgul Lake”. The claim was submitted by CHRD’s lawyers, alleging that the mining licenses issued by the Geological and Cadastral Department were illegal, according to the article of 9.1. 7 of the Mongolian Administrative Act, and should be invalidated.

The Ulaanbaatar Capital City Administrative Court issued decision n. 36 early in 2013, refusing to accept the claim and to suspend the licenses. The Appellate Administrative Court affirmed decision n.36. The case was taken to the Administrative Review Chamber of the Supreme Court, which held trial on June 24, 2013, issuing Resolution n. 117. The latter Court established that the Cadastral Department of the Mineral Authority should consider illegal the issuance of two extraction licenses and six exploration licenses to “Talst margad” Ltd.

The Supreme Court decision was based on the constitutional right to live in a healthy and safe environment and to be protected from ecological unbalances.


This case was brought by six pregnant or lactating women who lived in poverty in a Delhi slum. The women were denied food rations, as well as prenatal and children health benefits which they were entitled to under several national benefit programs. This can be attributed to the failure of the Delhi government to make ration cards available, and to implement certain maternal health programs. Earlier proceedings showed that 55% of the poor in Delhi were "un-carded." The Court issued an interim order requiring the government to set up "camps" where the petitioners and others living in the slum could obtain new or renewed ration cards, and to provide access to a grievance hotline. The order also provided for the payment of damages to the individual plaintiffs.

In the course of the case, the Court was informed that no new ration cards were being issued by the Delhi government because the governments of India and Delhi had set a maximum limit on the amount of such cards, a "cap." As a result, millions of Delhi residents were denied access to life-saving rations. The Court was highly critical of such limits, stating, "This Court is unable to appreciate how .....Delhi, with a growing population and constant influx of new migrants can abide by a 'cap' on [ration] cards...there cannot be any 'caps'... Denial of a ration card to a [person] is virtually a denial of his or her right to food and thereby the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life)." This provision has been interpreted broadly in the past by Indian courts to encompass and guarantee many rights including the right to human dignity, the right to livelihood, the right to health, the right to pollution-free air and many others. Here, the court reaffirmed Article 21's guarantee of the right to maternal health and explicitly connected the necessity of sufficient nutrition to that right.

The Court ordered further proceedings to ensure the government followed through with improving ration card procedures.
This order of the Court, dated May 13th 2011, is one of a series of interim orders issued by the Court with regard to the original petition. The final ruling in the case was delivered on December 13th, 2011.


India: Nilabatibehera v State of Orissa, 1993 SCC 746

A mother wrote a letter to the Supreme Court of India, requesting monetary compensation for the death of her 22-year-old son, who died in police custody. She claimed that her son was beaten to death. The Supreme Court took up her case.

“Article 9 (5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 lays down that anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.. This Covenant has been ratified by India,56 which means that the State has undertaken to abide by its terms . . . The State has a .duty of care. to ensure that the guarantee of Article 21 is not denied to anyone. This .duty of care. is strict and admits no exceptions the Court said. The State must take responsibility by paying compensation to the near and dear ones of a person, who has been deprived of her/ his life by the wrongful acts of its agents. However, the Court affirmed that the State has a right to recover the compensation amount from the wrongdoers.”

A Bangladeshi woman was gang raped by railroad employees. She was then raped again by her rescuer. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the woman, as a foreigner, was not afforded certain constitutional protections. Some provisions of the Indian Constitution refer to ''citizens'' while others refer to ''persons''. Regardless, the Court held that ''life'' as used in Article 21 must be interpreted consistently with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, Article 21 protections protect both citizens and non-citizens. Since rape is a violation of Article 21's fundamental right to life, the victim was entitled to compensation.

A large number of residents of basties (informal settlements) of Dhaka City were evicted without notice and their homes were demolished with bulldozers. A case, challenging the ongoing evictions, was brought by two residents and three citizens in the public interest. The Supreme Court held that inhabitants had some rights to shelter and a fair hearing and made recommendations for resettlement. At the outset, the Court recognized that the residents had migrated from rural areas due to poverty and natural calamity and had contributed to the national economy through work in the urban areas, though the Court was of the view that some residents became criminals. Turning to the law, the Constitution provides the State must ensure fundamental rights including life, respect for dignity and equal protection of the law and, further, that the State must direct its policy towards to ensuring the provision of the basic necessities of life including shelter. According to the Court, this latter constitutional directive was not judicially enforceable but the right to life includes the right not to be deprived of a livelihood (The Court approvingly quoted Olga Tellis v BMC from the Supreme Court of India). While the Court appreciated government efforts “eradicate” criminals from the slums, it noted that innocent slum dwellers often became victims of acts of repression by government agencies and other actors. The Court ordered that: (1) The government should develop a master guidelines, or pilot projects, for resettlement; (2) the plan should allow evictions to occur in phases and according to a person's ability to find alternative accommodation; (3) reasonable notice is to be given before eviction; (4) the government should “clear up” slums beside the railway lines andti roads, but resettle these slumdwellers.


Pakistan: Shehla Zia and Ors v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 SC 693

The Petitioners were residents in a locality in Islamabad. The Water Resources and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) was to construct an electrical grid station in that area. The Petitioners protested on the ground that the electromagnetic field created by the high voltage transmission lines would be hazardous to their health. Moreover, the designated green belt in that area would be destroyed. Thus aggrieved by the proposed construction, they filed a petition in the Supreme Court. They placed on record several international studies and reports that linked electromagnetic radiation with cancer, depression and heart disease among other health problems. The Respondent Government however, contended that the plan was safe and risk free. Moreover, the Respondent contended that the petition did not specify any fundamental rights that were violated and hence was not maintainable.

Decision and Reasoning

The Court held that although the studies provided by the Petitioners were recent and up-to-date, it was not possible to ascertain conclusively whether there was a causal link between the effects of electromagnetic fields and human health. However, because there might be "lurking danger" in electromagnetic radiation, the best course of action would be to err on the side of safety even if the studies were inconclusive. Furthermore,the research conducted by the Respondent Government was more than 20 years old, and hence ill equipped to assuage the Petitioners' fears. The Court held that the Respondent Government should therefore adopt a precautionary approach akin to Principle No. 15 in the Rio Declaration. The Court also held that an independent Commission should be established to determine how to balance the need for energy production and possible hazards to human life. This Commission would be "manned by internationally known and recognised scientists having no bias and prejudice." It would examine claims relating to setting up of electrical grid stations and its opinion would be sought before any such construction. With the consent of both parties, the Court appointed National Engineering Services Pakistan Pvt. Ltd (NESPAK) as this Commission. NESPAK would “examine the plan and the proposals/schemes of WAPDA in the light of the complaint made by the Petitioners and submit its report” and “suggest any alteration or addition which may be economically possible for constructing a grid station” if necessary. The Court finally held that the petition was maintainable. It held that the Petitioners had a credible fear of their constitutionally guaranteed right to life being violated due to the proposed acts of the Respondent Government, and that the right to life was broad enough to encompass situations such as the present case. The Petitioners were thus entitled to approach the courts for a preventive remedy. Moreover, the Court held that the effects of electromagnetic radiation on human health would be largely unknown to people residing nearby, who would suffer silently without realizing that their lives were at risk. Therefore, it was in the interest of the citizens at large that such a petition could be filed.


The petitioners  in writ petitions Nos. 4610-12/81 live on pavements and in slums in the city of Bombay. Some of the petitioners in  the second batch of writ petitions Nos.5068-79 of  1981, are  residents of    Kamraj    Nagar,   a  basti  or habitation which  is alleged  to have come into existence in about 1960-61,  near the  Western Express  Highway,  Bombay, while others  are residing in structures constructed off the Tulsi Pipe  Road, Mahim, Bombay. The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights and two journalists have also joined in the writ petitions.

Some  time  in  1981,   the  respondents -  State  of Maharashtra and Bombay Municipal Corporation took a decision that all pavement dwellers and the slum or busti dwellers in the city  of Bombay will be evicted forcibly and deported to their respective  places of  origin  or  removed  to  places outside the  city of  Bombay. Pursuant to that decision, the pavement dwellings  of some  of the petitioners were in fact demolished by  the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Some of the petitioners  challenged   the aforesaid decision of  the respondents in  the High  Court.

Court ruling:

The court ruled that the order of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to evict the petitioners is in accordance with law but there should be an alternate place for them (petitioners) to resettle, "though we [court] do not propose to make it a condition precedent to the removal of the encroachments committed by them."

The decision states that estoppel cannot be used in enforcing constitutional rights and right to life includes right to livelihood:

It is not possible to accept the contention that the petitioners are estopped from setting up their fundamental rights as a defence to the demolition of the huts put up by them on pavements or parts of public roads. There can be no estoppel against the Constitution. The Constitution is not only the paramount law of the land but, it is the source and substance of all laws. Its provisions are conceived in public interest and are intended to serve a public purpose. The doctrine of estoppel is based on the principle that consistency in word and action imparts certainty and honesty to human affairs. If a person makes a representation to another, on the faith of which the latter acts to his prejudice, the former cannot resile from the representation made by him. He must make it good. This principle can have no application to representations made regarding the assertion or enforcement of fundamental rights. For example, the concession made by a person that he does not possess and would not exercise his right to free speech and expression or the right to move freely throughout the territory of India cannot deprive him of those constitutional rights, any more than a concession that a person has no right of personal liberty can justify his detention contrary to the terms of Article 22 of the Constitution. Fundamental rights are undoubtedly conferred by the Constitution upon individuals which have to be asserted and enforced by them, if those rights are violated. But, the high purpose which the Constitution seeks to achieve by conferment of fundamental rights is not only to benefit individuals but to secure the larger interests of the community.
                                               xxx                               xxx                             xxx
The sweep of the right to life conferred by Article 21 is wide and far reaching. It does not mean merely that life cannot be extinguished or taken away as, for example, by the imposition and execution of the death sentence, except according to procedure established by law. That is but one aspect of the right to life. An equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because, no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation. Such deprivation would not only denude the life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make life impossible to live. And yet, such deprivation would not have to be in accordance with the procedure established by law, if the right to livelihood is not regarded as a part of the right to life. That, which alone makes it possible to live, leave aside what makes life livable, must be deemed to be an integral component of the right to life. Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life.