SC Needs to Go Beyond Second Phase: Justice P.S. Narasimha


The second Justice Rajindar Sachar Memorial Lecture organised by Indian Society of International Law on Right to Food Security was delivered by Justice P.S. Narasimha, a Judge of Supreme Court of India and former Additional Solicitor General at V.K. Krishna Menon Bhawan, New Delhi on December 8.

The first Justice Sachar Memorial Lecture on Human Rights Concern and Challenges was delivered by Justice Madan Lokur.

While highlighting the role of the courts, Justice Narasimha said the story of the Supreme Court particularly with the context of hunger is episodic. This is perhaps in two phases and the time has come for the Supreme Court to go for the third phase in the context of fight against hunger. When we speak about hunger or right to food, we generally talk about the need for food and not want of food. And it is the need which is not provided to all and that is a matter of concern.

“There is sufficient food or not is an issue of economics. There are lots of articles to say that the world has sufficient food. The main concern is how it is distributed. The economic process marginalises many numbers of people to become hungry and perish. Interesting part for us to consider today is the place the hunger and right to food has in our constitution,” Justice Narsimha added.

“When we declare we the people solemnly resolve, there is no reference to right created. The solemn resolve is to ensure that no one goes hungry. The first phase of the Supreme Court consideration of this issue and there is a series of judgements where it expanded this expression and declared it to include the right to food. That declaration that there is a right of an individual under our constitution that food is to be provided to him did not really help the situation. Because that right even after recognition merely turned out to be declaratory. So, the first phase was rather a recognition and a declaration in nature and one has to proceed further,” Justice Narasimha further enlightened the audience.

“And stage two came when the court realised simply declaration is not sufficient unless there is an obligation on state because only recognition is not sufficient. Even the obligation in the second phase has not solved the problem. What we need to understand is that it is not merely an issue of law, it is a combination of economics and its legal principles. The economic aspects of it have been researched enormously and a large number of factors contributed to the situation where the world is today. It is more or less clear that it is not a production issue; it is the distribution of food grains,” he said. 

On the complexity and nature of the problem, Justice Narasimha said that apart from economic issue there is also a legal issue. We can discuss that in two parts: one is the entitlement and the other is duty orientations. Our Constitution is primarily right-based; it prevents the states from encroaching the fundamental rights of the citizens. The vocabulary of the courts is also on the provisions of the Constitution’s obviously right-based vocabulary. There needs to be a change in that vocabulary and the usage of the expressions and interpretations as to how constitutional provisions can now be interpreted as an absolute clear obligation on state. In the third phase the Supreme Court has to ensure the implementation of the right to will, and also have to set the accountability to ensure that all those below the poverty line do not go hungry.                                                         

Sanjay Parikh, senior advocate of Supreme Court, while speaking in detail about remarkable contribution of Justice Sachar in human rights and civil liberties, his commitments towards communal harmony, his personal and professional journey, said, “In his Autobiography, “In Pursuit of Justice’, Justice Sachar had narrated many stories. One incident is quite interesting. In 1955, when father of Justice Sachar was the first Chief Minister of Punjab. Then Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was invited to have breakfast at the residence. Justice Sachar, who was full of socialistic ideas and opposed to certain policy decisions of Pandit Nehru, politely told his father he will not join them for breakfast. He later felt that it was childish but called it his useful, genuine and unshakable faith in socialism and social values which he continued to have till his death.”

He added, “Another instance of his independent thinking was taking up of a case of human rights violation of illegal arrest against the government headed by his father as the chief minister. Credit also goes to his father because he was appreciative of his son for being sensitive on such issues.”

Family members of Justice Sachar, speakers and organisers also paid floral tributes to late Justice Sachar.       

Justice Narasimha also released a book, Courts and Hunger by senior Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh. While referring to the book, the ideas behind it and humane effort, he said it is the thought that matters and it is the will of a person that translates the thought into action. He lauded the role of the author and congratulated him for not just the sensitivity on the issue but also channelising that sensitivity forward to find a viable solution. 

Sanjay Parikh’s book Courts and Hunger explores the solutions to the problem of hunger, why there is hunger and starvation and what are the responsibilities of the Government, what role the judiciary can play as a protector of the constitutional rights of citizens in this regard.

The book seeks to find answers to all these questions related to widely reported starvation deaths in Odisha’s Kalahandi, Balangir and Koraput (KBK) districts through reporting a decade-long rigorous proceeding before the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India.

This book is a complete document that investigates similar other cases. Renowned social activist Medha Patkar writes about the book: Hunger is an indicator of inequality. And it is not hidden but completely exposed. Most of the causes of hunger are man-made. This book will not only make people aware of the truth of hunger and starvation but will also interpret it from socio-economic roots, keeping in mind the national and international legal system.

Human tragedy was man-made: the neglect, inaction and indifference of governance were the major causes of people’s suffering. Amartya Sen’s “Entitlement Approach” was used as a legal basis to recognise the social and economic rights of the poor. The judicially monitored exercise eventually brought about direct changes in these chronologically affected districts and led to significant improvement in the standard of living here.

Today, whether it is the case of migration of workers or the distribution of medicines during a pandemic or the making of social and economic benefits accessible to those living in the remotest regions, the State can efficiently tackle all by adopting a similar systemic approach, by being transparent and accountable and by keeping the welfare of the people as its sole aim and object. The courts too, by being sensitive to their constitutional obligations, can effectively alleviate human suffering. This book shows the way forward.

Professor V.G. Hedge, Chairperson, Centre for International Legal Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and EC member, Professor Manoj Kumar Sinha, Director Indian Law Institute also shared their views on the book.

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