Social Welfare and Constitutional Responsibilities of Government: An Analysis of the Current Scenario
Avneesh Kumar


India is considered to be the largest democracy of the world, which is governed by an elaborate and detailed written constitution. The author in this research paper has elaborately discussed the scheme of social welfare as enumerated in the Indian Constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution has used the terms like “Socialist”, “Social and Economic Justice”, “Equality” etc, these terms indicate that the state would extensively involve in social welfare of people, and would try to establish an egalitarian society.

Moreover a separate chapter of Directive Principles of State Policy has been devoted towards the welfare responsibilities of the government, which lays down the norms of ideal governance for people’s welfare. It has been pointed out by the author that the current economic policies of the government, which are largely influenced by globalisation and capitalism, are not in conformity with its welfare obligations. On the one hand economy is growly very fast but its benefit is confined to 10-15% population; the rich poor divide is increasing continuously; the agriculture sector is neglected from the focus of economic development; the small scale industries have been devastated by the impact of neo-liberal policies; the regional disparities have been increased substantially. The author has stressed upon the urgent need to change the economic policies with people focussed plan both in terms of expenditure and implementation, and has provided some suggestions with special focus on development of agriculture, elimination of poverty and inequality, enforcement of corporate environmental responsibility, revival of small scale industries, and financial inclusion.


India is considered to be a welfare state and moreover the largest democracy in the world. The people in India have been considered as the supreme authority in our country, as it is declared by the Preamble of Indian Constitution that sovereignty vests not in the Parliament but in the people of Union of India. “Social Welfare” has been (at least theoretically) at the centre of our policy making from the time of independence itself. From the “First Five Year Plan” itself Programmes and schemes have been launched related to social welfare issues as like agriculture and rural development, employment and labour welfare, healthcare, education, etc. Indeed in the initial 20-25 years in spite of scarcity of economic means the government was focussed on the welfare policies and inclusive development.

In today’s time it seems that the concept of social welfare has not been taken by the government as sincerely, as it must have. The attitude of the government is not very friendly and cooperative towards the people, and it is visible from the recent debate on the Lokpal Bill and the controversy relating to the determination of poverty line for poor people.i The government does not seem to be sincere about its responsibility towards serving the people as many scams and irregularities have come up in the central and state governments. The skewed policies relating to the expansion of capitalism, the forceful acquisition of lands from poor peasants, and neglect for the development of agriculture and rural development are making the situation worse.

Embodiment of Social Welfare Provisions in the Indian Constitution

Under the Indian Constitution the scheme for the social welfare is reflected in different provisions of the constitution. There are implicit and explicit references to the social welfare obligations of state in different provisions; we can study these provisions one by one:

Socialist State

The Preamble of the Constitution of India declares India as a “socialist” ii country, and this term itself gives a substantial proof of the existence of social welfare responsibilities of the government. The Supreme Court of India in the case of D S Nakara v. Union of India,iii made the following observation with regard to socialism-

“The principal aim of a socialist State is to eliminate inequality in income and status, and standard of life. The basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to the working people and especially provide security from cradle to grave.”

As being a socialist state, the government is required to take steps to ensure that the minimum facilities of life are provided to every person, and there are equalities of income and material resources as far as democratically possible. A socialist state strives to achieve many ideals, some of them are-

  • Removal of inequalities in distribution of economic resources
  • Equality of opportunity for employment
  • Equal pay for equal work.
  • Elimination of exploitation of labourers
  • Maintenance of minimum level of egalitarianism
  • Establishment of a welfare state
  • Initiation of schemes relating to health, education, social security, and other such essential matters.

Social and Economic Justice

The Preamble of our Constitution uses two other concepts which create responsibilities on the state to involve actively in social welfare, namely “social” and “economic justice”. Under the concept of social justice the state is required to ensure that the dignity of socially excluded groups is not violated by the powerful,iv and they are considered on equal footing with others. It was said by the Supreme Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of Indiav

“Social justice, equality and dignity of person are corner stones of social democracy. The concept 'social justice' which the Constitution of India engrafted, consists of diverse principles essential for the orderly growth and development of personality of every citizen.”

Under economic justice it is contemplated that the state would not make any distinction among its citizens on the basis of their possession of economic resources. Economic justice also requires the state to try to narrow down the gap of resourceful and poor by distributive justice in terms of income and wealth. To achieve the ideals of social and economic welfare the state is required to involve in different social welfare schemes as like reservation for SC/ST/OBCs, MGREGA, Mid Day Meal Scheme, Sarva Sikha Abhiyan, etc.

Directive Principles of State Policy

Part IV of the Indian Constitution deals with the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs). These directive principles are most glaring examples of the scheme of social justice in our constitution, and these principles anticipate a lot of provisions for the welfare of people at large relating to education, environment, promotion of justice, free legal aid, living wages, protection of marginalised groups, forest and wildlife, etc.

The government is required to take all possible measures for the fulfilment of directive principles in its economic capacity. Some of the directive principles are: 39(a): The state shall direct its policy towards securing adequate mean of livelihood to man and woman; Ar. 39 (A): Promotion of justice, equal opportunities, and free legal aid; Ar. 41: Security of work, to education, and to public assistance in several cases; Ar. 42: Security of just and humane conditions of work; Ar. 45: Free and compulsory education to every child till the age of 14 years, etc.

Current Economic Policies and Neglect for Social Welfare

The model of globalisation was adopted in the hope that it would bring prosperity to the nation in the terms of higher production and economic growth. Indeed from 1991 onwards the gross domestic product of our country has gone up 8-9%, and India has emerged as global economic power. India has attracted a great deal of foreign investment, and the amount of international trade has increased manifold. But it has been observed by the scholars that the benefits of globalization has been confined to elite sections of society, and its impact in terms of social welfare has been by and far negative.

The economic policies of our country are focussing (from 1991 onwards) more and more on the expansion of capitalism and privatisation, and continuously focus is diluted from the issues of social welfare. This inherently negative impact of the neo-liberal economic policies can be studies under following heads:

  1. Increased Rich Poor Divide: The gap between the rich and poor has been widened all over the world. At global level the richest 10% of the population earned 79 times higher than the poorest 10% used to, in 1980; till 2003 the income of top 10% population was 117 times higher than those of poorest 10%.vii In India the high rate of GDP has substantially benefitted only the upper 10-15% people, and depressed employment for marginalised section of society.viii The top 10% of the population has a share of around 52% in the national wealth, and on the other hand the share of bottom 10% has been reduced to 0.21%.ix
  2. Neglect for Agriculture: From 1991 agriculture and farmers have been neglected by the government, and the average budgetary expenditure for irrigation is less than 0.35%.x The agriculture investment, which was 1.9% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1990-91, has been decreased to the extent of 1.3% of the GDP in 2003-04.xi The expenditure on agriculture has decreased continuously as in the 9th plan it was 4.37%; in the 10th plan it was 3.86%, and in the 11th plan it was only 1.83%.xii The budget for 2011-12 is the most recent example of the neglect of agriculture by the government; the budgetary allocation for “agriculture and allied activities” fell by Rs. 5422 crore, or by 4.3%, in comparison to the allocation for the year 2010-11.xiii In the last twelve years there were 2 lakh suicides by the farmers, which is the evidence of pitiful conditions of agrarian sector.
  3. Devastation of Small Scale Industries (SSIs): It was observed that more than 3 lakh small scale industries and more than three lakh handloom and power loom units were closed down due to the impact of globalization, because of decreasing bank loans to the SSIs. The allotment of funds to the SSIs has also been decreasing continually in terms of percentage; in seventh five year plan (1985-90) the outlay for SSIs was 0.42% of the total expenditure; in 8th plan it decreased to 0.33%, and in 9th plan it further decreased to 0.12%.xiv Even in the terms of growth performance the SSIs are lagging behind from the time of inception of globalisation; in 1990-91 the percentage of growth rate was 6.88%, but till 2002-03 it has been decreased to the extent of 4.69%.xv The SSIs are very important units for providing self employment in rural and suburban area, and they have potential to make people self sufficient, hence by neglecting the SSIs the government is definitely deviating from its welfare obligations towards people.
  4. Ecological Damage: At many places the environment was harmed by the factories of big companies without any action taken for the restoration as like contamination of water by Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada, Kerala; ecological damage by Pepsi at Himalayan pass;xvi damage of Tajmahal by industries of Agra; pollution of Ganga river by the industries of Kanpur city, etc,. In fact there has been total indifference from the side of government, and it has compromised the environment frequently for the sake of foreign investment. It has been seen that the government has failed to enforce the corporate environmental responsibility, so much so that the people affected by the Bhopal disaster could not be provided adequate compensation till now.
  5. Regional Disparities in Development: It has been seen that the impact of the economic policies of the government has not resulted in inclusive and equitable development, but rather big disparities have arisen in different regions. Generally speaking the southern states and western states have acquired accelerated economic growth, and the north eastern and central parts of nation are lagging behind.
  6. Financial Inclusion, a Distant Dream: Financial Inclusion which has been an issue of concern from the time of independence itself is still a distant dream. Half of the population in India does not possess a bank account, 90% people have no access to credit or life insurance cover, and 98% had no participation in the capital market.xvii


In today’s time it seems that the policies of government are not in conformity with the obligations of a welfare state. By taking pro-corporate stand, and neglecting the plight of the people, the state is derogating from its constitutional responsibilities of creating an egalitarian society and providing social and economic justice. It has to be remembered that people are not just means to achieve higher economic growth, but they are ends in themselves; every policy of government must put the people at the centre of it as beneficiaries.
In the light of preceding discussion the following suggestions merit attention with regard to the constitutional responsibilities of the state to achieve social-welfare objective enshrined in the Constitution:

  1. Focus on the Development of Agriculture: In India still around 58% people are dependent on agriculture; hence the government must increase the public expenditure in agriculture substantially in terms of GDP as well as in terms of total expenditure. More funds must be devoted towards the area of research in agriculture as like in the area of production of better quality seeds.
  2. Removal of Poverty and Inequalities: The state must focus to eliminate not only the poverty but also inequality among the different sects of society. Although on the one hand the actual number of persons below poverty line has decreased but simultaneously the levels of inequality have risen considerably. The state must ensure that the benefits of globalisation are not confined to some particular sections, and the profits earned by a firm must be shared by the labour in appropriate percentage.
  3. Financial Inclusion: The state must ensure that the entire population is able to access at least the basic financial services, because without access to financial services it is almost impossible for the marginalised people to get out of the vicious circle of poverty.xviii To make the financial inclusion a reality the state must focus on strengthening of micro-finance, expansion of branches in far reaching rural areas, creation of special funds,xix and liberalised banking policies towards the weaker sections.
  4. Corporate Environmental Responsibility: When some environmental damage is done the most affected people by it are poor, because they lack sufficient resources to avoid the impact of pollution (as like purifying water). The government must ensure that in future no environmental damage should be caused by the industries and plants of corporate entities, and if any damage has been done it must pay for it.
  5. Removal of Regional Disparities: The per- capita net domestic product varies substantially among the states, as like in case of Delhi it is Rs 29137, and in case of Bihar it is Rs. 6277.xx On the basis of per capita income the states can be divided among three groups rich states (Punjab, Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu), middle income states (Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, AP) and poor states (Rajasthan, MP, Orissa, UP, Bihar);xxi and needless to say the North Eastern region is counted as poor. The government is required to give urgent focus to the poor states in terms of education, infrastructure, healthcare, financial services, and other things.
  6. Urgent Spending on Healthcare and Education: In healthcare around 46% children are malnourished in India;xxii less than 15% population possesses any kind of healthcare cover;xxiii around 66% poorest children in India receive no or minimal healthcare.xxiv In education the enrolment for secondary level in India is just about 52%, which is far low than that of countries like Vietnam (72%), and Sri Lanka (83%);xxv the enrolment for higher education in India is just 12%;xxvi It has to be reminded that better healthcare and education facilities would create better professionals, and hence immediate attention must be paid to the development of these sectors both in terms of increased expenditure and utilisation of expenditure.
  7. Changing Needs of Social Welfare: Along with changing time the content of social welfare policies would change, and the state must conform to these changing needs, and provide services as per these changing needs. For example in 1970s the computer education was not an essential requirement of society, but in today’s world it is immensely important. The state is constitutionally obliged to take care of the needs of society, and to maintain the social, economic and political justice; hence it must change its policies along with the changing needs of people keeping the welfare of the people at the centre.

Implementation of the above suggestions in a time-bound manner by the government would help government move towards fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities in bringing about a socialist welfare state.

* Avneesh Kumar is a Researcher at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow; E-mail- [email protected]

End Notes

  1. Recently the poverty line was fixed by the government for poor as below 26 Rs in rural and below 32 Rs in urban areas.
  2. The word socialist was not there in the Preamble at the time of adoption of constitution of India at 26 November, 1949, but it was added by the 42nd Constitutional Amendment in 1976.
  3. AIR 1983 SC 130
  4. As like in the name untouchability (Untouchability is abolished and its practice is forbidden by Article 17 of Indian Constitution), class superiority, rituals, etc.
  5. AIR 1995 SC 922.
  6. Short form for of Article (of Indian Constitution).
  7. Robert Weissman, ‘Grotesque Inequality: Corporate Globalization and Global Gap between Rich and Poor’ (2003) July/August Multinational Monitor Magazine
  8. Praful Bidwai, ‘Shining and Starving’ (2011) 28(17) Frontline
  9. Praful Bidwai, ‘The Question of Inequality’ (2007) 24(21) Frontline
  10. Era Sezhiyan, ‘Globe for Rich- Zero for Poor: Globalisation of Indian Economy’ (2007) XLV(20) Mainstream Weekly
  11. The Research Unit for Political Economy, ‘The Shaping of Agriculture by External Interests’ (2005) 39/40 Aspects of Indian Economy
  12. Brinda Jagirdar, ‘High Food Price, A Crisis on Our Plate’ Businessline (October 16, 2011)
  13. R Ramakumar, ‘InFarmer’s Name’ (2011) 28(6) Frontline
  14. C Narasimha Rao, Globalisation, Justice, and Development (Serials Publication, New Delhi 2007), pg 280.
  15. Ibid, Rao, pg 281.
  16. BBC News, ‘Coke Paints the Himalayas Red’ (August 15, 2002)
  17. Business Standard, ‘Financial Inclusion Imperative to Reap Demographic Dividend’ (January 24, 2011)
  18. It would be appropriate to remind here that out of the total population whose earning is below 50,000, only 28.3% people have a bank account. K C Chakrabarty, Pushing Financial Inclusion- Issues, Challenges, and Way Forward (July 17, 2009), Presentation at 20th SKOCH Summit 2009, Mumbai.
  19. K C Chakrabarty, Pushing FinancialInclusion- Issues, Challenges, and Way Forward (July 17, 2009), Presentation at 20th SKOCH Summit 2009, Mumbai
  20. Rajesh Shukla, ‘Inclusive Growth and Regional Disparity’ Economic Times (January 04, 2010)
  21. Ila Patnaik, ‘Growth, Poverty, and Unemployment in States’ (May 09, 2006)
  22. UNICEF, ‘Children’
  23. WHO, ‘India Tries to Break Cycle of Healthcare Debt’ (2010) 88(7) Bulletin of WHO
  24. Kounteya Sinha, ‘53% Indian Kids Under 5 Lack Healthcare’ (May 08, 2008)
  25. TNN, ‘Secondary Education Lagging Behind, Says World Bank Study’ (October 07, 2009)
  26. The Hindu, Mere 12% Enrolment for Higher Education’ The Hindu (December 22, 2009)

Published Date : 3rd January 2012

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