This article has been written by Naveen Talawar, a law student at Karnataka State Law University’s law school. The article deals with economic rights, international recognition of socio-economic rights and the enforcement of economic rights in detail.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


All people are given the same rights and dignity from birth which are universal moral principles that apply to everyone, regardless of caste, color, faith, place of origin, gender, cultural diversity, or any other factor. Because of their humanity, these concepts are inalienable and inherent in all humans. These expectations are outlined and defined in today’s notion of human rights. Human rights are often referred to as basic rights, inherent rights, natural rights, and birthrights.

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The international human rights framework prioritizes economic rights. Economic rights are human rights and as such, as a result of our common humanity, belong to all people. In other words, everyone has an inherent right to the means necessary to maintain at least a basic standard of living. Freedom from deprivation and the associated level of personal security is crucial for billions of people. The best way to guarantee such freedom may be through economic rights. People can only fully develop their identities and contribute to society at their best through acquiring and implementing these rights. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR) economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) include the rights to sufficient food, decent housing, education, health, social security, participation in cultural life, access to water and sanitation, and the right to work.

Generation of rights 

Human rights are usually classified into three generations in international law literature. 

First generation rights 

In order to shield people from arbitrary interference, the first modern constitutions defined rights primarily in terms of substantive or procedural limits on the exercise of state power. These rights included the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, personal liberty, and the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion. These rights are now referred to as ‘civil and political rights,’ ‘rights of the first generation,’ or negative rights.

These early constitutions were viewed as representing a limited individualist version of freedom that was blind to social and economic inequalities because only civil and political rights were protected. According to the 19th-century French writer Anatole France, “The majestic equality of the laws prohibits the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread.” 

Second generation rights

Many reformers believed that without changes in social and economic circumstances, civil and political rights offered little hope to common people whose lives were hampered by long working hours, low pay, harassment of union organizers, hazardous working conditions, susceptibility to arbitrary dismissal and cyclical or chronic unemployment, slum housing, and a lack of access to education and healthcare.

Since the late nineteenth century, and particularly in the new democratic constitutions that emerged after World Wars I and II, more emphasis has been placed on rights that safeguard employees from their superiors as well as rights defined in terms of positive entitlements, like the right to education and healthcare. These are referred to as ‘socio-economic rights’ or ‘second-generation rights’ (also “social, economic, and cultural rights”). Older literature usually referred to them as positive rights because they favored a positive interpretation of liberty as an ‘opportunity for thriving or well-being’ rather than a negative interpretation of liberty as only non-interference.

Third generation rights

A relatively recent idea, human rights for development first appeared in the  20th century. These rights provide people with the ability to participate in the process of global development, and they include environmental rights, which let people make use of nature’s free gifts of fresh air, clean water, food, and natural resources. These are referred to as Third Generation Human Rights. As their implementation is dependent on international collaboration, they are also known as Solidarity Rights. 

The three generations also refer to a hierarchy of rights in terms of political choice, with the rights of the first generation being the most favored, followed by the rights of the second and third generations, respectively.

What are economic rights 

Economic rights are those rights that guarantee people’s economic security. These enable all citizens to successfully exercise their civil and political rights. Basic needs for everyone include things like food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and so on. No one can really exercise their civil and political rights without these rights. Therefore, everyone must have the right to social security in the case of illness, physical disability, or old age in addition to the right to work, a living wage, leisure, and relaxation.

Economic rights are occasionally combined with social rights, and as a result, they are known by numerous equivalent expressions, including Economic and social rights, Social Rights, welfare rights, and socio-economic rights, and as a result, these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. 

United States commentators use the term welfare rights, British commentators and social philosophers in general favor social rights, and those influenced by the terminology used in international law choose economic, social, and cultural rights. Although they are referred to in different ways, all of these are related to the same set of rights, which are the “right to a meeting of needs, the most basic of which is the right to a minimum income, the right to housing, the right to health care, and the right to education.

International recognition of socio-economic rights 

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges two types of human rights: traditional civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN passed two separate Covenants, the Civil and Political Covenant and the Economic, Social and Cultural Covenant, to turn the Declaration’s contents into binding agreements. 

The beginnings of economic and social rights may be traced back to religious traditions that required care and protection for the poor, destitute, and crippled.  Later, these rights appeared in the writings of Paine, Marx, Kant, and other authors.

The first place to start in the 19th century would be the International Labor Organization, which was originally a branch of the League of Nations and adopted several treaties in the century to enhance labour standards internationally. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles created the International Labor Organization (ILO) to eliminate worker injustice and suffering and to provide fair and decent working conditions.

The ILO developed minimum criteria for a wide range of concerns that are now covered by economic and social rights during the early twentieth-century era. They covered conventions on employment discrimination, illness security, accident, invalidity, and old age insurance, as well as conventions on free association and the right to rest. 

Article 55 of the UN Charter was introduced as a result of these developments, and it calls on all members to encourage rising living standards, full employment, and growth and development on all fronts, including social and economic.

It is important to note that President Roosevelt’s vision in his annual address to Congress on January 11, 1944, served as the incentive for the inclusion of Articles 22–28, which include economic and social rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Socio-economic rights as articulated in the 1944 state of the union address by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt are as follows:  

  1. The right to productive and well-paying employment in the nation’s industries, businesses, farms, or mines; 
  2. The right to work for a living that allows for enough subsistence, clothes, and leisure;
  3. The right of every farmer to cultivate and sell his goods at a profit that would enable him and his family to live decently; 
  4. The freedom to engage in business without interference from monopolies or unfair competition, whether domestically or overseas;
  5. Every family has a right to a good house; 
  6. The potential to develop and enjoy good health and the right to proper medical treatment; 
  7. The right to sufficient protection from the economic anxieties of old age, illness, accident, and unemployment; 
  8. The privilege of quality education.

Following the adoption of the Universal Declaration, the Economic, Social, and Cultural Covenant of 1966 transformed the aforementioned rights into legally-binding responsibilities. 

The economic and social rights, recognized under the Universal Declaration through Articles 22-28 are as follows

Right to social security 

The right to social security and the realization of the economic, social, and cultural rights necessary for one’s dignity and the unrestricted development of one’s personality is guaranteed by Article 22. These rights must be realized through national endeavor, international cooperation, and in accordance with the structure and available resources of each State.

Right to work, equal wages, just remuneration and to form and join trade unions

According to Article 23, everyone has the right to work, the right to choose their own job, the right to fair and suitable working conditions, the right to be safeguarded from unemployment, and the right to equal remuneration for equally hard labour without discrimination. Furthermore, anybody who works has the right to reasonable remuneration that guarantees them and their families a life worthy of human dignity, is supported, when needed, by various forms of social security, and has the right to form and join a union.

Right to rest and leisure 

Article 24 provides the right to rest and leisure as well as the right to reasonable working hours and paid holidays.

Right to health 

Article 25 (1) guarantees the right to a standard of living adequate for his and his family’s health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and other necessary social services, as well as the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood due to circumstances beyond his control.

Right to education 

Article 26 guarantees the right to an education, and education must be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary schooling shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made widely available, and higher education would be open to all on the basis of merit.

The following are some of the rights recognised by The Economic, Social, and Cultural Covenant, 1966 (hence referred to as The Economic Covenant).

  1. Right to work (Article 6).
  2. Right to favorable conditions of work (Article 7).
  3. Right to form and join a trade union (Article 8).
  4. Right to social security (Article 9).
  5. Right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11).
  6. Right to health (Article 12).
  7. Right to education (Article 13).

Socioeconomic rights are also included under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CEDAW, 1965). 

The right to work, the right to health, and the right to education are recognized by regional human rights agreements, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

These international agreements are crucial for the consideration of human rights in general and have a significant influence on national constitutions.

Due to these international agreements’ normative influence, which establishes a basic standard of widespread global acceptability, constitution-makers may be confined by their contents. The majority of constitutions today incorporate a wide variety of socioeconomic rights, either as explicitly enforceable sections, aspirational declarations, or directive principles. A small number of constitutions, particularly those dating before the twentieth century, do not explicitly address socioeconomic rights.

Socio-economic rights under the Indian Constitution

Although the term “socioeconomic rights” is not mentioned anywhere in the Indian Constitution, many of the elements that make up socio-economic rights are found there in the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution .

All human rights are recognised under the Indian Constitution. Economic, social, and cultural rights are covered by the directive principles of state policy, whereas civil and political rights are acknowledged as justiciable fundamental rights. These guiding principles are meant to provide direction for the interpretation of fundamental rights and governmental policy. 

In contrast to basic rights, these are notions that are important in the governance of the country, according to the Indian Constitution, and the State is required to follow these principles in making laws. As these were intended for governance and lawmaking, the DPSPs might be referred to as policy goals for the administration and legislature. 

The Directive Principles of State Policy are found in Articles 36 to 50 of Part IV of the Indian Constitution (DPSP). There are many provisions that are identical to those in the ICESCR. For instance, Article 43 mandates that the state endeavor to ensure that all workers, whether in the agricultural, industrial, or other sectors, have access to work, a living wage, and working conditions that allow them to fully enjoy their free time as well as social and cultural opportunities. In particular, it mandates that the state promote cottage industries on an individual or cooperative basis in rural areas.

This basically refers to Articles 11 and 15 of the ICESCR. But the right to health (Article 12) has been interpreted by the Indian Supreme Court to include the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, making it instantly enforceable and justiciable. In order to fulfill some of its treaty obligations as a signatory to the ICESCR, the Indian government-produced legislation that is now enforceable in and by the courts. The socio-economic rights as provided by the Indian constitution are as follows

  • Article 39 (a) – Equal right of citizens to an adequate means of livelihood. 
  • Article 39(c) – Right to the health and strength of workers.
  • Article 39(d) – Equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
  • Article 41 – Right to work, education, and public assistance in instances of unemployment, old age, sickness, and disability.
  • Article 42 – Just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
  • Article 43 – A living wage, etc. for workers.
  • Article 47 – Improvement of public health, raising the level of nutrition and standard of living of the people.

For over three decades, the Supreme Court refused to decide whether DPSPs were enforceable. The Court declined to read the DPSP and the Fundamental Rights simultaneously. The shift occurs, however, when the Court discovers a new meaning for the word ‘life’ in Article 21.

In Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi (1981), Bhagwati J. posed the question, “…. Whether the right to life is limited only to the protection of limb or faculty, or does it go further and embrace something more,” and the court’s opinion stated, “We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, namely, the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter over the head, and facilities for reading, This has occurred in several other cases.” Some of the socio-economic rights are as follows.

Right to livelihood 

In Olga Tellis’s case (1986), the facts of the case are as follows; the eviction order authorized by Mr A.R. Antulay, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was questioned by journalist Olga Tellis in collaboration with the PUCL and other organizations. The pavement dwellers and public interest organizations both stated that the pavement residents’ eviction order violates their fundamental rights. The residents said that such action would violate their right to life because a residence in the city allowed them to make a living, and they requested that appropriate resettlement be given if the evictions proceeded.

The Supreme Court recognised the right to livelihood as a component of the constitutional right to life and ruled that eliminating a person’s ability to support themselves would be the easiest way to revoke their right to life. Life would become harder to live and lose its efficacy and value as a result of such deprivation.

Right to work 

The right to work may be viewed as a human right because it is included in both the UDHR and the ICESCR. The right to work is a fundamental human right, which means that every person has the right to engage in the producing and maintaining components of human society in order to earn enough money to ensure an appropriate quality of life. The ability to make a living is the key component of the right to work.

In accordance with Article 41 of the Indian Constitution, “the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education, and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness, and disability, as well as in cases of other underserved want.” The Indian Constitution has accepted the right to work in a form and manner comparable to the ICESCR by using the phrase within limitations. The State’s economic capability and development are consequently necessary for the provision of the right to work.

The right to adequate remuneration, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to equal treatment, the right to safe and sanitary working conditions, the right to a limited workday, and the right to sufficient rest times are among the rights at work. These rights provide respectable working conditions and are strongly related to the rights to health and life. Additionally, they relate to laws that forbid slavery, servitude, and forced labour. 

The ILO has worked extensively to expand the scope of workers’ rights, and these rights are protected by a number of its conventions, including the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention of 1958, the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention of 1957, and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention of 1949

The Supreme Court in Delhi Transport Corporation vs D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress (1990) recognised the right to work as a basic right. The facts of the case are as follows: The respondents, who were employees of the Delhi Transport Corporation, received termination notices under Regulation 9(b) of the Delhi Road Transport Authority (Conditions of Appointment and Service) Regulations, 1952, from the appellant, i.e., the Delhi Transport Corporation, because they had become inefficient in their work and had encouraged other members to refuse to perform their duties.

The three respondents and their union filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court, questioning the constitutionality of Regulation 9(b), which granted management the right to terminate an employee’s services with one month’s notice or pay in lieu of notice. 

The High Court ruled that the Regulation was unconstitutional because it provided management total, unfettered, and arbitrary authority to terminate the services of any permanent or temporary employee, in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution. As a result, the Corporation filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that the following Rules and Regulations adopted in the exercise of powers provided by Section 53 of the Delhi Transport Act, 1950, do not provide a fair explanation for terminating its workers’ services and also violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Further, it observed that “The right to life includes the right to a livelihood. As a result, the right to a livelihood cannot rely on the whims of persons in positions of authority. The job is neither a gift from them nor its survival depends on them. Many fundamental rights are based on income, and when labor is the only source of income, the right to work becomes just as important“.

The Indian Government has established several programmes as part of its State policy to give employment to the underprivileged sections of society, particularly those living in extreme poverty, including the Employment Assurance Scheme, National Rural Employment Programme, Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana, and National Food for Work Programme

Equal pay for equal work 

While considering the matter of drivers in the Delhi Police Force with that of other drivers in the service of the Delhi Administration and the Central Government in Randhir Singh v Union of India (1982), the court expounds on the essential concept of equal pay for equal work, holding that;

“It’s accurate to say that our Constitution doesn’t explicitly state that having equal pay for equal work is a fundamental right. It is undoubtedly a constitutional purpose, though. Equal pay for equal work for both men and women is stated in Article 39(d) of the Constitution as a Directive Principle of State Policy. The phrase equal pay for equal work for both men and women refers to this concept. As noted in a few of this Court’s rulings, as a matter of interpretation, directive principles must be integrated into fundamental rights.

In Dhirendra Chamoli v. State of U.P. (1985), the court invoked Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection under the law, to uphold the right of temporary workers who perform similar labor to regular workers to receive equal pay for equal work. 

In this case, two Class-IV employees of the Nehru Yuvak Kendra in Dehradun who were hired as casual workers on a daily wage claimed to be doing the same work as Class-IV employees who were hired on a permanent basis. The basis for denying them the pay scale offered to regular workers was because there was no sanctioned post to accommodate the petitioners, and so the respondent- employers were that they could not be granted the benefits permitted to regular employees.

Furthermore, it was argued that the petitioners’ claim should be rejected because they voluntarily accepted the emoluments of casual workers employed on a daily wage when they accepted employment with the Nehru Yuvak Kendra. As a result, they were not entitled to anything more than what they had agreed to accept.

The Supreme Court ruled in its decision on the aforementioned issue that it was unlawful for the government to exploit citizens, particularly when India was a welfare state committed to a socialist form of society. 

In Surinder Singh v. Engineer-in-Chief, CPWD (1986), the court held that “the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ was not an abstract doctrine, adding that …it was not open to the Government to exploit citizens, especially when India was a welfare state, committed to a socialist pattern of society”. It was seen as a crucial and furious concept that was widely supported, especially by all socialist countries.

According to the decision in State of Punjab and Ors v. Jagjit Singh and Ors (2016),an employee employed for the same work cannot be paid less than another who fulfills the same obligations and responsibilities. In a welfare state, most certainly not. Apart from being degrading, such action undermines the basic core of human dignity.” 

In this case, all of the temporary workers in the current batch of appeals were appointed to positions that were also available in the permanent cadre/establishment. The State of Punjab further acknowledged that during their employment, the concerned temporary employees were being randomly deputed to fulfill duties and obligations that had been given to regular employees at some point. As a result, the Court found that there can be no question that the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ would apply to all of the involved temporary employees, granting them the right to wages equivalent to the minimum of the pay scale of regularly employed Government employees holding the same job.

However, in the case State of Madhya Pradesh v. RD Sharma (2022), the court stated that equal pay for equal work is not a fundamental right vested in any employee, even though it is a constitutional goal that the government must attain.

In the present case, the retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests filed a writ petition to the Delhi High Court. The Government of India had denied his appeal to increase his pension from Rs 37,750 to Rs 40,000 in accordance with the new regulations. The Central Administrative Tribunal denied this application. Dissatisfied, he petitioned the High Court, where his writ petition was allowed and it was determined that he would be eligible for a pension of Rs.40,000 on par with other officials.

The State filed an appeal against this order, and the Apex Court highlighted that the HC had seriously misconstrued the Apex Court’s judgments in State of Punjab v Jagjit Singh and Ors (2016), which did not apply to the issue at hand. The Apex Court noted that determining pay scales and equating postings were the primary purview of the administrative branch, not the judiciary and that the courts would thus refrain from taking on the process of job appraisal, which is often carried out by organizations like pay commissions. The Court further stated that it would not get involved in such complicated situations unless there was a serious mistake made while determining a pay scale for a particular job and that the Court’s intervention was absolutely required to correct the situation.

Right to shelter 

In developing Indian jurisprudence on the right to housing or shelter, the Supreme Court relied on Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – the Right to Life – and read it along with Articles 38, 39, and 46. In several circumstances, the Supreme Court has also used Article 19(1)(e), which grants the freedom to reside in any part of India.

The Directive principles stated in Articles 38, 39, and 46 are essential for the right to housing: 

  • Article 38 requires the State to seek to enhance people’s welfare by guaranteeing and supporting a social order in which social, economic, and political fairness guide all institutions of national life. 
  • Article 39(a) mandates the State to direct its policies toward ensuring that all citizens have an adequate means of livelihood. 
  • Article 46 requires the state to promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker parts of society, particularly the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and to safeguard them from injustice and all forms of exploitation. 

In the case of Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990), the right to shelter was recognised. The Supreme Court stated that every civilized community protects one’s right to life. The right to healthy food, clean clothing, a clean environment, and suitable housing would all fall under this category.

Shelter for a human being, therefore, is not merely the protection of his life and limb, as was declared in the case of  Chameli Singh v. State of U. P. and Another (1995)It is his home and the place where he may grow intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Therefore, in order for him to readily access his daily activity, the right to shelter includes enough living space, a safe and good building, clean and acceptable surroundings, enough light, fresh air and water, power, sanitation, and other municipal infrastructure like roads, etc. As a result, the right to shelter encompasses not only the need for a roof over one’s head but also the entirety of the infrastructure needed for people to exist and grow as people“.

Right to food

The State should consider raising the standard of nutrition and the standard of living of its citizens, as well as promoting public health, as among its important duties, as provided in Article 47

The Supreme Court of India interpreted Article 21 of the Constitution’s Right to Life in accordance with this standard, interpreting it to cover “the right to live with human dignity and all that goes with it, namely, the bare necessities of life such as appropriate food, clothing, and shelter over one’s head.” 

As per the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the right to life also includes the right to food, a means of livelihood, and access to healthcare. According to the NHRC: 

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution ensures a basic right to life and personal liberty.” In this Article, the term “life” has been judicially defined to signify a life with human dignity, not only survival or animal existence. In light of this, the state is obligated to provide for all of the minimal criteria that must be met in order for a person to live with human dignity, such as education, health care, reasonable and humane working conditions, protection against exploitation, and so on”.

According to the Commission, in order to properly comprehend the State’s obligation to ensure the Right to Food is implemented, Article 21 should be read  with Articles 39(a) and 47. The State must focus its policies on guaranteeing that everyone, men and women equally, has the right to an adequate means of subsistence, according to Article 39(a) of the Constitution, which is one of the Directive Principles significant to the nation’s government.

Right to health 

According to Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services, as well as the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

In Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, it is acknowledged that everyone has the right to the best possible physical and mental health, as well as the establishment of circumstances that would ensure access to medical care and attention for everyone in the event of illness.

According to Article 12 of the  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979, all countries are obligated to end discrimination against women so they can exercise their right to family planning services, access to health care, and protection of their physical and mental health.

Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 states that every child has the right to the highest possible state of health. Every child also has the right to use healthcare services for treatment and wellness programs.

Life has been considered to encompass the right to health within the purview of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Every person has a right to protection against all types of life-threatening situations as well as emergency medical care. And the state shall consider enhancing the quality of nutrition, the standard of life of its citizens, and the enhancement of public health as among its fundamental obligations, according to Article 47 of the Indian Constitution.

In the Consumer Education and Research Center v. Union of India (1995), a consumer rights NGO named the Consumer Education and Research Center filed several writ petitions under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution against the Government of India regarding worker protection from occupational health hazards and illnesses linked to asbestos exposure. In this decision, the Supreme Court ordered the government to preserve the rights to health, a clean environment, and privacy as essential components of the requirements for a person to live with dignity.

Furthermore, in the case of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal (1996), the Supreme Court stated that the basic obligation of the government in a welfare state is to protect the wellbeing of the people. Providing appropriate medical facilities for the people is an integral component of the responsibility assumed by the government in a welfare state. Article 21 imposes an obligation on the state to protect the right to life of all individuals.

In the case of bonded laborers, Bandhwa Mukti Morcha, the Court stated, The right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article 21, derives its life-breath from the Directive Principles of State Policy, particularly Clauses (e) and (f) of Article 39 and Articles. 41 and 42, and, as a result, it must at least include protection of the health and strength of workers, men and women, and of the tender age of children.

The right to health is a basic human right since it is necessary for the right to life. In accordance with Article 21, the State is obligated to ensure that people have access to emergency medical treatment. The scope of Article 47 is broader, and it gives the government a good obligation to advance the standard of living for citizens in terms of nutrition and healthcare.

Enforcement of socio-economic rights 

The Supreme Court of India has established different legal precedents with regard to socio-economic rights. The Indian Court has interpreted the fundamental rights provision broadly to uphold socioeconomic rights listed in the Directive Principles of State Policy, while at the same time lowering procedural and legal hurdles to individual claimants’ ability to enforce their rights.

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984), the Court made a clear connection between the socioeconomic Directive Principles and the right to life, stating that the “right to live with human dignity, embodied in Article 21, gets its life breath from the Directive Principles.” 

The Court simultaneously lowered standing requirements and procedural restrictions on public interest lawsuits. The Court reasoned that these changes were required because “the entire aim of the statute was changing.” Developing new kinds of rights, it was promoting social justice.

In S.P. Gupta v. President of India (1982), the Court rejected common law locus standi rules that allowed anybody to bring a case on behalf of a “person who cannot file a lawsuit themselves due to poverty… or a socially or economically disadvantaged position.” In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984), for example, the Court allowed a public interest organization to challenge the constitutionality of bonded labor and urged the government to embrace public interest litigation more effectively.

The Court has also taken a comprehensive approach to what it must do to preserve socio-economic rights. For instance, in Bandhua Mukti Morcha, the Court instructed the state to guarantee that workers received a minimum wage going forward in addition to ordering the state to free bound laborers. The Court’s opinions have occasionally approximated full-fledged policymaking. An extreme example is the Right to Food Litigation i.e Peoples Union For Civil Liberties v Union Of India And Ors (2007), in which the Court ruled that the state was responsible for providing emergency nutrition and issued 49 interim orders between 2001 and 2005 to carry out its decision at a specific social policy level, addressing issues like school lunches and accountability.


Economic rights are not legally “justiciable” today, hence there is a substantial dispute over whether independent courts should rectify a violation of the right by declaring government action or inaction unconstitutional and, to some extent, demanding legislative or executive intervention.

Obligations relating to economic rights must be handled in the same way as those relating to civil and political rights. These include giving liberties, laying demands on the state with regard to other parties, and requiring the state to act or achieve a certain objective. Enforcing economic rights is crucial to reducing the pervasive and damaging economic issues both domestically and internationally.

Frequently asked questions [FAQs]

  1. What categories of rights does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights distinguishes between two types of rights: civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights.

  1. How are socio-economic rights included in the nation’s constitution?

Socio-economic rights can be incorporated into a constitution as directive principles that are not legally binding on the state but are politically and morally binding.

  1. How has the Indian Constitution included economic rights?

Economic Rights have been included as a Directive Principle of State Policy in Part IV of the  constitution.

  1. What connection exists between socio-economic rights and civil and political rights?

Equal importance is given to socio-economic, civil, and political rights. Generally, civil and political rights have been given more importance. However, civil, political, and socio-economic rights are interdependent and inseparable. Both are cornerstone principles of international human rights law.

  1. Are socio-economic rights only principles rather than enforceable rights?

Political and civil rights are usually acknowledged as being enforceable. Some contend that social and economic rights are not legally enforceable rights but rather political goals and objectives. States have acknowledged that civil, political, and socioeconomic rights are all equally important and should be prioritised, and the UN has indicated that there is no justification for such a distinction between civil, political, and socioeconomic rights.


  1. Economic-social-cultural-rights
  2. Social-and-economic-rights-primer.pdf
  4. economic rights


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