India: Compliance with orders on the right to food

Poorvi Chitalkar, Varun Gauri

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


Introduction In recent years, there has been a surge in the legalisation of socio-economic rights, in the context of what is often described as a ‘rights revolution’ from judiciaries (Epp, 1998). During and since the third wave of democratisation around the world, more and more substantive rights have been enshrined in constitutions. Courts around the world have issued far-reaching decisions involving social and economic rights and, in doing so, have at times changed the landscape of policy (Gauri and Brinks, 2008a). The Indian judiciary is no exception. Since the 1980s it has significantly expanded the ambit of socio-economic rights. The Indian constitution enumerates a number of civil and political rights as justiciable ‘fundamental rights’ whilst also listing key social-economic priorities as non-justiciable principles to be the goals and duties of the state. These ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ were intended to guide legislative and executive action, but they were left non-justiciable so as to give a newly independent state the leeway to balance various priorities according to its economic capacity (Austin, 1966). In a series of key decisions, Indian courts have transformed these once non-justiciable social and economic rights, such as rights to basic education, health, food and clean environment, into legally enforceable rights. They have done so primarily through the use of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) – a judicial innovation that has allowed citizens to access courts in a simpler and relatively inexpensive way. Mainly through PIL, Indian courts have adopted an expansive interpretation of the ‘right to life’, incorporating within its ambit several due process protections for civil and political rights, as well as positive obligations towards social and economic rights. While the extent of judicial activism of Indian courts has been debated and the practice of PIL extensively studied, the focus of the literature in both spheres has targeted the legitimacy of courts’ actions. More recently, there has been some valuable analysis of the effect on judicial decisions on education and health policy (Shankar and Mehta, 2010) as well as enquiries into the beneficiaries of socio-economic rights litigation (Brinks and Gauri, 2014; Gauri, 2011; Rajagopal, 2007). In short, there is as yet relatively little systematic enquiry into the effectiveness of Indian courts’ interventions on social and economic rights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Rights Judgments and the Politics of Compliance
Subtitle of host publicationMaking it Stick
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781316673058
ISBN (Print)9781107160217
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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