The rights epidemic

Legislature and judiciary take right-based approach to absurd length

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 27, 2012



It's raining rights these days. Every government, at the centre and in the states, is passing more and more laws guaranteeing rights to the citizen. Even the judiciary has joined the race, expanding the ‘fundamental rights’ beyond what the constitution envisaged or mandated. Recall how the apex court said recently that right to sleep is also a fundamental right!

Never mind if these rights are not enforced. At least we should be happy that we have a growing list of rights. What, however, is worrisome is the absurd length to which the legislature and judiciary have gone.

Take the example of Rajasthan. On Thursday, the state government passed a “right to hearing” law, called Rajasthan Right to Hearing Act, 2012, bestowing a right of hearing on any grievance or complaint relating to governance within a stipulated time. The state government rightly claimed that this was “first for any state in India”.

A few months ago, the same government had passed a right to services law, called Rajasthan Public Service Guarantee Act, 2011, guaranteeing the right to a plethora of services in a time bound manner - electric connections, correction of electricity bills, verifications for passport, license renewal, disability certificate, post-mortem report, driving licence, water connection, maintenance of hand pump, making available copies of land record, transfer of agricultural land, conversion service, caste certificate, original residence certificate, birth and death certificate, marriage registration certificate and so on.

Taken together, the right to hearing law is a law to guarantee that the right to services law is implemented because the complaints about governance is essentially complaints about absence or negligence in matters relating to government services.

Here is a minor detail. The right to services law was notified for implementation from November 14, 2011. Which means, in five months’ time the state has not only realized that the earlier right-based law has failed, it worked on a fresh legislation and got the assembly to debate and pass it. If not for quality of governance, at least there is reason to believe that the Rajasthan government is double quick in responding to the needs of better governance.

But what happens if the right to hearing fails? Maybe, soon we will hear another right-based law from the state.

Incidentally, last year the state had passed a right to education law too.

Take another example. Two years ago, the Assam government passed a right to health law, called Assam Public Health Act 2010. Apart from guaranteeing health service, it promised nutritionally adequate food, drinking water, housing and sanitation.

Two years later, this law is yet to be implemented. The official explaination is that the state is yet to set up a corpus to implement it in 2010-11 and 2011-12. This year’s budget too has not set aside a sum. This fund is a pre-requisite to provide necessary infrastructure and also pay compensation to people in case the state fails to honour their right.

The race for right-based laws was started by the UPA I. It passed a right to information law, a right to education law, a right to forest land and trees law and a right to employment law. A right to food law is pending with parliament at the moment.

The absurdity of it all will be obvious when you consider what the judiciary is up to. Read the supreme court’s pronouncement in connection with a mid-night raid by the Delhi Police on Baba Ramdev and his sleeping supporters in the Ramlila grounds last year. While blaming everyone concerned for the incident, the apex court in order of February 2012 said: “Deprivation of sleep has tumultuous adverse effects. It causes a stir and disturbs the quiet and peace of an individual's physical state. A natural process which is inherent in a human being, if disturbed, obviously affects basic life.

"It is for this reason that if a person is deprived of sleep, the effect thereof, is treated to be torturous. To take away the right of natural rest is also, therefore, violation of human rights. It becomes a violation of a fundamental right when it is disturbed intentionally, unlawfully and for no justification.”

Extend the logic. Even the right to answer nature’s call should also be a fundamental right. Right?

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