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 (Right to Wait for Jobs! Image Courtesy: jharkhandemployment.nic.in)
 
“Can you imagine any liberty being enjoyed by a citizen who goes about hungry for want of employment, who is haunted by the fear that his family would be without food as he has not got work?”
“Have we made any provision for such an individual? Can such a man have any interest in the administration except to blow it up? Unless material insecurity is eliminated, personal freedoms are paper safeguards and worth nothing.”
That was Sardar Hukam Singh putting soul-stirring questions at Constituent Assembly (CA) on 21st November 1949. He was debating draft constitution prepared by a committee headed by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar.  Mr Singh and a few other CA members unsuccessfully pitched for inclusion of right to work (RTW) in the charter of fundamental rights of citizens.
RTW & other vital issues raised at CA are more valid today as Kal-Chakra (eternal cycle) of population explosion, unemployment, poverty, crime and environmental degradation is deepening its scars on the country. 
It is indeed sad that these five inter-connected issues don’t figure in the #IntoleranceDebate engineered by pseudo-intellectuals and other vested interests.  
Alas, Parliament too virtually avoided these issues during the two-day discussion beginning 26th November 2015 on ‘commitment to India’s Constitution as part of 125th birth anniversary celebration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.’ Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who thankfully participated in the discussion, frittered away a golden chance to put RTW on the national agenda. He should have pitched for requisite constitutional amendment to shift RTW from Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) to Fundamental Rights in the Constitution.
If Mr. Modi acts on this political challenge, he would be completing the task left unfinished by one of his predecessors, V.P. Singh. Except for Singh’s National Front Government, all ruling political alliances have got overawed by RTW.
Even National Development Council (NDC) shied away from RTW in early nineties. NDC Committee on Employment considered the State’s (State refers to central, state and local governments under the Constitution) approach towards RTW and modalities of operationalizing it. 
Political reluctance to accept RTW challenge is evident from the Government’s stock replies to Parliament questions on RTW over the years. Take, for instance, the reply given a question on 8th August 2012 during UPA regime: “If Right to Work is made a Fundamental right, it would be necessary for the State to find matching jobs for all the people who seek employment. But given the country’s resource constraints, it is not possible to make Right to Work a Fundamental right at present.”
The political class has thus driven the Nation to a weird situation where people have constitutional right to procreate merrily and right to relish highly subsidized food but not the right to ask for work opportunities. 
Before delving further into RTW political narrative and way forward for Modi Government, it would be better to refresh RTW basics.
RTW, as a fundamental right, implies a person’s judicially enforceable claim to productive employment. It thus casts a legally binding obligation on the State. 
Keeping this fact in view, the architects of the Constitution didn’t list TRW along with other fundamental rights. They incorporated a provision relating to work under the right to freedom as right “to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.” This does not imply any financial obligation on the State to create work opportunities. 
Simultaneously, they provided for RTW in three articles in DPSP. Article 39 thus says: “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood….and (d) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women.”
Similarly Article 41 says: “The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work….”
The rider here is that all provisions contained DPSP are mere wish-list as they are not legally enforceable. The Constitution says that the principles underlying the provisions are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country. It shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has articulated RTW as vital means to fulfilling other human rights. NHRC's primer on RTW says: “The right to work is closely related to other basic rights such as the right to life, the right to food and the right to education. In a country where millions of people are deprived of any economic assets other than labour power, gainful employment is essential for these rights to be fulfilled. Indeed, unemployment is the main cause of widespread poverty and hunger in India. The right to work states that everyone should be given the opportunity to work for a basic living wage.”
In August 1990, Mr. V.P. Singh told Rajya Sabha that his Government intended to session a Constitutional Amendment Bill to make the Right to Work a Fundamental Right within the available resources.” 
A few MPs raised queries about the dilution of the impact of proposed RTW with the caveat that its implementation would be dependent on availability of resources. 
Margaret Alva had a dig at this rider when she quipped “What is your definition of ‘Right to Wait’? What do you mean by ‘Right to Work’?  
Mr. Singh responded by pointing out that by putting RTW in the Fundamental Rights list, RTW would become justiciable. Moreover, the proposed amendment would act as a constant reminder for the Government to work hard to promote economic growth and thus create job opportunities. He believed that no Government could in future deviate from this path. 
National Front Government could not implement its RTW idea as it fell in November 1990 after withdrawal of support by certain parties.  
A ray of hope on RTW emerged in 2002 when the 2nd National Commission on Labour Commission recommended that “the Right to Work, already a Directive Principle, should be made a Fundamental Right.”
In the same year, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) suggested that a new article, say article 21-C, may be added to the Constitution to make it obligatory on the State to bring suitable legislation for ensuring the right to rural wage employment for a minimum of eighty days in a year.
The Government did not amend the Constitution but did implement NCRWC’s recommendation by enacting Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in September 2005. It guarantees employment for a minimum number of 100 days in a year to every rural household whose adult member volunteers to perform manual work on developmental projects. The Government has resisted pressure to extent this job guarantee scheme to urban areas. 
The urgency to put RTW in the list of fundamental rights is important not to only pressure the Government to create employment but to also rein in judicial activism. 
The courts have repeated invoked fundamental right to life to reject, stall or delay many projects on environmental grounds. If RTW is defined as fundamental right on which hinges right to life in the Constitution, the judiciary would be morally compelled to take holistic view before giving verdicts that result in existing and  potential job losses as happened in cases such as 2G, iron ore mining ban in Goa and Karnataka or Vedanta bauxite mining project. 
Keeping in view India’s demographic disaster, social strife, sectarianism and war cries for job reservations, the judiciary should balance its environmental activism with the responsibility not to kill jobs & smother work opportunities. And there can be no better way of doing this then shifting RTW to list of fundamental rights. 
Modi Government should package RTW Constitutional Amendment with enactment of a new law named National Development and Jobs Creation Act (NDJCA). 
RTW and NDJCA can collectively serve as magic wand for Mr. Modi for turning around his sagging political future at the Centre. RTW’s sincere implementation can serve a silver bullet with which he can kill poverty, maim crime and smother environmental degradation. 
RTW and NDJCA would minimize the risk of projects getting delayed or sabotaged through public interest litigation (PILs) filed by vested interests. They would thus instill confidence among project developers.
And above all, Mr. Modi can herald Acche Din for all through RTW and NDJCA.
Without these two initiatives, other fundamental rights that have built-in caveats would remain a cruel joke for millions of unemployed and under-employed Indians. 
He and other leaders should pay heed to concerns voiced by forgotten CA members. If he can bring home ashes of a freedom fighter from the UK, there is no reason why he cannot pay homage to CAs whose RTW wishes remain unfulfilled so far.
It is here pertinent to recollect what H. V. Kamath stated a meeting of CA in November 1948. He stated: “We want a society of workers; every one must work. We should inscribe on the portals of our temple of democracy that he who will not work shall not eat: No work, no food. In the Bible this is laid down. Sir. In the Gita, it is said, he who eats without sacrifice, without work, he is a thief; he steals from society. We must therefore lay down this concept that work must be compulsory, work must be obligatory.”
Referring to work-related provisions in the draft Constitution, He noted: “There are millions of people in India today who want to work, but do not get work. As Bernard Shaw has said, at one end we have got men with appetites but no dinners; at the other, we have men with dinners, but no appetites. This social order is a house divided against itself. So long as this house divided continues, there will be no peace in the world; there will be no happiness in the world. We will have violent movements; we will have desperate men armed with bullets, armed with bren guns, trying to overthrow the social order. You cannot entirely blame them; you cannot find fault with them only; the fault lies also with those of us who want to perpetuate the exploiting social order.”
He added: “The answer to the bullet and bren gun is not the tank and the bomber as we see in Malaya; the answer is a change in the social order. I hope these articles will be implemented by the Government that is going to take office in the new India of the future, and that Government will try to establish economic and social democracy.”
About 68 years have passed since then. And the absolute number of unemployed, poor, hungry, malnourished has grown manifold since then. The political class have given jobless the civil liberty to bequeath right to wait from one generation to another!
 
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 12th December 2015
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