Prioritizing The Basic Needs of People As Human Right By Rupesh Chandra Madhav

It is a well known truth that human beings everywhere experience needs, wants and desires, have aspiration and interests, and claim rights. Yet ‘needs’ differ from all these related categories. One may want many things that one may not actually need; one may desire things beyond one’s needs, one’s aspiration may be higher than ones wants, needs and desires; even so, not all wants and desires correspond to having need or claiming rights. As concerns ‘needs’ contrasted with desires and wants, Roscoe Pound suggested the importance of the category of ‘interests’ as interests are social demands made by groups of the category of people on the law and state.[1]  He regarded law as a species of social engineering whose function is to maximise the fulfilment of the interests of the community and to promote the smooth running of the machinery of society[2].  The task of law is both as legislation and adjudication to provide mechanism for adjustment and settlement of conflicting interests. We may surely ask in the context of the planned economy of India and Globalisation, whether the Wants and Desires of the impoverished humanity actually experienced basic need  and attended by state, Politics and law or not. Here in this Article Author would try to find out the project but to understand the inter-action between law and life and how the community can register peaceful progress through the instrumentality of law. Likewise Mr. Justice S.Ratanavel Pandian observes in Indira Sawhney v. Union of India:[3]

This court which stands as a sentinel on the quie vie over the rights of the people of this country has to interpret the Constitution in its true spirit with insight into social values and suppleness of the adoption to the changing social needs upholding the basic structure of the Constitution for securing social justice, economic justice and political justice as well as equality of status and equality of opportunity  ... ... It may be a journey of thousand miles in achieving the equality of status and of opportunity, yet it must begin with a single step. So let the socially backward people take their first step in that endeavour and march on and on.


The satisfaction of human needs is widely accepted as an ideal for any human society. Human needs may be understood as a physiological or social requirement of the body or the mind which is considered essential for the maintenance of human life. In respect of physiological or homeostatic needs the biological sciences are more precise in giving scientific information regarding the essential needs relating to general hunger and specific food appetites, thirst, respiration, constant internal temperature and sleep, rest after fatigue and work after rest etc. Karl Marx described these as species needs, which include primarily the need for solidarity relations (companionship and communication) and need to perform productive work.[4]


One of the earliest thinking about Basic human needs can be found in Buddhist writings, which ordained that even for a person who joins the ascetic order certain basic needs known as Chhatupacchay, including within its fold Pindpat (food), Chivar (clothes), Sensan (shelter) and Gilanapachhaya Bhashaya Parikhara (medical services) ought to be provided.[5]

The United Nations has identified the following as the basic human survival needs: (i) Nutrition (ii) Shelter (iii) Health (iv) Education (v) Leisure (vi) Security (Physical safety and economic security) and (vii) Environment.

Abraham Maslow[6] made the Pyramid of needs which he categorised in four parts, in the rank of hierarchy Bottom level  i.e. (i) Safety and Security includes survival: food-water-shelter, above this (ii) Self esteem mentioned as Belonging: Love and acceptance, after this (iii) Aesthetic  appreciation meaning there by Intellectual achievement and on the Top levels he puts Self actualisation. There are some societies that lack resource for providing all the basic needs at a time. However, in some societies even the actualisation of priority basic human need such as food, poses serious resources and political will problems. The question arises on what basic one need is to be preferred over the others?


Part IV has been put into our Constitution containing directive principles of State Policy which specify the socialistic goal to be achieved.  Directive Principles in the scheme of our Constitution project the high ideal which the Constitution aims to achieve hence these Principles are fundamental in governance of the country. And Fundamental rights occupy a unique place in the lives of civilized societies and have been variously described as "transcendental", "inalienable" and "primordial" and they constitute the ark of the Constitution. They are like a twin formula for achieving the social revolution that is the ideal which the visionary founders of the Constitution set before themselves. In other words, the Indian Constitution is founded on the bed-rock of the balance between Parts III and IV. It is in this sense that Parts III and IV together constitute the core of our Constitution and combine to form its conscience. The edifice of Indian Constitution is built upon the concepts crystallized in the Preamble. Having resolved to constitute ourselves into a Socialist State which carried with it the obligation to, secure to our people justice- social, economic and political.[7]


Articles 38,39,41,42,43,43A,45,46,47 and 48  of our Constitution clearly manifests the importance of basic needs and includes policies to followed by states for welfare of the citizens, men and women equally in terms of means of livelihood, right to work, education, just and humane conditions of work, public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement etc. 

Article 45 which provides right to free and compulsory education may be read as after the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment)Act 2002:

 The state shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution for, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

Further Article 46 is another important provision for the Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections and protects them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
In D.S Nakara v. Union Of India,[8] the court has held that the basic framework of socialism is to provide a decent standard of life to working people, particularly security from cradle to the grave. The object is to achieve economic equality and equal distribution of income. The main emphasis in a socialist state is given on the welfare of all and not a few.  The state must adopt all possible measures to secure the well-being and progress of all citizens.[9]

In a Democracy Government is formed by consent and when laws are made it is the voice of the people, and discipline of a democratic citizens conforms to the norms of behaviour so set by the law.

ILO - Prioritizing basic needs

The first operationally sound and intellectually coherent vision of a people focused development strategy emerged in the 1970’s when the ILO’s World Employment Conference developed a strategy for meeting basic needs. This strategy emerged from a careful analysis at country level of problems of employment, poverty, and inequality in a number of countries.  The ILO mission visited countries like Colombia Sri Lanka and Kenya And Philippines and Sudan. This led to the preparation of a synthesis of required actions that became embodied in Employment, Growth and Basic Needs – A One World Problem.

The basic document was submitted in 1976 in the ILO World Employment Conference. The basic needs strategy captured the world’s attention and entered popular imagination. It won the support of people who held positions of international leadership, including the erstwhile World Bank president Robert McNamara.

As a dynamic strategy for development, the basic needs approach prioritized ensuring that the poorest group of each country should achieve a minimum standard of living within a defined time period (this was originally intended to be the end of the 20th century, a time period of 25 years from the time basic needs was first formulated).

As mentioned earlier, the strategy required each country to give attention to two elements of basic needs- 1) provision of certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption and 2) essential services provided by and for community at large; such as safe drinking water, sanitation, health and education. Participation of governmental bodies and human rights were included in the definition of basic needs. The World Employment Programme stressed that a strategy that combined fast economic growth and the redistribution of the fruits of growth had to be backed by international policies that covered elements of international trade, FDI, development assistance, migration policies for developing countries and policy towards multi-national enterprises. The World Employment Conference (of 76’) considered not only the strategy but also agreed on follow-up actions to be taken by both individual countries and the international community. In spite of some bitter ideological differences between poor and rich countries, the implementation of the strategy was met with a remarkably unequivocal consensus.

The ILO report of the World Employment Conference of 1976 laid down the idea of development and growth in terms of achieving basic needs for all, and also includes broad strategies to be followed viz. basic needs, but stops short of providing explicit steps of how developing nations might develop the political will to bring about the change that are part of basic needs strategy. The report also makes it very clear the need for more effective international trade and aid policies with the latter targeted more directly towards meeting basic needs.

The World Employment Conference and its consequences were mostly favorable. A few extremely poor countries such as South and North Korea, Taiwan, China and Sri Lanka, were able to address the basic needs of their poor majorities with relative success. East Asian countries that had seen twenty years of major civil and international wars now refocused on ensuring increased growth to go hand in hand with social equity. What the conference and exceedingly clear was that the leaders of developed and developing countries need to take parallel actions on the reform of international system and on internal reform to create political environment necessary to bring change.

In all this, ILO’s initiative and leadership need to be applauded. It went beyond its capabilities and duties as an organization and articulated basic needs as a concept, and saw to the implementation of the same by providing countries strategies to pursue to achieve basic needs. The marriage of economic aspects (employment, income equality) and social aspects(human rights, health, education etc.) that ILO realized necessary to human growth and development was visionary. ILO seemed to be the forerunner in realizing that true development to meet basic needs must ultimately encompass progress in all the areas of concern. 

 Achievements of the Tripartite World Conference

(1) Setting priorities for basic needs: There are several ways in which the basic needs of the poor could be satisfied within a given time horizon. One approach is through more rapid overall growth alone, leaving the income distribution to market forces. This approach implies high rate of investment, redistribution could occur as a byproduct of overall increased output.
Governments wishing to embark on a basic needs strategy may find it useful as a first step to establish suitable machinery to determine a national set of basic needs targets or minimum standard of living. To achieve the satisfaction of basic needs within a generation will therefore require action on all fronts, both redistribution and growth together. To be of use, this redistribution must result in production of more basic goods and services.  The provision of adequate employment opportunities is an essential ingredient in this strategy. A productive mobilization of unemployed and underemployed plus higher productivity by working poor are essential means of ensuring both a level of output high enough to meet basic needs target and its proper distribution. Redistribution of ownership of land and other productive resources are also likely to raise the level of productivity of working poor. 

The word “tripartite” world conference on Employment Income Distribution and Social Progress was represented by 121 delegates of government, 112 employers, 116 workers and 921 advisors. The conference achieved a major move in the direction of acceptance of basic needs strategy. The remarkable feature was this acceptance was heavily dominated by delegates from developing world itself.  Although the resolution leaves considerable room for flexibility in implementation, one needs to see how fast poor countries can be expected to move into basic needs strategy.  Clearly the developing world is very united on the need for a new international economic boarder but redistribution of wealth among countries will only be going to solve the problem of poverty. As said earlier, countries focused on new international economic boarder as opposed to change in the internal policies, it is likely that neither will happen without the other.

(2) Declaration of basic needs – The conference adopted the following resolution as Programme of Action.
1.      Past development strategies have not helped to eradicate poverty and unemployment
2.      Industrialized countries have not been able to ensure full employment
3.      The effort of the conference is to establish a more equitable international economic border
4.   The causes of unemployment, poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy are caused by both national and international factors.
5.    The primary objective of national development efforts should be to achieve full employment and to satisfy the basic needs of all people. Committed to attainment of equitable distribution of income and wealth through appropriate strategy to eradicate poverty.
(3) Articulating areas of focusing each basic need:

Broadly speaking, the Programme of Action developed in the conference includes two elements of basic needs:
  1. to include certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption i.e. adequate food, shelter and clothing as well as certain household equipment and furniture. They include essential services provided by and for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport and heath, educational and cultural facilities.
  2.  It also emphasized that the concept of basic needs is a country-specific and dynamic concept. It should be placed within a context of national independence, the dignity of individual and people and their freedom to chart their destiny without hindrance. 
Now the conference prioritizes basic needs and program of action as follows:
 Creating full employment and national employment centric development strategy aiming at satisfying the basic needs of the population as a whole should include the following essential elements; to the extent it is desirable and applicable:
Macro-economic policies: An increase in the volume and productivity of the workforce in order to increase incomes of the lowest income groups.
  •  The control of the utilization and processing of natural resources as well as establishment of basic industries that would generate self-relying and harmonious economic development. 
  •  A planned increase in investments in order to achieve diversification of employment and technological progress and to overcome other regional and sectoral inequalities.
  • Provisions by the government for policy framework to guide the public and private sectors towards meeting the basic needs
  • The development of human resources through education and vocational training.
Employment Policies:
  •  Member States should prioritize generation of employment.  Specific targets should be set to reduce unemployment and underemployment.            
  •  Equality of treatment and remuneration for women should be ensured.
  •  Wage policy should be such that wages earned by members of the workforce should be able to meet minimum standards of living, and be equitable and the wage policy itself should reflect social productivity.

Rural Sector Policies:
  •  Government should give priority to rural development, in particular to effectively reorganize the agrarian structure.
  • Cooperatives should be promoted, especially in the areas of transportation, storage, marketing distribution network etc.
  •  The main thrust of a basic needs strategy must be to ensure that it is an effective mass participation of the rural population in the political process in order to safeguard their interests. A policy of active encouragement to small farmers and rural workers should be pursued.

Social Policies:
  •  To increase the welfare of working people especially women, the young and the aged.
  •   Special emphasis should be placed in developing countries on promoting the status of education and employment of women and on integrating women into economic and civic life of a country, thus enuring their development as a social group.
  •   Abolition of every kind of discrimination as regards right to work, wage equality, vocational guidance, training etc.
  •  Favourable workplace conditions for married women
  •  The implementation of basic needs strategies should allow no discrimination against the young, the aged or the handicapped. Every segment of the working class should be given equal opportunity, equal pay for work and working conditions suited for their age.
  •   Government should try to involve employers’ organization, trade union, rural workers in decision making procedure

  • Education itself is a basic need and hence an important ingredient of the basic needs strategy. Lack of access to education denies many people the opportunity to participate fully and meaningfully in social, economical, cultural and political life of the community.
  • Educational and vocational training system should adopted for the national development needs

Population Policy:
  •  Empirical studies have shown that high birth rates in poverty stricken areas are not the cause of under development but a result of it. This may however jeopardize the satisfaction of the basic needs.  Even though each country must adopt a population policy, the policy must be in line with the existing cultural and social background.

International Economic Cooperation:
  • Stabilize developing countries’ export of primary products and improve their terms of trade to financing and integrated commodity program
  •  Increase the net transfer of resources to developing countries including mitigation of their debt burden.
  •  Increase mutual economic cooperation between countries with different social and economic systems.

In a changing society such as in India, law must be dynamic and followed by socio-economic legislation for addressing the changes. In this backdrop there is a need to examine the new emphasis on Land Reforms, Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Legal Aid, Right to Information, Recognition of Forest Dweller Rights, Protection of Children from the Sexual Offences, National Rural Employment Guarantee, Prohibition of Child Marriage, Welfare of Senior Citizen and Old Parents, Prohibition on Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation, Disaster Management, Unorganised Sector Workers Right and Green Tribunal etc..


More than sixty five years after independence, India’s development records are still not very convincing. International economic and social indicators reveal the existing problems in achieving basic needs for the majority of the population. In view of the stages of development and preferences there may be differences between one Society and other on the issues of perception of human needs. But the starting point of enquiries for basic needs is the field of legal rights, human rights, social justice, individual liberty and equality etc.

1. Upendra Baxi, “ Law and Unmet Social Needs” 1 Journal of NLU Delhi 1 (2013).
2. V R Krishna Iyer, Law & Life 1 (Universal Law Publishing Co., Delhi, 2008).
[3] AIR 1993 SC 447 at 634)
3.M.P.Singh and Helmut Goerlich (eds.), Human Rights and Basic Needs 151 (Universal Law Publishing Co., Delhi, 2008).
4.Ibid 152 referred Rhys and Davids (ed. And trans.), Mahavaga – Vinaypitaka, ( Pali text Society, London, 1980).
5. T.Subbarao ( Prof NLSIU) referred in his 2006 LRM PPT study material.
6.H.M.Seervai, Constitutional Law of India, 2, 1953 ( Universal Law Publishing Co., Delhi, 4th
edn., 2008) as referred in Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors v. Union Of India & Ors, AIR 1980 SC 1789. Further see Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation, 50 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966). 
7.AIR 1983 SC 130.
8.Articles 38(1) and 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution of India. Further see Kerala Hotel and Restaurant association v. State of Kerala AIR 1990 SC 913.
Rupesh Chandra Madhav is presently working om his dissertation on "Informational Privacy" for Indian Law Institute, New Delhi. He is also Executive Editor of LAWMAN. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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