A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) can be very useful in establishing accountability in India, but few people use this legal tool. If more people start using PILs to claim their rights and uphold responsibilities, governance in India can become much more efficient.
Mr. X woke up grumpy and vexed. He could scarcely sleep last night due to a wedding in the public hall near his house. The air smelled foul. It has been a week since he last wrote to the municipality, and a month since the last time the garbage bin was emptied. This was not something he or anyone else would want to wake up to. With drowsy steps, he began to get ready for the day’s work—another trip to the government office, for the fourth time this week. He cannot call and check on them because the mobile he ordered online stopped working the previous day, and customer care isn’t responding. It has been two months since he retired, but he still hasn’t received his pension.
Miles away, Mr. Y had a sound sleep. He woke up happy and enthusiastic to start a new day. He sets out for his morning walk wearing his brand new sports shoes which he ordered online. They were one size smaller when he got them, but he was compensated for that with shoes of a better brand, with a heavy discount.
Mr. X lives in a society where authorities are unaccountable and can easily escape the snare of criticism for dereliction of duty. The services a citizen enjoys are of poor quality. This is because he lives in a society which is largely unaware of its legal rights, and unconcerned about its legal duties. Mr. Y, on the other hand, enjoys quality services to the fullest because he and others around him are educated in rights and responsibilities and uphold and exercise them.
Mr. X is India and Mr. Y is the United States of America (USA).
People of the USA have a higher standard of living as compared to the citizens of India. The USA stands 8th in the global Human Development Index, as against India’s 130th rank. “Standard of living” refers to the comfort and wealth enjoyed by people of a community—the quality of one’s life.
The rise and fall of the quality depends, in broader terms, upon economic, social, and political factors, and each of them are equally important to determining it. Emphasis is often—and was, for many years—laid on economic factors, while socio-political factors took a backseat. It was in the 1990s that the United Nations encompassed factors such as education, health, and legal rights to determine the quality of life.
So why are legal rights and duties so important, one may ask (unwittingly)? Let’s work our brains a little bit. Have you ever met a person who doesn’t vote in government elections, but would scream on top of his lungs, holding a rolled-up newspaper in one hand, when a foul on part of the government is disclosed? Yes, that guy is a quarter of India’s population.
The irony is that India is the world’s largest democracy. Surprisingly, even most slum dwellers are aware of the schemes and policies of both the Centre and the State. But disappointingly,, a majority of them do not avail of them. Rights are privileges a citizen of a democratic government is entitled to. For better standard of living, one needs resources, and also the freedom and right to use those resources to develop one’s capabilities.
Rights expand one’s choices, and therefore give an impetus to better one’s quality of life.
Although the literacy rate in America may not be very impressive, their knowledge about their legal rights definitely is. One can be sued if another trips on and is hurt by a sidewalk in front of the former’s house. They may have more guns than college degrees, but when it comes to the law, Americans surely know their game. America, in other words, practices the “suing culture”. Awareness, exercise of rights, and upholding their responsibilities has made the government more accountable and transparent, and the service providers more responsible.
Three things that make laws effective and successful are creation, implementation and exercise. India fulfills the first criterion, but falls short in the second and the third. To fill this void, the Supreme Court introduced the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 1979 (Article 32A of the Indian Constitution). The PIL makes judiciary and legal protection more accessible to the lowest in the social strata, as it allows lawsuits to be filed by a third party rather than the aggrieved party. This improved the existing situation, but a lot still needs to be done.
Corporate lawyers often get legal enquiries, which they love working with, and PILs have become more frequent with time.
It is very important for us to understand that rights are what make us citizens of democracy, as against subjects of a monarch. We are the builders of a free, democratic, accountable society, which is built upon the Constitution designed by the architects of our nation An active participant in democracy, a citizen, can only improve the existing condition of his/her life by exercising his/her rights. The standard of your living depends upon you. You have the power to improve it, or help it deteriorate. So, who would you rather be—Mr. X or Mr. Y?
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