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Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni (1983): Upholding the Right to Livelihood

In the case of the Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni, the Supreme Court delved into the concept of the right to livelihood as an integral part of the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Background of the Case: Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni, an employee of the Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay, was sought to be retired by the Board on the grounds of his alleged inefficiency in service. Nadkarni challenged this, claiming that the regulations under which this action was taken were violative of the Constitution.

Key Takeaways from the Judgement:

  1. Right to Livelihood under Article 21: The Court recognized that the right to life doesn’t merely ensure physical existence but also encompasses the right to live with human dignity. This implies that anything which prevents an individual from enjoying a dignified life, including wrongful deprivation of one’s livelihood, infringes upon the right to life.
  2. Protection against Arbitrary Action: The Supreme Court held that while the right to livelihood isn’t an absolute right, any action by an employer, which results in wrongful deprivation of livelihood, would be subjected to a test of fairness and legality. In other words, if the termination or forced retirement is arbitrary, it infringes upon the right to life.
  3. Contextual Interpretation of Article 21: The Court, in this judgment, demonstrated a broader, more holistic understanding of Article 21, acknowledging that life’s quality and dignity can be severely compromised without the means to secure basic needs, including through employment.

Critical Analysis:

  • Evolution of Article 21’s Interpretation: This judgment continues the trend of the expansive interpretation of Article 21. The recognition of the right to livelihood as intrinsic to the right to life reveals the judiciary’s intent to embrace a more inclusive view of fundamental rights.
  • Balancing Individual Rights and Organizational Autonomy: While safeguarding the individual’s right to livelihood, the Court also recognized that organizations have the autonomy to take decisions based on efficiency and performance. However, this autonomy cannot be wielded in an arbitrary or capricious manner.
  • Foundation for Subsequent Judgments: This decision laid the groundwork for future cases, where the nexus between personal dignity, livelihood, and the right to life was further reinforced.

Conclusion: The Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay vs. Dilipkumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni judgment underscores the Supreme Court’s evolving stance on socio-economic rights within the framework of the Constitution. By affirming the right to livelihood as a cornerstone of the right to life, it sent a clear message: ensuring a dignified life for all is both a constitutional imperative and a societal responsibility.

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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