Calcutta Notebook


Indian constitution is full of contradictions. Article 25 guarantees that an individual's Right to Worship will not be taken away. This injunction is absolute. The State cannot deprive a person of his Right to Worship for any reasons whatsoever. Article 21 guarantees physical welfare. It is stated that one can be deprived of his life or personal liberty in accordance with law. A person can be deprived of his Right to Life if the Government feels that deprivation of his right to life will enhance the lives of many more. For example, if a lone farmer would refuse to shift from the submergence area of a hydropovver project then the Government can forcibly evict him. The benefit to the large numbers of users of electricity would far exceed the loss to an individual. However, similar deprivation of Right to Worship for making a hydropovver project is not allowed in the Constitution. There is no provision for depriving a person of his Right to Worship.

The distinction between Article 21 and Article 25 is reflective of the difference between consumption and higher seeking. Economic theory recognizes that mere increase in consumption does not lead to human welfare. For example, a study done for World Commission of Dams shows that Human Development improves drastically from 0.2 to 0.75 as electricity consumption per capita rises from 0 units to 1000 units per family per month. Hereafter, further increases in electricity consumption do not add much to HDI. An increase in consumption from 1000 units to 10,000 units per month only adds a trifle 0.10 to the Human Development Index. Implication is that large increases in consumption of the rich are not adding to human welfare.

The twin objectives of Right to Life under Article 21 and Right to Worship under Article 25 can be opposed to each other. An increase in consumption of bananas by a person suffering from cold will beget him illfare, not welfare. A writer may be happier preserving his freedom than by making money by toeing the official line. A Mullah may be happy living frugally. This happens because these persons have evolved to the level of Article 25. They have recognised that unending consumption is a trap. So human beings at the lower level of existence are focused on enforcement of their Right to Life under Article 21; whereas those at higher level of existence are focused on Right to Worship under Article 25.

One may analyze the happenings at Uttarakhand in this backdrop. There was a Dhari Devi Temple. This was coming in the submergence area of the Srinagar hydroelectric project. There is a tradition in Uttarakhand that the Devi descends on some person and speaks live. Two meetings were held between the Pujaris of the Temple and the Company in 2009. 'On both occasions the Devi appeared and categorically stated that she was not willing to be shifted from her place. On June 15 this year the Devi again appeared and warned that she will bring disaster if shitted forcibly'. The Company persisted and lifted the Idol on the afternoon of June 15. Immediately thereafter disaster struck at Kedarnath.

It is disputed by the Government  and Dam authorities that lifting of the Idol has any connection with the disaster. They say it is a mere coincidence. It does not help their argument, however. But law has a concept of Precautionary Principle which states that something must not be done if there is a lurking danger. Precautionary Principle required that the Idol not be lifted because there was a danger.

This principle was upheld by the Supreme Court in the recently delivered Vedanta judgment. Tribal people of Odisha worshipped a particular Mountain as a living Deity. Vedanta wanted to do mining there. The Court said in no uncertain terms that Right to Worship of the local people could not be withdrawn for attaining economic growth. It directed the Company to proceed only if the local people agreed to mining. Consumption of minerals was denied for attaining Right to Worship. Unfortunately the Court refused to stay the uplifting of Dhari Devi Temple on the same principle.

Vol. 46, No. 9, Sep 8 - 14, 2013

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