Right to Food- How far we are?

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Overview

India ranked 101 in the Global Hunger Index with a score of 27.5 labelled as ‘serious. The problem of food security is in India for centuries. From the time of partition, many governments formulated policies and schemes to eradicate the hunger crisis. Yet statistics have only suggested a hike in the problem.Recently a PIL was filed in the Hon’ble court demanding for the community kitchen to attain right to food. The worst part of this is the malnutrition in children below 5 years.

The PIL focused on the system providing nutritious food to these children to lower the death rate due to malnutrition. On 16th November the Supreme Court by quoting,” Welfare State Has To Ensure No One Dies Of Hunger” ordered the Central Government to come up with the policy within 3 weeks. The statement came after the collective report was submitted by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Administration. merely having data and no concrete plan or proposal.

The present articles highlight the condition of food security and right to food in India. Also, National Food Security Act which is the current applicable legislation on the problem has been touched in brief.

Introduction

Article 21 provides for right to life along with allied rights in which right to food is a crucial part. Right to food has been recognized as a major fundamental and human right. Food being the basic amenity of human life, it touches many aspects of human living and survival.  

Right to food is a human right that provides for a life of dignity and security from hunger, starvation and malnutrition. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 25 says that everybody has the life of privilege of sufficient wellbeing and prosperity including food.

The right has been adopted firmly in International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights where states ratified on right to standard of living and adequate food.

People Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India and Others

This case is popularly known as Right to Food case. The petitioners had moved to court to demand transformation in the policies and schemes on food. The improper storing of the buffer stock is a major problem in India. With tonnes of cereals like wheat and rice rot due to inadequate storage and get spoiled. The case was around this careless storing of grains and pathetic deaths out of starvation in Rajasthan.

The case made the court give various interim orders and steps were taken. PDS shops were opened again. States were directed strictly to look after squandering food grains and ensure proper storage. The case has been one of the most landmarks and has been quoted in various other cases.

National Food Security Act, 2013

National Food Security Act was the ambitious scheme of providing food at cheap prices to at least 2/3rd Indian population. One of the salient features of the act was the “targeted distribution system”. More than 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population was covered under the act. Apart from this general distribution, there was a special scheme for pregnant women and children. Meals were set as per standard nutrition norms under other associated schemes. Integrated Child Development Service and Mid-day meal were two of some schemes.

The act was born out of the National Food Security Bill, 2011 and the twenty-seventh report of Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

Drawbacks of the act

National Food Security Act makes PDS a major part of its system. Importantly PDS system has been for decades in India. The problem of its functioning has been another severe challenge that is pending to be addressed.
Another problem of the act is the storage and distribution system. Casual management of stocks has brought in fiscal burden to the government with farmers’ hard work in the drain. The Right to Food case majorly focused on the storage problem of the scheme.

Also, some poor states have failed to facilitate distribution systems. The quality of grains has been the reason for the non-willingness of the beneficiaries to take grains. Various committees and reports were set up to overlook the system. Saxena Committee of 2010 reported that 45% of the targeted population do not have BPL cards. Over these 10 years, the situation has not been any better.

Some major cases

 In the case of Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame, the Supreme Court mentioned that food, clothing and shelter are the three basic needs of the man. Odhisa is one of the states that have a dreadful situation of starvation. Especially, the areas of Kalahandi face the situation of extreme hunger. In the case of Kishan Patnaik v. State of Odhisa, the court took cognizance directing the state to address the serious issue. The Indian judiciary records a plethora of cases on this starvation problem. The case Chameli Devi v. State of UP also said, everyone has right to standard living including food, medical and shelter.

Conclusion

There is a quote said, Hunger is not caused by scarcity of food, but by the scarcity of democracy. It can be interpreted that the government has a major role to play in the solution. Reports have always said that India produces enough to feed its population. Yet, the problem lies in the faulty distribution and storage system, corruption of officials involved, insufficient funds to keep the process running.

The current proposal of Community Kitchen policy looks like a potential plan to curb the problem. Such initiatives are run by various NGOs and religious organizations. The court has asked for some state plan in which the food is provided with a better-developed system. Food creation should be multiplied, farmers should be encouraged of modern farming techniques. With more involvement of personnel and a well-governed system, the problem can be dealt with.

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