It is broadly recognized that the right to food forms one of the basic economic and social rights essential to achieve ‘economic democracy’ in India. Though serious difficulties are involved in making the right to food fully justiciable, new interventions are probable in at least three ways – through legal action, through democratic practice and through growing public awareness. More importantly, the right to food should be linked to other economic and social rights relating to education, work, health and information.
FOOD AS A HUMAN RIGHT
The right to food guarantees freedom from hunger and access to safe and nutritious food. Several key human rights principles are fundamental to guaranteeing the right to food. They are:
Readiness- Food should be available in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.
Ease of access- Food should be physically and economically accessible in ways that do not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights.
Sustainability- Food should be secure, or available, for both present and future generations.
Non-Discrimination- Any discrimination in access to food, as well as to means and entitlements for its procurement, on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, age, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status is a violation of the right to food.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was charted out in 1948, envisaged that everyone throughout the world should enjoy the rights contained therein. These rights were to be absorbed into the legal, administrative and political culture of nations, through recognition followed by implementation in national law and administration, including any necessary political and social reforms. Global institutions had to be established, some of them to watch and regulate the implementation of human rights worldwide and others, such as FAO, to provide assistance and cooperation in enabling the enjoyment of these rights for all. The daunting task was to ensure that rights were assimilated into national law and administrative practice, and that conditions were shaped under which it would be possible for states to meet their responsibilities.
THE INDIAN STRUGGLE
The movement in India began with a writ petition submitted to the Supreme Court in April 2001 by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. Briefly, the petition entails that the country’s gigantic food stocks should be used without deferral to protect people from hunger and starvation. The campaign has already taken up a wide range of aspects of the right to food. Sustained demands included: (1) a national Employment Guarantee Act, (2) universal mid-day meals in primary schools, (3) universalization of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) for children under the age of six, (4) effective implementation of all nutrition-related schemes, (5) revival and universalization of the public distribution system, (6) social security arrangements for those who are not able to work, (7) equitable land rights and forest rights. Some of these demands have been met to some extent.
The Right to Food Campaign (RFC) that started in 2005 to ensure that hunger and malnutrition become a political priority and resources reach the intended beneficiaries. It is perceived as a social movement with a much broader agenda, playing an important role in bringing down the barriers that people face in gaining access to the programs and resources to which they are entitled. In the Indian context, these barriers include corruption, apathy, and many forms of social discrimination making it difficult for the intended beneficiaries to gain access to the programs expressly meant for them.
THE LEGAL ENTITLEMENT
As passed by the Parliament, Government has notified the National Food Security Act 2013 on 10th September, 2013 with the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity. The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children. In case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals, the beneficiaries will receive food security allowance. The Act also contains provisions for setting up of grievance redressal mechanism at the district and state levels. Separate provisions have also been made in the Act for ensuring transparency and accountability.
AREAS NEEDING ATTENTION
It is vital, therefore, that India?s general food security strategy be supplemented by safeguards against discrimination -induced low access, which we believe is the reason for more persistent poverty among the excluded groups. The need for safeguards against discrimination in market and non-market exchange has not yet been sufficiently recognized by national and international policy bodies. In the case of India, food security policies should include legal safeguards against discrimination and positive steps to ensure equal and fair shares in food and employment. Such a method would improve excluded groups? access to food and employment and help lessen poverty at an enhanced rate.
-Contributed by Anushna
Picture Credits: aljazeera.com