Right to Food: Need, Want and Urge
Author: Disha Mittal
V Year | Delhi Metropolitan Education
Food is one of the most essential parts of human life for survival. Historically, as humans progressed from hunters to food gatherers, they started asserting ownership over their produce. Later, within kingdoms, providing food became a moral duty of the rulers. However, it was not an enforceable right. Therefore, the only thing that deprived people or citizens could do was unsuccessfully revolt against their rulers.
India has a divine culture with deeply embedded beliefs that food has a religious connection with Lord Brahma. Due to the cultural values of sharing, people came forward for the help of deprived individuals. Further, they gradually became more aware of social issues like malnutrition and starvation. This also lead to the creation of international and national laws, guidelines and frameworks on these issues.
In this article, the author analyses the latest manifestation of the right to food as a fundamental human right. The author also brings the global perspective to the forefront. Further, in the Indian context, the author discusses the nuances of applicability of the National Food Security Act, 2013. Lastly, the author concludes after sharing her recommendations on this issue.
Right to Food under Constitution:
The right to adequate food is a basic right. The United Nations Annual Report also states that “food is a basic human right which includes having a regular, permanent and unrestricted access directly or indirectly to qualitatively and quantitatively adequate food.”
Closer to home, as per Art 39(A) of the Indian Constitution, the government should fulfil the individual and collective needs of the people and enable them to lead a dignified life free from fear. Further, Art 47  places the duty on the State to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as a primary responsibility.
Therefore, the Constitution places the Right to Food under the directive principles of state policy. These are also indirectly enforceable under the constitutional remedy provided under Article 32 of the Constitution.
Right to food and Human Rights:
The High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the right to food should be taken as a fundamental right. Further, one of the objectives behind enacting the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was to overcome the problem of starvation deaths caused by lack for fair distribution of food grains.
“The Right to Food implies that appropriate nutritional levels and the quantum of relief to those in distress must meet those to ensure that this right is secured and does not remain a theoretical concept.”was said Dr. Amrita Rangasami, Director, Centre for the Study of Administration of Relief. The human rights approach to food and nutrition implies that the beneficiaries of relief measures should be recognized as claim holders.
Lack of food also makes people’s immunity weaker. Due to malnutrition and continued exposure to unsanitary surroundings, people lose their lives to common diseases like diarrahoea and malaria. Therefore, it was important to come up with a legal framework to improve the situation.
The National Food Security Act, 2013:
The National Food Security Bill came into existence in the year 2011. It is also known as the “Right to Food Bill”. Later on, in 2013, the Parliament passed this bill.
This Act focuses on the security of nearly 70 million Indians from starvation and malnutrition death. Further, it provides for subsistence and nourishment of nearly 67% of the population. It ensures that 50% of the urban population and 75% of the rural population can buy food at subsidy prices. For example, rice, wheat, and coarse grain are distibuted to families below poverty line at very low prices.
Public Distribution System helped the government in materialising this concept. Under this system, the government has opened ration and fair price shops.
Shortcomings of the Act:
Despite the theoretical concepts, the National Food Security Act remains highly ineffective. The author believes that the following obstacles lie in the path of the Act:
- The method of dividing the poor into below and above poverty line groups leads to the significant errors of exclusion.
- The system of cash voucher or transfer in the place of distribution of food sometimes compels the people to divert their money into some other area rather than food.
- Lack of proper hygiene was missing, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, health care education, which are important for the nutrition to be absorbed.”
- Proper budget allocation was not made as the amount invested was only 78 crores but the need for the money was much higher than that.
- Another important concern is the working of the system which is full of corrupt people as the state-owned cheap ration shops will not let equal or exact distribution which is given by the government.
The concept of the right to food in India began with the idea of “food for the nation” and transformed itself into “food for the people”. Further, in the recent years, it has inculcated the understanding of ‘food for the vulnerable’. Even after 74 years of independence, India is yet to realize the effectiveness of the right to food for its people.
Food production increased during the Green Revolution, which transformed India from a food importing state to a portion of food exporting state. However, the increased production failed to transfer meaningfully to the people. This aggravated the problem of starvation and a sense of nutritional security was disturbed. People still go hungry due to the high level of poverty and lack of purchasing power amongst poor households.
Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, UNITED NATION HUMAN RIGHTS (Nov. 19, 2019), https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/food/pages/foodindex.aspx.
Article 39A (a), Constitution of India 1950.
Art 47, Constitution of India, 1950.
Article 32, Constitution of India, 1950.
4 SHODH GANGA, THE EVOLUTION OF THE RIGHT OF FOOD 13.
Dr. Amrita Rangasami, Right of food, CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF ADMINISTRATION RELIEF, 16.
Sanjeev Gowda.G.S, Right to food in India: A constitutional perspective, Volume 3 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW AND LEGAL JURISPRUDENCE STUDIES, 11 (2016).
Mr. Gaurav Kumar Jha, Fair Price Shop, ARTHAPEDIA (May 08, 2016), http://www.arthapedia.in/index.php?title=Fair_Price_Shop_(FPS).
Editor: Kaanchi Ahuja
Content Manager| Leagle Samiksha