Is ‘food for all’ feasible in India as a government policy?

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A very basic fundamental right of every human being is to be able to receive nutritious and healthy food. However, the problem of hunger and malnutrition is prevalent across India and has been the reason for numerous diseases and deaths in the country.

India ranked 103 out of 119 in the Global Hunger Index published in 2018 which is based on child mortality, child stunting, child wasting and undernourishment. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations revealed that India is home to 195.9 million people out of the 821 million undernourished people in the world. This accounts for 24% of the world’s hungry people. It is also estimated that around 19 crore people in India go to sleep on an empty stomach every night.

The most shocking statistics was revealed by the Nation Health Survey, according to which, over 4500 children in India die under the age of 5 years due to starvation and malnutrition every single day. This amounts to over 3 lakh children every year. The same report has also revealed that 38% kids have stunted growth.

Despite the numerous schemes and policies formulated by the government, the problem of hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths is still prevalent on a large scale in India. This calls for newer and better solutions.

What does the recent PIL filed before the Supreme Court seek to achieve in the direction of ‘food for all’?

A petition has been filed before SC by social activists Anun Dhawan, Ishann Dhawan and Kunjana Singh, represented by their advocates Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, Ashima Mandal and Mandakini Singh, seeking directions to all states and Union Territories to formulate schemes for establishment of community kitchens to combat the problem of hunger and malnutrition in the country.

The petition relied upon various reports, articles and statistics to prove the problem of hunger in India. These statistics and reports clearly indicate the magnitude of this issue in our country. The petition also quoted the 2010 World Food Programme Report which identified the reasons for hunger and malnutrition in India as increasing urban inequality, increase in slums, workforce with not very remunerative employment and lack of proper health, hygiene and nutrition infrastructure.

What are the directives sought in the petition?

The petitioners urged the Court to direct the Chief Secretaries across the country to formulate schemes for the implementation of community kitchens. It was suggested that implementation of these kitchens be either done through funds from the State or funds from the Corporate Social Responsibility by a Public Private Partnership. The petitioners believe that this is the only way for the poor to overcome food inflation and to ensure that no one goes to sleep on an empty stomach.

They also sought directions to the Central Government to establish national food grid systems so that people without cards and those not covered under public distribution system can be covered as well. Further, they sought issuance of a direction to the National Legal Services Authority to formulate a scheme to minimize the problem of starvation and the consequent deaths caused by it.

What is the Tamil Nadu’s Amma Unavagam model?

Tamil Nadu’s Amma Unavagam,also called mother’s canteen, was considered as the model that the new community kitchens should follow. Amma Unavagam has not only maintained taste but has also taken due care of hygiene and nutrition.

Other states and countries have also implemented similar programmes like soup kitchens, meal centres and community kitchens that help provide food for free or at subsidised rates. A few examples of these are Anna canteen of Andhra Pradesh, Annapurna Rasoi of Rajasthan, Ahaar scheme of Odisha, Aam Aadmi canteen of Delhi and Indira Canteens of Karnataka. Community kitchens like these take help from Self Help Groups to sustain themselves and have not only fed the hungry but also have been able to provide employment to people.

Is right to food a part of right to life?

The petitioners in the PIL contends that Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen protection of life and personal liberty, does not provide for mere existence but a life with dignity. Moreover, Article 47 of the Constitution states that it is the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of the people in the country. The government has not been able to fulfil this obligation to provide food security to the people. The government also cannot fulfil its primary duty to improve public health unless the problem of hunger is solved.

Even though schemes have been formulated by the Centre and various states to combat the problem of hunger and nutrition, the implementation of these schemes have not shown any substantial result in solving the problem. The deaths due to malnutrition, starvation and hunger are on a rise. It is contended by the petitioners that this is in violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens, especially the right to life under Article 21.

Way forward…

Food is a basic human right. The problems of hunger, malnutrition and starvation that the petitioners have brought forth in the PIL filed are not unknown.  According to a study published in the journal Lancet Global Health in 2015, India has the highest child mortality rate. India is also one among the 45 countries with serious problem of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index 2018 Report made by Welthungerlife and Concern Worldwide.

In a country with high poverty, it is extremely important that more initiatives like community kitchens and meal centres are undertaken. Good quality food at subsidized rates needs to be provided so that every single person has access to food irrespective of their economic status. It is also the way forward to curb the health care costs that the government has to incur due to food borne diseases that people suffer from by eating unhygienic food.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Shreya Bansal from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.

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