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Food Security And Entitlements: Challenges and Solutions

Enhancing the Right to Food: Empowering Citizens for Nutritional Security

In a nation as diverse as India, the realization of the universal right to food remains an elusive goal. Despite remarkable economic growth and policies aimed at ensuring food accessibility for the underprivileged, the scourge of hunger continues to afflict the populace. Vulnerable social and ethnic groups, particularly Adivasis, Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and marginalized women, bear the brunt of this crisis, highlighting the need for comprehensive reforms and renewed efforts.

The Landscape of Right to Food Discourse in India

India stands out among countries for its extensive deliberations on the right to food, both within the corridors of law and across governmental and non-governmental circles. Notably, the utilization of public interest litigation to uphold this right exemplifies a means of providing justice to the marginalized. The Indian Supreme Court, recognizing the right to food as a fundamental constitutional right, has issued quasi-legislative directives that set a precedent for global legal practitioners. This precedent underscores the vital role of legal professionals in driving progressive transformations in food security within a country’s legal framework.

Continuous Engagement with Right to Food

Food Security
Right-to-Food

The Indian Supreme Court’s long-term commitment to the right to food is embedded in its methodology. The ongoing Right to Food Case, which dates back to 2001, demonstrates the court’s steadfast dedication. This sustained engagement, in collaboration with appointed Commissioners, ensures consistent scrutiny and action, thereby intertwining monitoring with remedies. A parallel instance of this approach is observed through the National Human Rights Commission’s decade-long investigation into starvation in the State of Orissa (1997-2006), marked by rapporteurs’ involvement and the government’s quarterly reform progress reports.

Legislation vs. Framework: A Strategic Approach

While various countries have implemented framework laws for the right to food, India opted for precise legislative measures targeting specific social programs. These measures were implemented through parliamentary decisions and Supreme Court mandates. This has resulted in meticulously defined entitlements, such as mid-day meals for school children and guaranteed employment opportunities in public works for rural households.

Courts’ Role in Protecting the Right to Food

While parliaments play a pivotal role in enacting policies and laws for social programs safeguarding the right to food, courts hold a paramount responsibility in upholding the right through comprehensive interpretations of fundamental rights. This dynamic synergy between legislative and judicial entities reinforces the protection of citizens’ rights.

Deciphering Entitlements and Psychological Notions

In the realm of law, entitlements signify provisions established within a society’s legal framework. These provisions are often rooted in principles of social equality and empowerment. In psychology, an entitlement mentality pertains to a perception of deserving special treatment even when no substantial effort has been expended to earn it.

Transition to Statutory Backing: The National Food Security Act

A pivotal transformation occurred with the enactment of the National Food Security Act, which conferred legal status upon the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). This shift signifies a transition from a general entitlement to the right to food as a legally safeguarded right. The Act categorizes the population into distinct groups, each with varying entitlements, thereby promoting equitable food distribution.

The Indian Government’s Food Security Strategy

The government’s primary strategy for food security centers on the Public Distribution System (PDS). This system, initiated in 1966, aimed to enhance household food security by providing subsidized essentials. However, operational challenges led to its transformation into a targeted system in the mid-1990s. This adjustment aimed to optimize efficiency while addressing the concerns of the agricultural sector. The intricacies of this reform were entangled with global market dynamics and the needs of the farmer community, leading to a complex interplay of interests.

Also read – Food Crops and Commercial Crops: Balancing Necessity and Profit

Empowering Women for Enhanced Food Security

Empowering women economically and socially not only impacts intra-household food distribution and health but also enhances the functionality of food and nutrition initiatives. The correlation between market reforms, agricultural growth, and the right to food for the marginalized cannot be ignored. Despite paradoxical food stockpiles juxtaposed with a significant population below the poverty line, empowerment remains a cornerstone for addressing these challenges.

  • Paving the Path for Agricultural Reforms

Critical agricultural reforms are imperative to address the food security paradox. Decentralizing the procurement system, involving the private sector in storage, and optimizing cost-effective methods for distributing food to the impoverished are pressing tasks. Simultaneously, a multi-dimensional reform agenda encompassing incentives, subsidies, investments, and protection mechanisms must be pursued to foster sustainable growth.

India’s engagement with the World Trade Organization (WTO) poses both opportunities and challenges for the agricultural sector. Ensuring livelihoods and protecting the domestic agricultural industry necessitates vigilance and strategic measures. Rural transformation demands removing constraints on non-farm employment, fostering rural progress, and embracing a rights-based framework emphasizing equality, transparency, and accountability. Crucially, this shift demands a recalibration towards demand-side solutions and social pressures for public action.

Embarking on a Collective Journey

India’s journey towards achieving universal food security entails collaboration among legal, governmental, and societal entities. The commitment of the judiciary, the diligence of policymakers, and the empowerment of marginalized groups form the pillars of progress. By adopting a holistic approach and embracing a rights-based framework, India can pave the way for a future where every citizen’s right to food is realized. This requires continuous monitoring, grassroots engagement, and a relentless pursuit of equitable food distribution and social justice.

Enhancing the Right to Food: Empowering Citizens for Nutritional Security

Rice. Stacking of clear bags of white rice. Rice store. Stacked of Rice bags in shop.
Stacked of Rice bags

The significance of justiciability within the realm of the right to food cannot be overstated. Recent directives from the Supreme Court and the proactive strides of the Right to Food campaign are instrumental in driving progress. Nevertheless, it’s imperative to recognize that individuals, especially those marginalized by poverty, cannot resort to legal channels each time their right to food is infringed upon.

While court actions play a role, the onus of upholding this right falls on the shoulders of civic organizations, voluntary groups, and media entities, which can orchestrate campaigns to optimize program efficiency. Concurrently, establishing mechanisms that promote transparent and accountable government delivery systems is paramount. The bedrock of the right to food’s success rests on public accountability. Notably, other rights such as access to healthcare, education, information, and clean water are interconnected and indispensable for realizing the right to food. It’s worth highlighting that improved health services and access to potable water can enhance nutrient absorption and overall nutritional well-being.

As underscored by luminaries like Prof. Amartya Sen, the scarcity of food at the national or local level isn’t the primary concern. Rather, the economic accessibility of food at the household level is the pivotal factor behind limited food availability. This context underscores the need for bolstering purchasing power through increased employment opportunities. The government can catalyze labor-intensive growth and initiate targeted programs that generate productive jobs, thereby reinforcing the right to food. This conviction was particularly evident when, at the turn of the twenty-first century, India’s stockpiles of cereals languished in storage facilities even as widespread hunger persisted. The culmination of these concerns led to the ‘Right to Food’ legal battle in 2001.

Also read – Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities

Internationally and domestically, the Right to Food stands as a fundamental human right, encompassing the right of individuals to secure sustenance through purchase or production. This cherished right hinges on four pivotal pillars: food availability, food access, food stability, and food utilization.

The legal deliberations surrounding the ‘Right to Food’ lawsuit spurred debates on whether this entitlement should be cemented as a legal prerogative, transcending its existing status as a moral obligation within India’s policy landscape. The essence of the Right to Food, as encapsulated in the General Comment 12 (GC12), elucidates that the core constituents encompass availability and accessibility, which further encompass adequacy and acceptability.

Deconstructing the Pillars of the Right to Food

Availability

GC12 delineates availability as follows:

  • Direct subsistence via productive lands or natural resources.
  • An efficient processing and distribution network to transport food from production sites to areas of demand.

As asserted by Asjborn Eide, senior fellow of the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, the mere physical presence of foodstuffs is inadequate. To meet the adequacy criterion, food must also fulfill these requisites:

  • Cater to dietary necessities, including energy and essential nutrients.
  • Align with cultural norms.
  • Be devoid of toxins and contaminants.
  • Boast high-quality attributes like taste and texture.

Accessibility

The tenets of accessibility within GC12 encompass both economic and physical dimensions. Economic accessibility mandates that the financial costs tied to obtaining sufficient nourishment shouldn’t overshadow other basic needs. Recognizing that personal or household resources are finite, exorbitant food costs might force individuals to compromise on essential expenditures. Vulnerable groups like landless individuals and the impoverished necessitate special initiatives to enhance economic accessibility.

On the other hand, physical accessibility dictates that everyone should have unimpeded access to adequate sustenance. Special consideration is due for the physically and mentally vulnerable, encompassing infants, elderly individuals without caregivers, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), the terminally ill, and those with persistent medical concerns. Additionally, victims of natural disasters and those residing in disaster-prone regions, along with other marginalized groups, warrant heightened attention.

Adequacy

Adequacy transcends quantity to encompass quality – ensuring that food meets not only quantitative requirements but also dietary needs. Economic accessibility stipulates that the right to food, as an elemental necessity, should carry an economically viable cost accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Sustainability

Sustainability stands as a cornerstone of the right to food, necessitating long-term food availability and accessibility.

Paving the Way Forward

Within the Indian context, the right to food is underpinned by the pillars of availability, accessibility, adequacy, and sustainability. Evaluation centers on availability and accessibility, both in physical and economic terms. Programs and policies are scrutinized for their adherence to the obligations of respecting, protecting, and fulfilling this right.

India’s commitment to international treaties encompassing the right to food is reinforced by indirect references within the country’s Constitution. Thus, the onus falls squarely on the Indian Government – both at the central and state levels – to guarantee this right to its populace. Despite numerous initiatives, concerns pertaining to food security and malnutrition endure. Alarming statistics spotlight India’s challenges, particularly regarding undernutrition and malnutrition.

The paradox of India’s surplus food production coexisting with rampant malnutrition is perplexing. Although the nation has become a substantial food exporter, hunger and undernutrition persist. Irrigation, soil and water conservation efforts, and expanded food production have augmented agricultural output. However, according to the 2022 Global Hunger Index, India’s hunger level remains concerning, ranking 107th out of 121 countries evaluated.

Addressing the Crisis

Chronic undernutrition continues to impede the full potential of nearly 47 million Indian children, particularly in impoverished states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. The stockpiling of over 50 million tonnes of rice and wheat in public storage facilities further underscores this paradox.

To actualize the right to food, several initiatives require bolstering and effective implementation:

  • Strengthening the Public Distribution System and Annapurna schemes.
  • Expanding the Antyodaya Anna Yojana to encompass all destitute individuals.
  • Integrating nutrition programs into education via mid-day meal schemes and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
  • Aligning gender considerations with food security objectives.

In conclusion, the journey toward reinforcing the right to food is multifaceted. It hinges on a synergy of legal safeguards, governmental policies, societal engagement, and proactive measures to ensure that no individual, regardless of their circumstances, is denied the basic human right to sustenance.

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, Aide et Action, Sightsavers, UNICEF, Agragamee, DAPTA and Practical Action. He has a keen interest in indigenous communities and food policy issues.
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