A lot of doubt has arisen on the nature of the right to food. While the petition of PUCL is still being decided by the Court, interim orders have been passed to secure the right to food for children and other people. But then, in what sense are we construing the nature of this right? A reading of Paschim Bengal Kisan Samiti and Francis Coralie tells us that the right to food may be interpreted in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, no case has formally sought to do so.

I would like to look at the nature of this right in light of starvation deaths. There are around 50 million people dying of starvation in our country. This is at a time we call the ‘economic boom’ and see a rise in agriculture exports. Food surplus reached around 12 million tonnes in 2002.
The above data is relevant if we understand food in terms of the rights enshrined in part III and part IV of the Constitution. While part III enshrines the civil and political rights, part IV or the directive principles talk about the economic and social rights. Part IV rights are non- justiciable and cannot be enforced in a Court of law. The Constitution assembly debates show that part IV rights are placed such because they can only be enforced if the state has the requisite resources to provide for them. Since at that time, the State did not seem to have the resources, they were termed as the ‘fundamental principles of governance’ and must be achieved as soon as possible. BR Ambedkar and Dakshayeni Nivedkar stated that once the state has resources, such rights must be provided for. It then becomes an obligation for the State to do so. In terms of the right to food, Article 47 in part IV gives us an idea of the right to food and the responsibility of the state in raising the level of nutrition in the Country. This right then still is a non justiciable right and cannot be enforced per se.
Now here lies the argument, if economic and social rights are to be enforced depending on the State’s availability of resources, would the very fact that people are dying despite a food surplus be deemed a denial of a right and the violation of an obligation on the part of the State to provide? If we have people starving to death and Food Corporation of India godowns filled with food 50 kms away, would this be a violation of the obligation to provide, respect and protect? This is something we need to ponder about. Why is it that despite the resources at hand the State does not provide for the welfare of the people? This does not apply to merely food but also other areas like education and employment. Somewhere down the line we see the whole idea of a welfare state boiling down to a mere idea that exists only in theory and not in practice.

More information on the right to food is available at;
www.righttofoodindia.org

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