Right to Food

Right to food is a basic human right. Yet, reports of starvation deaths and widespread hunger are common in India. In 2013, a Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) commissioned by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development found 29.4% of children (aged less than 3 years) to be underweight, while 15% were found wasted and 38.7% stunted. Particularly hard hit are backward classes, with the highest levels of malnutrition being recorded among these sections. According to NFHS-3 data (2005-2006), 54% of SC/ST children were found stunted as against 41% among upper caste children. Among OBCs, 49% children were stunted. This situation is especially unacceptable because India is a surplus producer of grain. This grain, however, is often exported or sold on the open market. The poor often cannot afford to buy grains at market rates and hence, it is imperative that the public distribution system which provides grain very cheaply is strengthened.

To meet this situation of widespread and chronic hunger the government of India has initiated several programmes such as:

1. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme for children in schools.
2. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) for children in the age group between 0 and 6 years, adolescent girls, and pregnant and lactating women.
3. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to provide employment, particularly in rural areas.
4. A pension scheme and a free grain supply scheme for destitute persons above the age of 65 years.

However, the implementation of these schemes has been found to be sub-optimal and with more starvation deaths being recorded each year. This calls for an intervention by civil society groups. In collaboration with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other organisations, the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC) responded to this problem by filing a public interest petition in the Supreme Court of India asking for directions to be issued to the government of India and the state governments so that malnutrition could be reduced and starvation deaths prevented.

What SLIC Does

Right to Food is an essential part of the “Right to live with human dignity”. Our work is about identifying and working towards the elimination of hunger and holding the government accountable for feeding its people. We are dedicated to protecting the fundamental rights of the poor, and increasing access to basic resources among marginalized communities. SLIC is an integral part of the Right to Food movement in India. From examining facts behind the food security crisis of the late 1990s and putting them on display at every public platform, to working in solidarity with PUCL and others on filing the PIL, PUCL vs UOI and Ors, (writ petition 196, 2001) in the Supreme Court, SLIC has played a central role in exposing violations of rights and using the legal system to correct the situations. In addition to working with India’s national Right to Food Campaign – a nationwide collective — we have also formed our own Right to Food campaign to sustain focus and dedicate resources to this critical struggle through the following means:

- Legal education, judicial colloquia and training: To increase awareness among lawyers and activists through training, and to sensitise the judiciary through judicial colloquia to address food security interventions. The national “judicial colloquium on the right to food”, held in New Delhi in August 2005, was attended by 61 high court judges from 17 states (including four chief judges, and one Supreme Court judge). The colloquium raised judicial awareness on starvation, malnutrition and the right to food
- Delhi lawyer and activist training workshops: To impart knowledge about the right to food as a basis for bringing the issue to courts
- State, national and international training sessions: To allow people to share experiences to improving the understanding of the national right to food campaign
- Advocacy and campaigning
- Providing access to justice to those who are most adversely affected by the food security crisis
- Undertaking legal advocacy campaigns for farmers, the aged, disabled and others
- Organising public hearings, fact findings and rallies
- Highlighting issues concerning the statutory bodies of the government related with food security
- Legal aid and public interest litigation

Main Concerns

- To ensure availability of good quality foodgrains to the below poverty line (BPL), above poverty line (APL) and the destitute and marginalised people at a subsidised rate with a quantity of 35 kg/month as directed by the Supreme Court.
- To ensure proper operationalisation of all the integrated child development services centres and to take up the initiative to increase the centres up to a significant number so it covers the target group to a sound extent.
- To broaden the base of the public interest litigation initiative from the Supreme Court to the High Courts, thus decentralising the initiative so that various food security schemes can be enforced at the state-level by NGOs acting independently.
- To raise awareness of the increased discrimination against Dalits, single women, HIV positive people, differently-abled and dependent elderly people in the public food security systems, and to reduce the discrimination faced by these groups.
- To raise the issue of accountability in starvation death cases and ensure that Supreme Court orders hold senior civil administrators responsible for these deaths.
- To expand the legal literacy programme so that NGOs in each state are extensively trained in food security and law issues, thereby enabling them to take legal action independently.
- To take up issues related to the exclusion of below poverty line (BPL) persons from the public distribution system (PDS) in the latest survey conducted by the Government of India so that millions of poor that have been wrongly excluded can be brought up once again in the BPL list and can thereby receive subsidised grain.
- To reduce the maternal mortality rate (MMR) and infant mortality rate (IMR) by enforcing the directions of the Supreme Court. To introduce all elderly and differently-abled people belonging to the BPL families to the cash assistance programme, thereby providing all eight food security schemes offered by the Government of India.


SLIC has filed public interest litigations from various high courts in the Supreme Court to ensure that the various food security schemes such as the mid-day meal scheme, ICDS, NM BS, PDS, AAY, annapurna, NOA PS, NF BS and NREGA can be enforced at the level of the various states by NGOs acting independently. Previously, SLIC has filed over 86 Interlocutory applications (IA) in Supreme Court on hunger and starvation deaths, ICDS, safe drinking water supply, breastfeeding, NMBS, BPL, PDS, NOAPS, and others food-related issues. It also provides legal aid across the country wherever right to food is violated.

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