Right to food means different things to different people. Under this umbrella issue there are people working on agriculture, trade, mechanisation of farming, and a host of other issues. I have been dealing with a small but very important aspect of right to food. It is best explained by the foundation statement of the campaign:
“We consider that everyone has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and undernutrition. Realising this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems, but also entitlements relating to livelihood security such as the right to work, land reform and social security. We consider that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements rests with the state. Lack of financial resources cannot be accepted as an excuse for abdicating this responsibility. In the present context, where people’s basic needs are not a political priority, state intervention itself depends on effective popular organisation. We are committed to fostering this process through all democratic means.”
The state can guarantee the right to food by a variety of means. The government can protect livelihood e.g. by reserving certain industries for small-scale players as a measure for securing the right to food for some section of the population. In the past two years, the primary concentration of the campaign has been on pressing for positive state interventions in the form of various schemes.
The campaign has dealt with four broad category of state services 1) Nutrition schemes involving provision of food 2) Income transfer schemes involving direct income transfers like pensions and indirect transfers like provision of subsidised grains 3) Employment generation schemes and 4) Allied services including health, sanitation, provision of potable water, etc.
1.1 Brief history of the campaign
The Right to Food campaign is an outgrowth of the Supreme Court hearing on the right to food, held in response to a writ petition filed in April 2001 by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. The petition demands that the country’s gigantic food stocks should be used without delay to protect people from hunger and starvation. The government pointed out in response to this plea that they are implementing various massive food schemes already. This provided a departure from the question of drought.
The petitioner pointed out that many of the schemes pointed out by the government were dysfunctional. A prayer was put in front of the Supreme Court that the states should be asked to implement eight existing food and food related schemes fully. This led to a landmark interim order on November 28, 2001 directing the state and the union governments to implement these schemes fully.
Encouraged by the positive approach of the Supreme Court, the petitioner asked for three major directions i) the introduction of an employment guarantee ii) a right based social security scheme and iii) a monitoring system based on a commissioner. The Supreme Court appointed Dr N C Saxena and Mr. S R Sankaran as commissioners on May 8, 2002. The government of India agreed in principle for expanding the Antyodaya anna yojana, which is a grain based social security scheme for the destitute. As a first step, an expansion of the scheme was announced in the Union budget of 2003 – 04. The issue of right to work is yet to be heard in full vigour.