Notes from the Right to Food Campaign 1

The activists were for once in a bargaining position. Most states could not dismiss summarily the demand to introduce cooked mid-day meal. The sustained pressure has resulted in cooked mid-day meal being introduced in at least a token fashion in most states. Many have introduced it with full coverage, and still more with substantial coverage. In fact very few states are there with no coverage today. This is a far cry from just one state taking the initiative to comply with the order just one year ago.

Success stories of mid-day meals caught the imagination of the people through the country. This enthusiasm for the programme coupled with the bargaining power of the mid-day meal being an entitlement, was an important factor in the momentum and the success of the campaign. The states which have been saying that they do not have the resources to start the scheme are slowly starting to initiate the scheme finding resources for it.

The mid-day meal scheme illustrates some of the advantages of having a rights based approach.

  1. A right has helped in getting mid-day meal scheme the priority it deserves. Leaving it to the whims and fancies policy makers has the danger of important issues getting a low priority.
  2. Entitlements empower and catalyse the organisation of people into groups to demand services.
  3. ‘Rights based approach’ helps in garnering realistic resources. Basic needs like food often fall out of political priorities and thus end up receiving little resources. A legal entitlement remedies the situation to a certain extant in ensuring that the issue on hand gets reasonable resources.
  4. It promotes accountability of the government and the administration to the people. In the absence of a right, it is difficult to question the performance of the administration and to make them accountable for lapses.
  5. Entitlements help in reducing corruption in two ways. Firstly, the scope for discretion gives space for rent seeking since there is the power to deny the benefit to an individual. Secondly, corruption thrives when people do not know who is receiving what benefit. Where there is an entitlement, the beneficiaries and the benefits are clear, thus reducing the scope for corruption.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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One thought on “Notes from the Right to Food Campaign

  • Tanuj

    I started reading about right to food after the bill was passed, and got to know about the campaign that ran behind it for more than 10 years. I grew more interested in the campaign and activism that supported it, after I read a few snippets about it in a few articles, specially about the action day for mdm in 2002. I was searching about it, and landed up in this site. These notes give a great structure to the ideas behind the campaign.
    If there are any notes or articles or books that have a memoirs of being part of this campaign, or talk of the different activities that were carried out through out the campaign, then I would be really obliged if you can direct me to such resource.