Right to Food an Instance to Human Rights

The human right to food has its contemporary origin within the U.N. Universal Human Rights framework. Ensuring the right to adequate food and consequently the right to be free form hunger is specifically enshrined in a number of Human Rights instruments. It is obvious that without adequate food people cannot lead a health, active lives. They are not employable. They cannot take care of their children and thus children become unhealthy and illiterate.

Since its inception, the United Nations had identified access to adequate food as both an individual right and a collective responsibility. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that “every one has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food[1]. Two decades later the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 developed these concepts more fully, stressing ‘the right to every one to adequate food’ and specifying “the fundamental right of every one to be free from hunger”[2]

Right to food means?

The essential question that arises here, what is the distinction between the right to be free form hunger and right to adequate food? As can be seen there is inherent inconsistency within these definitions. On the one hand they talk about the right to food as “a right to be free form hunger and on the other hand they express the right to food as a right to adequate food for health and well being”[3]

While the right to free form hunger means that the State has an obligation to ensure, at the very least, that the people do not starve, the right to adequate food implies that the State should also do everything possible to promote physical and economic access to food that is adequate in quantity and quality for healthy and active life.

For food to be considered adequate it must also be culturally acceptable and it must be produced in a manner that is environmentally and socially sustainable. In the light of this analysis it could be understood that the nature of the right to food would be shaped internationally by the different evolving instruments and how they are implemented.

The right to food is a fundamental human right as well as a basic need. Almost all countries in the world have in one way or other recognized this right. There is increasing recognition worldwide that food and nutrition is a human right, and thus there is moral as well as legal obligation on the part of the state to provide adequate nourishment to the people[4].

Human Right to Food

The human right to food has its contemporary origin within the U.N. Universal Human Rights framework. The main reference point is located within the UDHR, Article 25, which states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” It provided a reference point for human rights legislation that followed but is not itself a binding international legal instrument.

The modern human rights framework for a specific right essentially consists of a legal framework in a country that establishes something as a right, including an effective procedure for enforcing the right, a process for adjudicating individual rights cases, and resources provided to address the outcome of rights decisions. In the human right to food and contemporary globalization explores the fundamental reason why current globalization efforts have been opposed by so many: globalization in its initial formulation meant concern for poor and oppressed people throughout the world, and not just reducing the barriers to trade and corporate investment.

The World Food Summit and the Millennium development goals recognize the importance of food to alleviate hunger and its importance to human beings, though not addressing it in the context of a legal right. However, as major international efforts–if major international effort is not an oxymoron–they can facilitate the human right to food.

Right to Food-International Perspective

Besides UDHR and ICESCR, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 Articles 24 and 27 address the issue of nutrition. Article 24 says that “State parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” and shall make appropriate measures “to combat disease and malnutrition, though the provisions of adequate nutritious food, clean drinking water”.

Article 24 also reminds the State parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to health and nutrition and the advantage of breast-feeding. Article 27 says, “State parties shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing[5].

The human right to food and nutrition has been reaffirmed at the international level in many different setting. The most important among them is the World Summit held in Rome in 1996. In the summit’s plan of action, objective 7.4 called upon the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights in consultation with relevant treaty bodies and in collaboration with relevant specified Agencies and programmes o the UN system and appropriate inter-governmental mechanisms, to better define the right related to food in Article11 of the international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

On May 12,1999 the UN Committee on Economic, Social and cultural Rights f its General Comment 12th Observes, “Fundamentally the roots of the problem of hunger and malnutrition are not lack of food but lack of access to available food, inter alia because of poverty, by large segments of world’s population.”

The General comment 12 identified that the fundamental distinction need to be made is between availability and access. The General Comment 12 defined the right to adequate food thus; “The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”[6]

The General Comment also explain that adequacy means that access must be taken of what is appropriate under given circumstances Food Security implies food being accessible for both and future generations. Thus as explained in paragraph 8 the core content of the right to adequate food implies the availability of food in adequate quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the needs of individuals[7]. In 2000 the UN Millennium /declaration adopted at the largest ever gathering heads of states, committed countries, rich and poor to do all they could do to eradicate poverty, promote human dignity and equality and achieve peace, democracy, environment and sustainability.

The obligation to implement the right to food is a formidable challenge before the international community. As a response to this challenge, The World Food Summit Plan of Action called upon the governments to launch “Food for All” campaign. Countries set up National Forum, comprising NGOs, Universities, the Media and other socially committed groups. The first review of the “Food for All” campaign under the World Food summit 1996 was held at Rome in June 2002 and re affirmed its commitment in eradicating poverty.

The Right to Food in Indian Scenario

Provision relating to right to food spread over part III and IV of the constitution of India. Constitutionality of the right to food has two aspects: (a) the extent of right to food in the right to life under Article 21 and (b) the scope of Directive Principles of State Policy in ensuring the right to food.

Right to Food and Article 21:

The Supreme Court in Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India[8] offered a wider interpretation of this Article. The term ‘life’ under Article 21 is not confined to mere physical existence but includes the right to live with human dignity. The right is further extended in Francis Coralie v. Union of India[9]. Here the court observed:

We think that right to life includes right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, viz; the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and coming link with the fellow human beings.

A broad formulation of life with dignity is found in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India[10]. The scope of Article 21 in right to life and extension of basic right in which development of human beings in healthy manner and condition of freedom with dignity were highlighted. However the absence of specific provision guaranteeing right to food and judicial interpretation in such character provides the difficulty in the guaranteeing of food as a Fundamental Right.

Directive Principle of State Policy and Right to Food.

The Directive Principles, as the phrase suggests, set out objectives that state ought to listen to in the governance. Being ‘directive’ in nature these principles are not legally enforceable. The Article 38 and 39 seek to achieve welfare state. Article 39 (a) requires the State to secure the right to adequate means of livelihood. Article 39 (g) requires that children be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner.

Article 47 specifically directs the State to strive for rising the level of nutrition and living standard of its people and improve public health facilities. Article 41 directs the States to make provisions of securing the right to work, to education and public assistance for the unemployed, the old, the sick and the people who suffer from undeserved want. Obviously this provision can be easily interpreted to include the right to food[11].

A land mark case in this regard is the People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India[12], the petition demanded that the accumulating stocks in the Government Food Warehouse be used to meet the endemic condition of scarcity and deprivation in the country. Subsequently through an interim order the Supreme Court asked the government to identify families ‘below poverty line’ and ensure that through the public distribution system these families got their food for sustenance. The court affirmed that the Central and State Governments had the principal responsibility to see that food has reached the poor and the indigent.

However the Court has not affirmed that right to food is a fundamental right. The Constitutional safeguard for the right to life would necessarily imply the right to live with human dignity and the right to provided with all facilities to sustain and develop one’s personality.[13]

Right to Food – A Fundamental Right?

If the right to food were made a fundamental right it would become enforceable and the state would be made responsible if the right were violated. The difficulty in its inclusion among the fundamental right is mainly reasoned as the burden for the government. Moreover when it becomes a fundamental right and the government has to provide food for all. This would make at least a section of people lazy and inactive. In a country where unemployment rate is high, providing food for all would become unmanageable and unproductive. Nevertheless a government that aims at bringing welfare to its people must provide food for the weaker sections.

One of the important aspects of social security is to ensure that citizens should be provided with a minimum quantity of nutritious food. This could be made possible if right to works were made a fundamental right. But what would be its effect at the level of governance is an open-ended question. In the present state of affairs when globalize free trade engulfs Constitutional ethics, this could only be a dream.

Secondly the government could revamp the public distribution system. But this too in times when big companies or multinational corporations enter the retail markets, revamping public distribution system would face serious roadblocks. Equitable distribution of food could be made possible when the right to food becomes a fundamental right. At present State intervention is confined to legislative measures that regulate procurement, storage, distribution and ensuring of quality.

A faster increase in food prices would make the poor feel relatively more deprived. With large food stocks and foreign exchange reserves this trend can be prevented. We must monitor the trends more closely and put into force remedial policies.[14] State intervention in food markets is not new in India. Arthasastra speaks about effective public action through subsidies as the basic remedy for famine. The suggested measures include distribution of seeds and food form Royal store on concessional terms and food for work programmes for building forts, irrigation works etc.

Thirdly the right to food to work as a fundamental right could only be recognized by widening the meaning of right to life. Though recognized by Supreme Court it lacks any Constitutional guarantee. The Parliament may not come forward to include right to food as a specific provision among fundamental rights because of the insurmountable problems that may arise. Nevertheless government has adopted certain legal measures to ensure adequate food for the people.

Legal Measures:-

The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954, The Prevention of FoodAdulteration Rule 1955, The Essential Commodities Act 1955 and the Prevention of Black marketing etc Act 1980 are some of the legislations that aim at achieving this end.

The Essential commodities Act, 1955 gives wider powers to the Government in controlling production, supply and distribution of essential commodities, which includes food materials. This Act also gives wider powers to procure food grains and /or import food grains in order to control price. Thus the power of the government to intervene in the food grain market is used to keep prices at the optimum level. The concept of buffer stock was first introduced in the fourth Five Year plan (1969-74). India is bound to import wheat form the international market because WTO Agreement.

The Food Corporation of India a statutory body is entrusted with the duty of purchase, distribution and sale of food grains and foodstuffs. It ensures fair price for the farmers for their produce and enables the consumers to get food material at a price fixed by the government. With the increasing production of wheat and rice in recent years and the increasing demand on the Public Distribution System, the role of FCI has become significant as depository of food grains for PDS.

Public Distribution System in India

Public Distribution System was started in India as a rationing scheme during Second World War. After the War ended and especially when free market was allowed the logic of PDS changed. It becomes an instrument of subsidizing urban consumers and it no longer made sense to extent it to all urban consumers. Public Distribution System has its legal basis in The Essential Commodities Act 1955. section 3 (1) of the Act specifically states that Government can regulate the production, supply and distribution in the interest of maintaining or increasing supplies of any essential commodity for securing equitable distribution and availability at fair prices.

The government seems oblivious to the agrarian crisis facing the country. Farmers are not only producing less, they are also consuming less. Unemployment levels have risen drastically. And since farmers’ purchasing power had dropped drastically, they are consuming much less than they did a decade go. Rural India is crying out for food and work, but neither is forthcoming. At the same time the distribution mechanism of the government goes away causing considerable loss of national wealth.To that extent human right remains a high sounding phrase in the politico-socio-economic environment of India.

Readings1 The General comment 12 prepared by the Committee on Economic and Cultural rights, 1999 2 UNDP Human Development report, 20033 Yoginder K. Alagh, “Poverty, Food Security and Human Security”, in Global Business Review72 (2002) 4 Madura Swaminathan, The Public Distribution system and food Security- Current problems and suggestions for Reform in the Context of WTO, (2003) 5 S. Mahendradev, “Public Distribution System: Impact on Poor and Options for Reform” in Economic and Political weekly (2000) 6 Ajith pillai, “Starved Logic” Outlook (2000)

7 Shashi Prabha Gupta, “Food Security and Nutrition in India” in Pradeepp Chadurvedi (Ed.) women and Food Security –Role of Panchayats (2002) 8 Jayant Chaudhary, Hand Book of Human Rights, 1st Edn. 2004 9 George kent, “Right to Food and Adequate Standard of Living” David P Forsythe, Encyclopedia of Human Rights. 2009 10 Iyan Brownlee, Basic Document on Human Rights

11 P.M Bakshi, The constitution of India, 9th edn. 200812 V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India, 10th edn. 2001 (reprinted 2006) 13 http://infochangeindia.org14 Rashme Sehgal, “India’s Rural Poor Need a New Deal”www.infochangeindia.org/analysis/ 15 http://www.pdhre.org/rights/food.html16http://www.fao.org/righttofood/wfd/pdf2007/wfd_leaflet_en.pdf 17 http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/global/foodashumrgt/special.htm

To improve methods of production, conservation, and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources; to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.”

[2] Article 11 of ICCPR, “States Parties shall pursue full implementation of [the child’s right to the highest attainable standard of health] and shall take appropriate measures to combat disease and malnutrition through the provision of adequate nutritious foods. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. States Parties shall in case of need provide material assistance and support, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

[3] George kent, “Right to Food and Adequate Standard of Living” David P Forsythe, Encyclopedia of Human Rights. 2009 [4] Ibid[5] Ibid[6] Yoginder K. Alagh, “poverty, Food Security and Human Security” in Global Business Review (2002) [7] The General Comment 12 prepared by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,1999 para8 [8] AIR 1978 SC 597

[9] AIR 1981 SC746[10] AIR 1997 SC 2218[11] VN Shukla, Constitution of India, Rvd. By Mahendra P. Singh, 10th edn. 2006 [12] (1996) 4 SCC37[13] Olga Tellis V. Bombay Municipal Corporation AIR 1986 SC180 Chameli Singh v. State of UP (1996) 2 SCC 549 Paschim Benglkhet Mazdoor samithy and others v. State of West Bengal. [14] Supra note 6