“Ensuring everyone’s right to food and nourishment is an imperative we cannot ignore”- Pope Francis
Few days back I was going through my twitter feed when I came across very disturbing tweet posted by leading news channel. The caption reads ‘Shocking extent of Hunger : Starving man found eating dead dog near Jaipur , Viral video stuns India’.  It shocked me to the core and forced me to think that are we failing each other as humans. The world is going through tough times right now in form of novel coronavirus and the worst isn’t over. This pandemic situation has put world on alert from the beginning of the year and as a result of it, more than 75% part of the world went into lockdown. Obviously, the worst hit among the society was the poor strata and the migrant labours especially in Indian context. Despite many assurances and relief packages announced by the Government of India, it hasn’t reached to all those in dire need of financial assistance and food. Many people of low income and those living in slums and on street fear more of dying due to hunger than of coronavirus. At the time of writing this, there is some relaxation given by the government but the problem of access to food remains very apprehensive. The world has developed so much after two world wars, the standard of living of people has improved tremendously in last 70 years or so and availability of goods has expand immensely, yet human beings find great difficulty to access the most basic need i.e. Food.
Isn’t Right to Food a basic human right and fundamental right in India ? Is it a global fundamental right? What has UN and agency doing to make sure every individual on this planet has access to food without much hardship?
In India, The Supreme Court in various legal cases stated that Article 21 of the Constitution of India, guarantees that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except procedure established by law’. The scope of ‘Right to Life’ includes ‘Right to Food’. The two most leading cases where Supreme Court took above mentioned view is Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597 and Shantistar Builders vs. Narayan Khimalal Totame (1990) 1 SCC 597. Apart from Article 21, Article 39(a) of the Constitution which deals with Directive Principles of State Policy requires the state to direct its policy towards securing that all its citizens have the right to an adequate means of livelihood. Even after the scope of Article 21 being expanded so much by the top court to include ‘Right to Food’ as part of Fundamental Right, it is disturbing to see that real situation is not what one assumes.
A special law was passed in 2013 known as The National Food Security Act. It is an Act to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable price to eligible household identified under section 10(1) shall be entitled to receive five kilograms of food grain per person under targeted public distribution system. In recent time, millions of people living below poverty line are benefitted directly through this act especially those that are identified on basis of their economic and social situation but what about those that are poor but do not have any prove to show their economic status? This act needs amendment to include every person who are financially in distress even for temporary period of time.
Globally, Access to food is our basic human right and as recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as part of the “Right to an adequate standard of living….Including food, clothing, housing ” under Article 25(1). The signatory States of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC) recognized the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family under Article 11(1) and the states also recognized “The fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger and shall take measures either individually and through international co-operation” under sub-clause 2. Right to free from hunger cannot be interpret as right to access to food as these are two different concept. While right to freedom from hunger can be measured in terms of malnutrition, Free to access food is measured by close availability of food without much hardship to people who don’t have any financial or limited financial respurces.
Food is necessity for human survival. It is one of the basic needs of any human being. But unfortunately, as per UN report in 2018, more than 821 million people suffered from hunger. One in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead nutritional life. Hunger is one of the biggest risks to health worldwide almost at par with covid-19 which is turning out to be deadly in the world right now. To make sure that people have access to food, world leaders in 2000 gathered at UN to share common vision to end poverty and formulated eight ‘Millenium Development Goals’. In 2010, it was officially declared that MDG was successful in reducing the poverty numbers by half and the proportion of under- nourished people in the region fell by almost half.
Another initiative undertook by UN to eradicate hunger is ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’ in 2012 during Rio+20 world conference on sustainable development. It calls for 100% access to adequate food all year round and zero loss or waste of loss among other measures. One of the consistent Sustainable Development Goals is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030 but such target would require equal and active participation by all the member states. Apart from UN food access programme and goals, there are agencies like World Food Programme which aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 80 countries and to respond food related emergency. World Bank’s priority in global agriculture sector is to raise investment in this sector to boost nutrition, food production and to built a food system that can feed everyone everywhere. Another agency working tirelessly to achieve hunger free world is UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Its purpose is to make sure that people have enough access to high quality food to lead healthy life. The International Fund for Agriculture Development is focusing exclusively to eradicate hunger in rural areas in developing countries and to improve lives of those living in rural area.
But in spite of all these efforts by current government and governments in the past, some states have failed to implement access to food as part of ‘right to life’ in their policies. The availability of food grain in India is sufficient but still why many people live in hunger and are forced to eat dead animals is one we should collectively examine and needs to act with generosity. Internationally, the situation is same and in some parts of the world even worse. The member states needs to acknowledge ‘Free access to food and no waste of food by individual or corporate’ and declare it a global fundamental right. To say that it is the duty of governments to make sure very human being is being fed daily is wrong. Just recognizing ‘Right to Food’ as fundamental right is not enough but working collectively towards achieving equal access to food should be the aim of every member states of UN.
Individually, we as humans need to stand up for each other and make sure to feed those in need. If every person is able to feed one other person, then we as human beings then we can beat poverty problem