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Right To Food: an element of Right to Life

Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice. ~ Jacques Diouf

Right to food is a basic human right which is not an option or mere thing of charity but it is the responsibility of the state to ensure Right to food to all its citizens, and if the state or its government is unable to ensure it then it is a gross violation of human rights of the citizens.

There is a doctrine of legitimate expectation which has been upheld by the judiciary several times and it implies that, owing to some consistent practice in the past or an explicit commitment made by the authority concerned, a person should have a legitimate expectation[i] of being handled in a certain way by administrative authorities, and if the government or its authorities are not willing or are unable to fulfill the demand of the people in terms of food or any other legitimate expectation of the people then we can say that the government is breaching the legitimate expectations of the peoples.

India faces a crucial crisis in terms of hunger and has been ranked 94 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020 is placed in the serious hunger category with a score of 27.2, and the most surprising fact is that only 13 countries face hunger worse than India, including countries like Rwanda (97), Nigeria (98), Afghanistan (99), Liberia (102), Mozambique (103) and Chad (107) among others and India features behind Nepal (73), Pakistan (88), Bangladesh(75) and Indonesia(70) among others. According to the report 14 per cent of India’s total population is still undernourished.

Right To Food Under Different International Declarations

  1. Universal Declaration on Human Rights [ii]
    Right to food was recognized as a right in the year 1948 in the UDHR and the article 25 of the UDHR reads as:
    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
     
  2. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also incorporated Right to food under article 11 and all the signatories including India agreed to take steps to ensure right to food to all. [iii]
     
  3. Right to Food for all guidelines were adopted by the FAO council in the year 2004.
     
  4. In 2009, in the Declaration of the world food summit on food security states reiterated their commitments in ensuring right to adequate food for all.
    There are plethora of other declarations and guidelines which have been adopted by various national and international organizations to provide adequate amount of food for all the people without any discrimination.

Right To Food Under The Constitution Of India

The constitution of India nowhere explicitly mentions about the right to food but there are certain provisions in the constitution which implies that the framers of the constitution desired to ensure food for all.
  1. Right to life ( Article 21)
    Article 21 of the Indian constitution imposes a duty on the state to protect the life of the citizens as well as non citizens of India. The article 21 of the constitution provides for right to life and this right doesn’t mean mere physical existence but it means right to live with human dignity and respect which means having access to all those necessities which are important for living a healthy, humane and dignified human life, and this has been explicitily implied through different judgments of the Supreme Court of India.

    So, it explicitly means that Right to Food is a Fundamental right under article 21 of the Indian Constitution as in the landmark judgement of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [iv] the Supreme Court while delivering the judgement stated:
    Right to life enshrined in Article 21 means something more than animal instinct and includes the right to live with human dignity, it would include all these aspects which would make life meaningful, complete and living.

    Also in the case of Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame [v] the Supreme Court stated that basic needs of man have traditionally been accepted to the three - food, clothing and shelter.

    The right to life is guaranteed in any civilized society. That would take within its sweep the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment and a reasonable accommodation to live in. there are several other cases in which the Supreme Court has reiterated that Right to Life doesn’t mean just physical existence but it cover all other aspects which a human needs to live.
     
  2. Directive Principles Of the State Policy- Article 39(a) and Article 47
    Article 39(a) of the Indian Constitution reads as:
    The State shall in particular, direct its policy towards securing that the citizen, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood…

    Whereas Article 47 reads as:
    The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs, which are injurious to health.

    Though Directive Principles under Part IV of the Constitution were not made legally justifiable, because at that time India did not have sufficient resources to fulfill them, but article 37 under Part IV also reads as : The provisions contained in this Part shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.. So it means that the state can apply these provisions and make laws upon the subjects which fall under the Part IV and the objective of DPSP is to better the lifestyle, livelihood and economic conditions of society so that the people living in the society can live a healthy and prosperous life.
     

Cases Related To Right To Food

  1. Kishan Patnaik v. State of Odisha [vi]
    In this case the petitioner wrote a letter to the Supreme Court of India highlighting the status of starving people in the Kalahandi part of Odisha who even sold their children to fulfill the demand of hunger, though the apex court did not mentioned about the right to food as a fundamental right but took cognizance into it and directed the state government to address the serious issue of starvation.
     
  2. Chameli Devi v. State of U.P [vii]
    It was held that everyone has the right to standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.
     
  3. People united for civil liberties(PUCL) v. Union of India [viii]
    This writ petition was filed on behalf of the people living in the territory of Rajasthan, the people were too poor and had not been getting any kind any required food relief or any other kind of relief obligatory by the Rajasthan famine Code of 1962, and due to the absence of adequate food for all the people were eating on a rotation basis which in general is also known as Rotation eating which means some people of the family will eat on one day and the remaining others on the other day. PUCL went to the court on the issue of RIGHT TO FOOD and the apex court passed an interim order that said that Right to food is enshrined under article 21 and the state can not escape its duty to fulfill it.
     
Conclusion
Apart from these cases the National Human Rights Commission has also taken the view that the Right to free from Hunger, i.e the Right to adequate food is a part of fundamental rights[ix]. Article 21 of the constitution of India should be read in connection to article 39(a) and article 47 of the Indian constitution and this argument was based on the National Human Rights Commission’s interpretation of the right to food.

In the same statement, the Commission clearly stated that:
there is a fundamental right to be free from hunger, also the apex court of the country has reinterpreted it several times in many cases related to article 21 and gave orders which directly or indirectly favored Right to Food and Right to food has been declared to be a constitutional right and government is constantly reminded of its duty which they cannot escape it and it is also said that:
Hunger is something which is more than mere missing a meal so the government should be held accountable in case people don’t get adequate food for their livelihood as discussed and observed by the Supreme Court.

End Notes:
The image belongs to the respective owner.
  1. State of Kerala vs. Madhavan Pillai, AIR 1989 SC 49 (Paras 17 to 20)
  2. United nation (1948); Universal Declaration of Human Right, retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/document/udhr/
  3. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 11, opened for signature Dec. 19, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3
  4. Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India AIR 1978 SC
  5. Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame, AIR 1990 SCC 520
  6. Kishan Patnaik and Anr. v. State of Orrisha. AIR 1989 SCC 677
  7. Chameli Singh and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Anr . AIR 1996 SCC 549
  8. People united for civil liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, Writ Petition(Civil) No. 196 of 2001.
  9. Right to food- a fundamental right, National Human Rights Commission, Retrieved From https://www.nhrc.nic.in

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