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
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
- 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.
- 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
- Right to Food for all guidelines were adopted by the FAO
council in the year 2004.
- In 2009, in the Declaration of the world food summit on food security
states reiterated their commitments in ensuring right to adequate food for
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.
- 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.
- 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
Whereas Article 47
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
- 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.
- 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.
- People united for civil liberties(PUCL) v. Union of
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
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.
The image belongs to the respective owner.
- State of Kerala vs. Madhavan Pillai, AIR 1989 SC 49 (Paras 17 to 20)
- United nation (1948); Universal Declaration of Human Right, retrieved
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 11,
opened for signature Dec. 19, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India AIR 1978 SC
- Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame, AIR 1990 SCC 520
- Kishan Patnaik and Anr. v. State of Orrisha. AIR 1989 SCC 677
- Chameli Singh and Ors. v. State of U.P. and Anr . AIR 1996 SCC 549
- People united for civil liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, Writ
Petition(Civil) No. 196 of 2001.
- Right to food- a fundamental right, National Human Rights Commission,
Retrieved From https://www.nhrc.nic.in