It seems like yesterday, but we are just shy of a year from when the world
around us started coming to a halt. With the rapid spread of the Covid-19
pandemic a nationwide 21 day lockdown was announced by prime minister Narendra
Modi. This attempt to contain the spread of the infection by bringing the entire
nation to a standstill resulted in putting the lives of approximately 122
million Indians at the risk of starvation.
In order to prevent this situation the government initiated a policy under the
National Food Security Act, 2013 which promised to provide 5kg of wheat and 1 kg
of preferred pulses free of cost alongside additional 2 kg of pulses at
subsidised rate for two months to 80 crore people including the migrant workers
which were not eligible under the NFSA.
However, this scheme which appeared to solve India's hunger crisis during the
pandemic instead further highlighted the indefinite loopholes in India's public
food distribution system. After the announcement of this scheme under the NFSA
news articles flooded the newspapers with the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness
of this scheme.
An article from 'news click' quoted an interview with an anonymous food
distribution officer stating the lack of necessary allocation of food grains by
the government for the distribution under this scheme. The news article further
went on to highlight the apathy faced by several families due to the
inefficiency of the scheme. In one interview by the same newspaper a family
highlighted the lack of allocation of adequate food grains by the government for
a family of 13 people.
The allocation of food to the beneficiaries is based on the census collected in
2011 for the NFSA 2013 but there has been an increase in the population and the
number of individuals within a family since 2011. Another interview highlighted
how a family struggled to get their allotted ration as there ration card was
valid in their home state Patna where it was impossible to reach due to the
Pertaining to the extremely cumbersome and corrupt systems adopted to allot
ration cards some individuals either opted themselves out of applying for it and
some were excluded from being the beneficiary owing to the corruption within the
system. There are approximately one hundred and thirty nine interstate and
intrastate workers in India, as per the data collected by the centre, out of
which approximately 6 lakh workers were unable to return to their hometowns of
which several had their ration cards connected to their home address. Therefore,
preventing a large number of beneficiaries from receiving sustenance under this
Based on the data provided by the Ministry of consumer affairs, Food and Public
Distribution there was failure in distributing the allocated ration to the
beneficiaries even in the key areas of the country. As per the report cited by
the food navigator-Asia out of the 36 states 11 states distributed only one
percent of the apportioned grains and 8 states distributed zero percent.
These failures on the part of the government to provide its people with
efficient policies and the much needed help did not just result in many to lose
their lives from exhaustion and starvation in an attempt to walk back to their
homes in search of food but also resulted in the largescale violation of the
fundamental rights of approximately 80 million individuals.
Right to food is not a fundamental right in India however it is mentioned in the
directive principles of the Indian constitution under Article 47 which makes it
the duty of the state to improve public health by providing it's people with the
optimal level of nutrition. This mention of right to food in the directive
principle forms a substantial basis to widen the ambit of Article 21 and bring
within its ambit the right to food and adequate nutrition.
Article 21 of the Indian constitution states that no person shall be deprived of
his/her 'life' or 'personal liberty'. These two terms have a wide range of
interpretation and it was held by the supreme court of India in the case of
Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi
that right to life also
carries within its ambit the right to food and the right to health. In a
public interest litigation filed by PUCL in 2001, it was held ' that it is
the obligation of the state to support victims in realising their right to
food'. In the case of Chameli Singh & others v the state of Uttar Pradesh it
was held by the supreme court that the right to live in a civilized society
includes within its ambit the right to food.
However, the failure on the part of the government institutions to carry out
their duty to uphold the basic fundamental rights of their citizens showed the
inefficiencies and lack of consideration of the government institutions for its
people. Owing to which several organisation's like 'Sarvahara Jan Andolan' and
'Ghar bachao Ghar Banao' filed PIL's to seek justice for those being wronged.
Based on the 2020 global hunger Index India ranked at the 94th position ranking
even below Pakistan and Bangladesh. India is trailing behind massively in being
able to provide to its people adequate food and nutrition, a situation which was
made more obvious by this recent pandemic. There is an urgent need for the
country to step up and fix its food distribution policies.
As a first step the government must first realise that the political-economic
environments of every state in India vary resulting in the distribution systems
to work differently in every state. In an article in the economic and political
weekly the author explains how the same distribution system which appears to
be drastically failing in Bihar on the one hand due to diversion of commodities
through bogus ration cards, provides a hassle free experience to ration card
holders in Kerala on the other.
The author states the main reasons to be the variation in the political agendas
and the efficient nature of the state governments institutions in carrying out
these policies. Another article titled 'exploring the markers of differential
access to PDS' highlights how different social markers like gender determine
how beneficiaries interact with the public distribution systems. Attention must
also be given to the fact that end to end computerisation of public distribution
system is not as effective as it is deemed to be, in fact it is extremely prone
to tampering resulting in further leakages.
The government should take the initiatives to understand and solve the problems
being faced by the beneficiaries at the ground level while simultaneously
tackling the corrupt and inefficient machinery involved in carrying out the
distributions by filling in the loopholes in the policy.
- Authorname, title, name of the journal ( state, date) page number, link.
FUll stop is Important
- Paran Balkrishnan, 'Free Food grain for migrants, rental housing option
for middle class' The Telegraph online (New Delhi, 28 February 2021) 1
- Varsha Torgalkar, 'Loopholes in Food Distribution, Demand for Universal
PDS' News Click (18 April 2020).
- Economic survey of India 2017
- Pearly Neo, 'India's Covid-19 free food rations: Governments
'compassionate' gesture blighted by inefficiencies' Food
navigator-asia.com(13 July 2020).
- Supreme Court, Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi and
- Supreme Court, People's Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India &
- Supreme Court, Chameli Singh & Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1996.
- Jos Moij, 'Food and power in Bihar and Jharkhand' , Vol. 36,
Economic & Political weekly.
- Mamta Pradhan,'Exploring the markers of differential access to PDS'
, Vol 54, Economic & Political weekly. https://www.epw.in/journal/2019/26-27/commentary/exploring-markers-differential-access-pds.html