For a less hungry nation

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Food security exists when all people have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life, according to the 1996 World Food Summit.

India’s food security and nutrition indicators are among the worst in the world. In India 30 million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46 percent of children are underweight, as per October 2009 BBC report.

In terms of calorie consumption in India, the scenario is even worse. The National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) survey of 2004-05 reports that in the period from 1993-94 to 2004-05, the average daily intake of calories of the rural population dropped by 106 kilocalories (4.9 percent), that is, from 2,153 kcal to 2,047 kcal. Such nutritional deficiencies have overwhelming implications for the well-being and future of citizens of India. As the noted economist, Jean Derez has rightly said, mass hunger is fundamentally incompatible with democracy in any meaningful sense of the term.

The UPA Government had included ‘Right to Food’ in its election manifesto and to fulfill this promise has recently proposed Right to Food Bill. However, this is not a novel initiative taken for addressing the basic need of the poor in the country. Way back in 1947, India’s nation builders had envisioned a nation where no citizen sleeps hungry.

The Constitution of India guarantees some positive socio-economic rights, including one that imposes some obligations on the government related to food security. This was done through the Section 47, which says, “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”.

Government of India had introduced public distribution system for procurement and distribution of commodities such as wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to the poor during the inter-war period. However, the Right to Food does not mean that the state’s duty ends with the distribution of food to the needy.  In fact, it goes beyond the provision of subsidised cereals.

This requires not only nutritious food but also attention to child care, clean water, hygiene, basic health care, and so forth. The Right to Food also needs to be linked to other economic and social rights relating to education, work, health and information. These plus political will and vision, will help achieve the goal of food for all.

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