Right to Food Campaign

A Brief Introduction to the Campaign

Foundation statement: The right to food campaign is an informal network of organisations and individuals committed to the realisation of the right to food in India. We consider that everyone has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and undernutrition. Realising this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems, but also entitlements relating to livelihood security such as the right to work, land reform and social security. We consider that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements rests with the state. Lack of financial resources cannot be accepted as an excuse for abdicating this responsibility. In the present context, where people's basic needs are not a political priority, state intervention itself depends on effective popular organisation. We are committed to fostering this process through all democratic means.

How it happened: The campaign began with a writ petition submitted to the Supreme Court in April 2001 by People's Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. Briefly, the petition demands that the country's gigantic food stocks should be used without delay to protect people from hunger and starvation. This petition led to a prolonged; public interest litigation (PUCL vs Union of India and Others, Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001). Supreme Court hearings have been held at regular intervals, and significant "interim orders" have been issued from time to time. However, it soon became clear that the legal process would not go very far on its own. This motivated the effort to build a larger public campaign for the right to food.

Issues: The campaign has already taken up a wide range of aspects of the right to food. Sustained demands include: (1) a national Employment Guarantee Act, (2) universal mid-day meals in primary schools, (3) universalization of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) for children under the age of six, (4) effective implementation of all nutrition-related schemes, (5) revival and universalization of the public distribution system, (6) social security arrangements for those who are not able to work, (7) equitable land rights and forest rights. Some of these demands have already been met to some extent. For instance, the Indian Parliament unanimously enacted a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in August 2005, and cooked mid-day meals have been introduced in all primary schools following a Supreme Court order of April 2004. Further issues are likely to be taken up as the campaign grows.

Activities: A wide range of activities have been initiated to further these demands. Examples include public hearings, rallies, dharnas, padyatras, conventions, action-oriented research, media advocacy, and lobbying of Members of Parliament. To illustrate, on 9 April 2002 activities of this kind took place across the country as part of a national "day of action on mid-day meals". This event was instrumental in persuading several state governments to initiate cooked mid-day meals in primary schools. Similarly, in May-June 2005, the campaign played a leading role in the Rozgar Adhikar Yatra, a 50-day tour of India's poorest districts to demand the immediate enactment of a national Employment Guarantee Act. Four national conventions have been held so far: in Rourkela in August 2010, in Bhopal in June 2004, in Kolkata in November 2005 and in Bodhgaya in April 2007.

Structure: As mentioned in the above foundation statement, the right to food campaign is a decentralised network, which builds on local initiative and voluntary cooperation. The campaign has a small secretariat, which plays a basic facilitating role (such as maintaining this website). The annual convention sets the agenda of the secretariat. Most of the secretariat's work is done by volunteers. (On the organisational aspect of the campaign, see also the summary of discussion held on 24-25 February 2006).