Plans are afoot to step up the Right to Food campaign, as widespread drought presents us with new challenges. From now on we will be sending you regular "updates" (say 2-3 times a month), with news from the campaign around the country. IF YOUR ORGANISATION HAS A NEWSLETTER, PLEASE CONSIDER REPRINTING PORTIONS OF THESE UPDATES IN THE NEWSLETTER, TO HELP SPREAD AWARENESS ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN.
If you are an active member of the campaign, please send us information from to time about your activities, for inclusion in future Updates. Contributions to the Right to Food Update may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
To facilitate reading, each Update will begin with a list of "headlines", as a guide to the content of the main text. Here are today's headlines:
1. The right to food campaign's foundation "statement".
2. Survey of Anna Antyodaya Yojana completed.
3. A proposal to end starvation.
4. Supreme Court hearing to resume soon.
5. Commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court.
6. Setting up a monitoring process.
7. Meetings with Food Minister, Finance Minister, etc.
8. Progress of mid-day meal programmes.
9. Campaign website.
10. Writ petitions in High Courts.
11. Public hearing on right to food in Palamau.
12. Jharkhand: campaign stepped up at all levels.
13. Special issue of "Combat Law" on the right to food
1. THE RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN'S "FOUNDING STATEMENT"
The Right to Food Campaign is an informal, decentralised network of individuals and organisations committed to the right to food. It is based on voluntary cooperation between like-minded people. To ensure some coherence in this network, it was felt that a common "statement" is needed, spelling out what unites us. After much discussion, the following was adopted as the campaign's "founding 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.
2. SURVEY OF ANTYODAYA ANNA YOJANA COMPLETED
A survey of Antyodaya Anna Yojana was conducted in June 2002 by a team of researchers based at the Centre for Development Economic and the Centre for Equity Studies. The survey covers 46 villages in five states: Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Preliminary results indicate that the scheme is doing quite
well, in contrast with most other food-based welfare programmes. Most of the households included in the Antyodaya programme are very poor, suggesting that the "selection" procedure is working reasonably well. Further, the sample households obtained about 70 per cent of their official entitlements (currently 35 kgs of grain per month) since the programme was introduced. This compares favourably with the public distribution system and school-meal programmes in the same areas. Further, corruption in the Antyodaya programme appears to be relatively low. The programme is particularly effective in Andhra Pradesh, and very defective in Jharkhand. A detailed report is in progress.
3. A PROPOSAL TO END STARVATION
Based on the findings of the above-mentioned survey, a proposal for a large-scale, long-term programme of food-based social security for destitute households has been prepared. This proposal has been filed in the Supreme Court as an interim application. We encourage you to take up this proposal for discussion in your own organisation. Any comments or suggestions should be sent to email@example.com
4. SUPREME COURT HEARING TO RESUME ON 2ND SEPTEMBER
The Supreme Court hearing on the right to food (PUCL vs Union of India and other, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 196 of 2001) will resume on 2nd September, after a long gap (the last hearing was held on 8 May). We are hoping that the hearing will focus on the proposal to end food insecurity among destitute households (see item 3). After that, we hope to take up the issue of "employment guarantee".
5. COMMISSIONERS APPOINTED BY THE SUPREME COURT
In its order of 8 May 2002, the Supreme Court has appointed Dr. N.C. Saxena and Mr. S.R. Sankaran as "commissioners" for the purpose of monitoring the orders issued in the context of this hearing. The Commissioners are empowered to enquire about any violations of these orders and to demand redressal, with the full authority of the Supreme Court. They are also expected to report to the court from time to time. This is an important tool of action: any breach of the orders can be questioned by the Commissioners with the full authority of the Supreme Court. One qualification: in principle, complaints are to be sent to the Commissioners only after the "lower level" redressal mechanisms (e.g. complaints to the BDO, District Collector, etc.) have been exhausted. However, this clause can be flexibly interpreted.
6. SETTING UP A MONITORING PROCESS
Following on this, the process of setting up a broad- based "monitoring and redressal system", making full use of the powers of the commissioners, has been initiated. An "adviser" will be designated in each of the major states to liaise with the Commissioners and bring to their attention any breaches of the orders that may have been committed in the state. The advisers will themselves be helped by a team of members of the Right to Food Campaign. A meeting to discuss this entire process was held on 9-10 August at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi. We shall report on this meeting in the next Update.
7. MEETINGS WITH THE FOOD MINISTER AND FINANCE MINISTER
Three members of the right to food "support group" (Colin Gonsalvez, Harsh Mander and Jean Drèze) met the new Food Minister, Shri Sharad Yadav, in early July. The Minister conveyed his full support for the campaign, including the public interest litigation. He said that this campaign would strengthen his own bargaining power within the government. The proposal to "end starvation" was presented to him and he promised to follow this up. A request has also been made for a meeting with the Finance Minister. Indeed, the hidden hand of the Finance Ministry looms large over all these issues. In his first public statement as new Finance Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh said that his priority would be to ensure that every family is protected from hunger. Media reports also suggest that he is planning to introduce a "new Antyodaya Anna Yojana". This is a good opportunity to get the Finance Ministry on board, in so far as this can be done.
8. PROGRESS OF SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAMMES
State governments have begun implementing the school meal (or "mid-day meal") programme, in response to the Supreme Court's interim order of 28 November, 2001. Some state governments, such as those of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, have still not shown any sign of introducing cooked mid-day meals in primary schools. But many other states have made steps in that direction. Rajasthan stands out for having introduced cooked mid-day meals as per Supreme Court orders within the stipulated deadline (1 March, 2002), partly due to sustained pressure from the Right to Food campaign in that state. There is still plenty to do on this front, not only in ensuring that the "laggard" states implement the order, but also in ensuring that the mid-day meal scheme does not become token or even counter- productive programme. A helper is needed to cook the food, since teachers (or pupils for that matter) cannot and should not be expected to do it. Safeguards are needed to ensure the quality of the food and its hygienic preparation. Adequate provisions are also required for utensils, fuel, transport, and so on. Most state governments are trying to get away with the minimum. Maharashtra, for instance, is apparently expecting mid-day meals to be financed through local "contributions" from parents, with the state just providing uncooked grain as before (see item 14 below). These attempts to derail or dilute the mid-day meal programme must be resisted.
10. WRIT PETITIONS IN HIGH COURTS
A petition has been submitted in the Ranchi High Court, demanding the immediate implementation of Supreme Court orders on the right to food, especially the interim order of 28 November, 2001. The petition has been submitted by PUCL (Ranchi) and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan.
A similar petition is being prepared for submission to the Allahabad High Court, with special focus on mid-day meals (which are nowhere to be seen in Uttar Pradesh).
11. PUBLIC HEARING ON RIGHT TO FOOD IN PALAMAU
A lively "public hearing" on hunger and the right to food took place on 9 July in Manatu (Palamau district, Jharkhand). This public hearing, held in the thick of one of India's most deprived and troubled areas, took place in response to the critical situation that had developed there (three starvation deaths were recently reported in village Kusumatand, Manatu panchayat). The hearing was convened by members of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan and the Right to Food Campaign. It was preceded by a detailed survey of 36 villages of Manatu, which brought to light the disastrous state of public services and welfare programmes in the area. The hearing was attended by thousand of hunger-affected people from the surrounding villages, and paved the way for further action in the area. For a first-hand account of this public hearing, see the current issue of Frontline (also available at www.flonnet.com).
12. JHARKHAND: CAMPAIGN STEPPED UP
Following on the public hearing in Manatu, efforts are being made to step up the Right to Food Campaign in Jharkhand. A petition has been submitted in the Ranchi High Court (see item 10 above). On 11 July, another day of agitation on mid-day meals took place in Ranchi. Ignoring Section 144, hundreds of children "invaded" the Chief Minister's residence and handed him a petition for mid-day meals. The CM was sympathetic and promised to look into the matter. On 15 July, a meeting was held with opposition MLAs, who decided to send a team to Manatu shortly. Another fact-finding team, consisting of eminent scholars from Ranchi University and others, went to Manatu later in the month.
13. SPECIAL ISSUE OF "COMBAT LAW" ON THE RIGHT TO FOOD
The third issue (August-September) of Combat Law, a new human rights magazine, focuses on the right to food. It includes details of recent Supreme Court orders, and two accounts of the Right to Food campaign. This will be of particular interest to those who are not familiar with the campaign.