Right to Food, India

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Legally entitled to a full stomach

By the time I finish writing almost 180 people would have died of chronic hunger in the country. * 1/3rd of the worldÂ’s hungry live in India.
* 836 million Indians survive on less than Rs. 20 (less than half-a-dollar) a day. * Over 20 crore Indians will sleep hungry tonight.
* 10 million people die every year of chronic hunger and hunger-related diseases. Only eight percent are the victims of hunger caused by high-profile earthquakes, floods, droughts and wars. * Over 7000 Indians die of hunger every day.

* 30% of newborn are of low birth weight, 56% of married women are anaemic and 79% of children age 6-35 months are anaemic. * The number of hungry people in India is always more than the number of people below official poverty line (while around 37% of rural households were below the poverty line in 1993-94, 80% of households suffered under nutrition). Sources :

UN World Food Programme
UN World Health Organization: Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization: SOFI 2006 Report
National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (India) National Family Health Survey 2005 – 06 (NFHS-3) (India) Centre for Environment and Food Security (India)
Rural 21 (India)

Food is the most important basic need of humans. Therefore the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and numerous national and international constitutions include a “Right to Food” clause. India is one of the countries that implicitly include the right to food in their constitution – at least, the wording of the constitution allows this interpretation

Malnutrition – also called “hidden hunger” – refers to deficiencies of calories, protein or nutrients. In short it lead to undernourishment and increased vulnerability to illnesses and almost always has serious physical and mental effects.

Over the decades, Indian governments have tried a variety of plans and programmes to alleviate hunger. The latest initiative is based on the constitutional right to food: The National Food Security Act 2011, popularly known as Right to Food Bill, is one of the most discussed bills in India, ever since the cabinet has cleared it to give legal entitlement in December last year. It has not passed the parliament as yet.

Let’s understand the bill through a series of questions:
WHAT DOES THE BILL SAY?
The proposed legislation is a major initiative by the UPA government and considered to be pet project of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In rural India, up to 75 per cent of the people will be covered, with at least 46 per cent under priority households (which is same as below poverty line families in the existing public distribution system). Up to 50 per cent of people will be covered in the urban centres, with at least 28 per cent under priority category. It seeks to provide 7 kg of rice, wheat and coarse grains per person per month to priority households at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kg, respectively. General category would get at least 3 kg of grains at a rate not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price. The Bill also confers a legal right on women and children and other special groups such as destitute, homeless or disaster- and emergency-affected persons living in starvation to receive meals free of charge or at an affordable price. Every pregnant woman and breast-feeding mother will be entitled to maternity benefits of 15 euro per month for a period of six months, assuming a coverage of about 2.5 crore (25 million) pregnant and breast-feeding women. According to estimates, the implementation of this bill would result in higher food subsidy by approximately 28,000 crore rupees (the equivalent of € 4.3 billion).

Why do we need the Act?
Many political parties have raised the issue of ¬financial burden on the government. However, the economist...
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