PUCL v. Union of India (Right to Food)
Authored by Yukti kohli
Keywords: Interim order, arbitrary, drought, starvation, accessibility, Right to food, Fundamental Right.
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 196 OF 2001
Parties to the case:
Respondent: Union of India
The Bench of the case:
HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE B.N. KIRPAL
HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE K.G. BALAKRISHNAN
Date of Judgement: 10/02/2017
Concerned provision of the law:
International law supporting the Right to Food
i. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
ii. Article 24 and 27 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child
iii. Article 11 of ICESCR
Relevant articles of the Indian constitution
i. Article 21
ii. Article 39A
iii. Article 47
A person should not be arbitrary deprived of his life by anyone. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides for the right to life which includes the right to food, water, a healthy environment, adequate standard of living, education, medical help, and shelter. The right to food does not naturally result in the accessibility of food but different cases lead to the inclusion and implementation of the right to food under the right to life. PUCL filed a Writ of Mandamus petition under article 32 for enforcement of the fundamental right. This article deals with the facts of the case, the parties' argument, judgment, interim order, and schemes so ordered by the Supreme Court.
The Right to Food is not explicitly mentioned in part III of the Indian Constitution. Under article 21 it is interpreted that the right to life and livelihood needs to have food therefore right to food is included under article 21. Article 47 mentioned in part IV of the Indian constitution lays the liability on the government to raise the level of nutritional, standard of living among the people, improvement of public health and prohibits the use of any toxic substance except for medical purposes. In simple words, the government is duty-bound to provide nutritious food to the public therefore after combining article 21 and article 47. It is therefore observed that the Right to Food is not and explicitly mentioned right in the Indian Constitution but is implied under the right to life and personal liberty.
Facts of the case
In 2001 the PUCL in Rajasthan filed a case against the excess of food stock in the government godown were on the other side people in a village were dying of starvation. In Jaipur city, it was observed that the Food Corporation of India was overflown with grains that were kept outside the godown which resulted in the rotting of grains due to fermentation of rainfall, were on the other hand there was a village where people were eating in the rotation due to scarcity of food grains. It was observed that in 2001 there were 60,000,000 tonnes Buffer stock in the Food Corporation of India godowns whereas the government is required to keep 20,000,000 tonnes of buffer stock. The government did not provide the excess 40,000,000 tonne buffer stock to the people who were dying of starvation.
According to the PUCL survey, 36,00,00,000 people are living below the poverty line and more than five crores people who are the victim of starvation. Indian public distribution system is responsible for the distribution of food grains at a reasonable price to the customers and as well as to the farmers.
The petition that was filed by PUCL pointed out that there is an irregular distribution of food stock and they are arbitrary there is no transparency in the distribution system.
· Whether article 21 includes the right to food which will give the privilege to life and freedom?
· Whether the right to Food obligates the government to give food to the general public affected by drought?
The petitioners pointed out that the Supreme Court has held in its previous cases that article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to food therefore the government owes a duty towards the people suffering and affected by drought to provide food to them and in this case the government has violated their duty by not providing food to the people affected by drought in Rajasthan and other states.
The petitioners believed that the Public Distribution System broke down at different levels. This involves a restriction of the distribution of food to people living below the poverty line.
The general people said that the distribution according to the public distribution system was not adequate to meet the nutritional standards and there was no certain distribution in all the areas. This highlights the non-performance of government in respect of the duty that they owe towards the public at large. The Rajasthan people also said that although the government is expected to give work to every individual who comes to work on relief work the Rajasthan government was able to provide work to only 5% of the affected population.
The petitioner asked the Supreme Court to intervene in this matter and order the government the following points
i. to provide immediate open-ended employment in the area affected by drought;
ii. to provide unconditional support to people who are unable to work;
iii. to raise the PDS entitlement;
iv. to Provide subsidized food grains to all the families;
The Supreme Court continuously tried to fulfill the constitutional rights provided under article 21 that is right to life which includes the right to food by transferring government food security schemes into the constitutionally protected legal entitlements. This case has gained a lot of attention from India as well as from abroad. The court has passed various interim orders to ensure that the food is provided to all the needful people especially where there are insufficient funds to provide food to the needy. This case pointed out that how the government is responsible for the non-performance of their duty and focused on how to reduce starvation in the public. The Supreme Court also stated the basic nutritional food for the poor and also recognized a constitutional human right that is right to food and linked article 21 with article 39A and 47.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes the right to food as a fundamental and human right. The Food Corporation of India was ordered;
i. to provide the food grains to the people who were affected by the drought
ii. the PDS shops were ordered to be open within one week
iii. Many new schemes were introduced such as the National Benefit Maternity Scheme for Below Poverty Line Pregnant Ladies, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Sumpurna Grami Yojana Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme, Public Distribution Scheme, etc. The state government was also asked to make night shelters to provide residence to homeless people.
Commissioners of Supreme Court
On 8 May 2002, the commission was created for the effective implementation of the interim orders passed by the Supreme Court. The commissioner works to help people concerning the food entitlements. The commissioner also collects and analyses the data of the state and central government regarding food and employment schemes.
DP Wadhwa committee
This committee was constituted to monitor the public distribution system and to see that no interim order passed by the Supreme Court is violated.
National Food Security Act
This was a statutory framework which assured food security to every individual. The primary concern of this act was to monitor the public distribution system and its execution mechanism.
Public Distribution System
The public distribution system grants food grains at a subsidized rate to the families who have a rational card without any unreasonable basis.
Right to Food Campaign
An association was formed as a result of a petition which was filed in 2001. The association was sponsored by designated members of the national networks. This association provides independent food security-oriented organizations. This campaign has followed all the interim decision of the Supreme Court and help in distributing food to the needy.