Right To Food-On the Touchstone of Indian Constitution

I Danish Sharma, a student of Lovely Professional University aims to contribute greater awareness and a better understanding of the Right to Food through this research paper.


The right to food is one of the basic human rights, closely linked to the right to life. No government practice or action can be allowed to deny this right to people. The right to food, and its variations, is a human right protecting the right of people to feed themselves in dignity implying that sufficient food is available, and that people have a mean to access it.

The right to food protects the right of all human beings to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The right to food is not about charity but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity.

The committee declared that “the right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.

The right to food can accordingly be divided into the negative right to obtain food by one’s own actions, and the positive right to be supplied with food if one is unable to access it.


The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the “right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food “as well as the ‘fundamental right to be free from hunger”

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in 2002 defined it as The right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to cultural traditions to the people to which consumer belongs and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of war.

According to General Comment 12 of ICESCR states –

The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman, and child alone or in a community with others always has physical and economic access to adequate food or means for its procurement.

Government Recognising Right to Food

India is an active member of the United Nations and is a state party to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Hence there is an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food for every citizen. The Indian Constitution does not expressly recognise the fundamental right to food. But comparable human rights provisions are found in the articles of the fundamental rights as well as directive principles of state policy.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides the fundamental right to the protection of life and personal liberty. This article mandates the state to ensure the right to life of citizens. This includes the right to live with dignity with at least two decent meals a day. Article 47 of directive principles of state policy specifies the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve mental health. The orders of the Apex court of India interpret the right to food as part of the right to life which is a fundamental right as per the constitution of India. The state seems to have forgotten these principles.

Right to Food With Regard To Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

Article 21 is considered one of the most essential provisions of the constitution. The right to life includes a right to live with dignity. The right to live with dignity recognises the right to food as an inseparable part of article 21. The right to food has also been upheld by judicial pronouncements.

The exhaustive landmark judgement of Keshvananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973) which discussed the basic structure of the Constitution talked about the right to be free from starvation as an integral part of the right to life under part III of the constitution.

In another case of Dena Nath v. National Fertilisers Ltd.(1991), the court directed the establishment of food canteens in every worker’s quarters and to provide food in these canteens at a subsidised rate. This was to ensure the workers get access to adequate food and uphold their rights.

Obligations of the State

The enjoyment of the right to food depends on several factors ranging from access to land to sufficient income-earning opportunities. Under the right to food, there are three dif levels of obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.

The obligation to respect as set out in para 15 of general comment 12, means that state parties should not take measures that would hinder access to adequate food means State must not interfere with individuals’ livelihoods.

The obligation to protect means that the state has to ensure that non-state actors do not deprive other individuals or groups of their access to adequate food. The state has to take due account of and action against any negative interference of a third party in the efforts of individuals or groups to satisfy their needs.

The obligation to fulfil includes the obligation to facilitate and the obligation to provide.

The obligation to facilitate means that the State must be proactive in strengthening people’s access to food and utilization of resources and means to access food.

The obligation to provide means that States must fulfil the right direction whenever an individual or group is unable for reasons beyond their control to enjoy the right to adequate food.

Barriers to the Implementation of Right-to-Food Political Challenges

1, Excessive emphasis on state obligations.

2. Clash of roles: State as violator and guarantor at the same time.

3. Neglecting responsibility of consumers, TNCs, and non-state actors.

4. Lack of constituency and representativeness because failed to capture the imagination of hungry communities.

Paradigm Barriers

1. Food as a human right collides with food as a commodity.

2. Food is not considered a public good.

3. Other ESCRs are considered public goods and they have progressed as enforceable rights.

Normative Barriers

1.RtF not justiciable as civil and political rights.

2. This is actively rejected in US and Canada

3. Rationale – RTF is imprecise, subject to available resources and progressive realization.

Operational Barriers

  1. A law that citizens and judges are unaware of is not applied.
  2. How the hungry are reaching the judge?
  3. No financial support from development agencies , the UN or private foundations

Schemes to Ensure Food Security

The central food schemes and other programmes for the poor in India are

  1. The Public Distribution System-The Public Distribution System is one of the systems for improving food security at the household level.PDS is a food subsidy programme explicitly targeted towards the poor and accounts for about half of the total spending on anti-poverty programmes by the central government.
  2. Annapoorna system-Annapoorna Yojana is a programme that is linked to the targeted PDS.It provides ten kilograms of food per month free of charge to indigent citizens living alone.
  3. Antyodaya Anna Yojana-This programme was introduced in 2001. It is addressed to the poorest of the poor, as identified by Gram Sabhas and gram panchayats.
  4. Mid-Day Meal Scheme(MDMS)-Under this scheme, all children in government schools are provided a free hot cooked midday meal for at least 200 days per year. The central government is providing money for the construction of kitchen sheds and for cooking.

Problems in the Implementation of Various Schemes

Food security schemes although well-designed have not been successfully implemented. There has been a debate for over three decades on the challenges facing food security and the failure of various schemes. Reasons for the same are given as-

~State governments not accepting the full quota of foodgrains allotted by the central government.

~ Fair-price shops do not supply rations at the time, creating scarcity and black marketing.

~Essential commodities sold directly on the black market knowing that people are compelled to buy even at higher prices.

~Scarcity of enforcement officers.

~Improper distribution and fraudulent ration cards to distort records.

~Lack of mechanism for evaluation of various schemes.

~Lack of awareness among ration card holders regarding the procurement system and distribution of food grains.

Conceptual Issues

The main conceptual issue is the appropriateness of using poverty to identify the poor for the PDS, particularly the absolute poverty line adopted by the planning commission. The debate revolves around the issue of whether the official poverty line represents a very low level of absolute expenditure and if so whether it excludes a larger section of the population with low and variable incomes. These doubts are raised by the fact that other criteria such as nutritional studies show that a much larger proportion of the population is food insecure. Thus the narrow targeting of PDS based on absolute poverty is likely to have excluded a large part of the nutritionally vulnerable population from its coverage.

Status of Food Schemes in India

The framework of the right to food is one of the basic economic and social rights that are essential to achieve economic democracy without which political democracy is at best incomplete. The right to food is nowhere near being realized in India. The schemes introduced by the government are well-designed yet their implementation has been poor.

In India, food security exists at the macro level in terms of physical access to food. Economic access is far from satisfactory, at both the micro as well as the macro level. The statement that economic access to food is far from satisfactory is confirmed by the fact that a significant proportion of society lives in poverty and is malnourished.

In 1997, the government launched the TDPS specifically aimed at people in all parts of the country who were living below the poverty line. States were required to undertake surveys to identify BPL families according to the absolute income threshold issued by the planning commission on the basis of the official poverty line in 1993 and 1994.


The right to food is a human right. Every human being is a right holder. A common misunderstanding of the right to food is that it is similar to the right to be fed by the government. A much better and less misleading description of the right to food is the right to feed oneself. Another common misunderstanding is that right holder have no responsibilities or capacities to access food and simply have to keep up their hands for their rights to materialize. The human right to food however implicitly takes capacities of individuals to access food as its point of departure.

The supreme court had appointed a commission to look into the right-to-food schemes and in its latest report observed that despite the fact that starvation deaths were continuing to occur across the country, there was little proof to indicate that the states were taking effective measures to improve the situation. India does not seem to have a problem in terms of physical availability as the production of foodgrains is more than adequate.

Starvation deaths and the high prevalence of hunger clearly show that India needs to wake up. The judiciary cant monitor the implementation of the schemes forever. The government needs to review the policy from time to time and take corrective measures for the effective implementation of different schemes and programmes, establish an effective mechanism of accountability and ensure the right to food at all


As the problem of food security relates to both the demand and supply of food, a solution could be to empower people towards greater purchasing power, as well as address the inadequacy of the distribution system and check corruption and leakages. Awareness among people regarding the right to food can escalate the process of equal distribution and thus help to realize the right to food for all citizens. The right to food is not just a basic human right, it is also a basic human need. It essentially requires the state to ensure that at least people do not starve. The obligation to protect and respect the people compels the state to implement the right to food effectively without recourse to extensive financial means.


General comments are not legally binding but are authoritative interpretation of the ICESCR,which is legally binding upon the States parties to his treaty. Websites-




Case laws-

Keshvananda Bharati v. State of Kerala(1973)

Dena Nath v. National Fertilisers Ltd.(1991)


1.Right to food-HRMI Rights Tracker

2. Knuth 2011

3. a b c d e f g Ziegler 2012:What is right to food

4. Ahluwalia 2004:10


Human Rights Council (2007), Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, United Nations,1966.




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