The right to nutrition is acknowledged as one of the most important human rights by the Supreme Court of India. As interpreted by the court, the right to livelihood means to sustain life with dignity. The right to livelihood springs from the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Accordingly, The National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) seeks, “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity”.
As per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are certain needs, including the right to food, clothing, housing, education, the right to work, leisure, fair wages, decent working conditions, social security, the right to physical or mental health, protection of their families, which are regarded as an integral part of the right to life.
The Right to Food is one of the fundamental human rights and it is intertwined with other rights including the right to life and the right to health. These rights can be effectively achieved only if the right to food is attained. It is the duty of every State to frame such legislation so as to dispense the means of nutritious food to its population in such a way that it ensures liberation from hunger.
United Nation Declaration of Human Rights states that it is the obligation of every government to create conducive environment to feed the starving people of the country. It is an individual's right to have sufficient food, proper access to health care facilities and education. The right to food is a part of the right to an adequate standard of living. Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Sufficient food is required by people to lead a healthy and active life. They can work and take care of themselves and their families and children only if they are physically fit.
The Right to be Free from Hunger is enshrined in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is the only right recognized as a fundamental right under international law. The essence of the right to adequate food signifies the availability of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals.
General Comment 12 on the Right to Food, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights provides that: “Every State is obliged to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food, which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger.
If people are facing resource constraints caused by an economic crisis or other reasons like a pandemic, the affected population has the right to be safeguarded through social programmes focused to improve access to adequate food and satisfy nutritional needs. The Indian concept of Dharma stresses the importance of growing and sharing food. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Without food, it is difficult to remember God and hunger eats into the ethos of culture”.
The right to food is an integral part of a vision of a world where every child, woman and man can feed himself or herself with dignity. The Supreme Court of India is doing every effort and is leaving no stone unturned in formulating provisions with an aim to safeguard the right to food, which is a basic human right. It is not just a basic human right but also a basic human need.
(Ishanee Sharma is an advocate and founder of Ishanee Sharma Law Offices.)