[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE government of India has taken upon the challenge to make the country malnutrition-free by 2022. While our country accounts for one-third of the world’s malnourished with 19 crore people (nearly 14 % of our national population) forced to sleep on an empty stomach and the, the inevitable questions remain – whether our efforts as a nation to end malnutrition is enough?
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Ors held ‘Right to Food’ as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. As per research studies and reports, both at international and national levels, it is in fact that malnutrition is deemed as one of the most prominent silent killers which is plaguing our nation.
Government schemes and budget allocation
The government in its endeavour to eradicate hunger and malnutrition is running various schemes including the Public Distribution System, Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (also known as Mid-Day Meal Scheme), Integrated Child Development Services, Annapurna Scheme; the National Old Age Pension Scheme, the National Maternity Benefit Scheme, and the National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS), Poshan Abhiyaan Yojna and few other schemes.
The Parliament of India on September 10, 2013, enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013 causing a paradigm shift in the approach to food security, from welfare to rights-based approach. Hence, both the State and Central Government in the country have launched a range of promotional, preventive and protective social measures to tackle deprivation, food insecurity and poverty alleviation.
The annual budgetary allocation for the Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food & Public Distribution for the year 2016-2017 (actual) has been Rs.1.15 lakh crore, for 2017-2018 has been Rs.1.45 lakh crore, for 2018-2019 has been Rs.1.74 lakh crore and for 2019-2020 is Rs.1.92 lakh crore for various schemes including those combating and preventing hunger, malnutrition and starvation.
Despite the enormous expenditure, it has been estimated in the National Health Survey Report 4 (2015 – 2016) that 4500 children die every day owing to hunger, while the statistics owing to hunger-related deaths in adults have not been computed.
Furthermore, our country ranks 102th out of 117 countries as per the Global Hunger Index, 2019 and ranks 76th out of 113 countries as per the Global Food Security Index, 2018. India accounts for 195.9 million malnourished people which is nearly 24% of the world’s malnourished population. The statistics available stress the need for effective implementation of the existing policies and schemes and additional radical solutions.
Setting up “community kitchens”
Interestingly, it is not plausible that the shortage of food grains in the country is responsible for the grim scenario. As per a recent report, the Food Corporation of India granaries are overflowing, and the government is looking to liquidate its grain stocks to prevent damage and minimise the carrying cost in the country beyond the requirement. In fact, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution requested the Ministry of External Affairs to look at the option of presenting the surplus grain stocks of wheat and rice as “humanitarian aid to deserving countries”.
A group of activists have preferred a Public Interest Litigation before the Supreme Court with the objective of ‘Food for All’. The petitioners in their plea seek to establish state-funded or Private-Public Partnership (PPP) funded community kitchens (using CSR funds) all over India to combat hunger. Additionally, they also call for creating a national food grid for persons outside the purview of the public distribution system. A two judge bench comprising Justices N V Ramana and Sanjiv Khanna has favoured setting up of such a scheme given the prevalent state of the nation.
The state-run or PPP-run model of community kitchens, as proposed by the petitioners, places reliance on the existing state-run community kitchens wherein cooked nutritious food is provided to persons at subsidized rates. The states which are currently running community kitchens includes: Tamil Nadu (Amma Unavagam), Rajasthan (Annapurna Rasoi), Karnataka (Indira Canteens), Delhi (Aam Aadmi Canteen), Andhra Pradesh (Anna Canteen), Jharkhand (Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat), Odisha (Ahaar Centre), and Uttarakhand (Indira Amma Canteen). These community kitchens have been established with the same object of combating hunger and malnutrition crisis in the nation, providing nutritious food at subsidized rates to the lower socio-economic strata of the society.
Though the legislature included a provision for community kitchens in the National Food Security Bill, 2011, however, the said proposed provision has not been included in the National Food Security Act, 2013.
Our nation possesses sufficient resources to introduce the proposed community kitchens. The emphasis on the transition from ‘Right to Food’ to ‘Right to Nutritious Food’ as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is the need of the hour.
Also, read: “In our country, we can witness people who do not have the privilege of two-square meals”