IN this age of social media boom, the lockdown in our country in the wake of COVID-19 painted two distinct and antipodal pictures. On one hand, the fortunate people are leading cushy lives, unperturbed with the notion of food insecurity; whereas contrarily, hundred-thousand of people are enduring abject poverty and consequent unmitigated food insecurity.
Indeed, the pictorial representation projecting the struggle of the economically weaker section in these trying times has woken up the conscience of the nation, but perhaps it is about time to acknowledge the stark reality that even otherwise our country fares abysmally on parameters of food security.
The most pertinent question being – ‘Has our country implemented the notion of Food for All?’
Hunger statistics of India
In 2019, India ranked at 102 out 117 countries on the Global Hunger Index, indicative of ‘severe’ level of hunger. Consequently, in the 2020-2021 Budget, the central government allocated a measly budget of Rs 35,600 crore to combat the prevalent malnutrition faced by our country.
As statistics, have it, India houses 24% of the world’s malnourished population and a staggering estimated number of 19 crores of our people are forced to sleep on an empty stomach, with as many as 4500 children under the age of 5 years die hunger-related deaths, every day.
In the present nationwide lockdown, in order to obviate hunger-related deaths, our Finance Minister while announcing the economic stimulus package was found quoting that ‘not one will go hungry’ The state governments have heavily resorted to serving cooked meals to millions of people in the hour of the pandemic through community kitchens/ food shelters. Thereby elucidating the significance of permanent community kitchens even otherwise to combat the prevalent hunger, malnutrition and starvation plaguing our nation.
Surprisingly, last year, with the granaries of the Food Corporation of India overflowing, it was reported that the government was looking to liquidate its grain stocks to prevent damage and minimize the carrying cost in the country beyond the requirement.
In fact, the Department of Food & Public Distribution wants the Ministry of External Affairs to look at the option of presenting the surplus grain stocks as “humanitarian aid to deserving countries”.
Food for all
In September 2019, a group of activists have preferred a Public Interest Litigation before the Supreme Court of India with the objective of ‘Food for All’ by seeking for establishing state-funded or Private-Public Partnership funded community kitchens (using CSR funds) pan-India to combat hunger, malnutrition and starvation and additionally for creation of a national food grid for persons outside the purview of PDS.
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.
In the plea, the proposed model of community kitchens places reliance on the existing state-run community kitchens wherein cooked nutritious food is provided to persons at subsidized rates. These community kitchens are running successfully in the state of 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 kitchens are 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 the 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.
However, upon the end of the pandemic of coronavirus, while resuming our respective lives, we as a society must be actively mindful of the humanitarian realization that India would continue to house a staggering population of persons suffering from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity without the collective intervention of the government and society alike.
Thus, to achieve United Nation’s target of Hunger-Free India by 2030 and our Prime Minister’s target of Malnutrition-Free India by 2022, seemingly posing as a distant reality at the moment, there is scope for newer radical solutions to combat the same.
Ashima Mandla author is a practising Advocate and has been advocating for Food Security through a sub-judice Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India.