Food Policy and Social Movements: Reflections on the Right to Food Campaign in India
Case Study #11-1 of the Program: “Food Policy For Developing Countries: The Role Of Government In The Global Food System”
Srinivasan, Vivek; Narayanan, Sudha
The Right to Food Campaign in India began in 2001. It was a time of absurd paradox. Even as the foodgrain stocks held by the government rose to 50 million metric tons, several parts of the country were reeling from a third consecutive year of drought. The threat of severe hunger loomed large, yet efforts to address this threat were insufficient. In April 2001 the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan, an active civil society group in the north Indian state of Rajasthan, submitted a writ petition to the Supreme Court of India. Briefly, the petition demanded that the country’s food stocks be used without delay to protect people from hunger and starvation. This petition led to a prolonged “public interest litigation”1 (PUCL vs. Union of India and Others, Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001). Supreme Court hearings have been held since then at regular intervals, and significant “interim orders” have been issued by the court from time to time regarding the scope and implementation of eight food-related schemes of the Government of India. The litigation provided a springboard for the Right to Food Campaign.The Right to Food Campaign (RFC) asserts that “everyone has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and malnutrition and that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements rests with the state” (Right to Food Campaign 2005). Further, if people’s basic needs are not a political priority, then state intervention itself depends on effective popular organization using democratic means. In broad terms, the RFC’s role is to ensure that hunger and malnutrition become a political priority and that resources reach the intended beneficiaries. The Right to Food Campaign is, however, not merely a pressure group that secures increased allocations to food schemes. It is a social movement with a much broader agenda, playing an important role in bringing down the barriers that people face in gaining access to the programs and resources to which they are entitled.In the Indian context, barriers of various kinds, including corruption, apathy, and many forms of social discrimination, make it difficult, and at times even impossible, for the intended beneficiaries to gain access to the programs expressly meant for them. Those at risk of hunger are necessarily poor, but also tend to be socially powerless and marginalized. The RFC recognizes that the realization of the right to be free from hunger and malnutrition depends critically on entitlements to livelihood security, such as the right to work, land reform, and social security.From the perspective of people within state institutions, social movements such as the Right to Food Campaign pose a confounding dilemma. On the one hand, the Right to Food Campaign is an ally in the government’s fight against hunger and malnutrition. The RFC achieves its goals through collective action—by taking on the state and its functionaries, often exposing the weak links, leakage, and corruption. How do policy makers engage with such a social movement?Your assignment is to recommend how the Government of India can engage with the Right to Food Campaign as an ally in its fight against hunger and malnutrition. What can it do at the macropolicy level to address these issues? And what measures can it take to break the network of vested interests that undermine the implementation of food-related programs?
©Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. All rights reserved. This case study may be reproduced for educational purposes without express permission but must include acknowledgment to Cornell University. No commercial use is permitted without permission.
Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences
CUL Initiatives in Publishing (CIP)
Global Food Systems; Food Policy for Developing Countries; India; Right to Food Campaign
Previously Published As
Vivek Srinivasan, Sudha Narayanan (2007). Case Study #11-1, "Food Policy and Social Movements: Reflections on the Right to Food Campaign in India". In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), "Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies." 13 pp.