Published on The Hindu, by Harsh Mander, July 05, 2009.
The right to food law can become another significant contribution of the new government to humane and accountable governance. It can enable the government to redeem its pledge to reach true freedom to all, by exiling hunger from every home.
In a nation where mammoth wealth and intense destitution have co-existed for millennia, a law that would bind governments to guarantee that no man, woman or child sleeps hungry could be momentous. It is such a right to food law that the newly install ed union government in India has promised its people. A debate about the contours of such a law has begun within and outside government. If passed, it can become — with the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — the most significant contribution of this government to humane and accountable governance …
… Possible ways
There are many ways in which governments under this law would have to reach food to people who are threatened with hunger. For able bodied men and women, it may be sufficient for governments to guarantee employment at decent wages in both the countryside and cities; to subsidise rice and wheat but also pulses and oilseeds; to encourage agricultural production of these foods and to procure these at reasonable prices from all farmers; and to reach food to scarcity areas. But children additionally need nutrition, through breast feeding, in ICDS centres and schools. For children who lack adult protection, like street children, a large network of government hostels alone can secure their food. Women require maternity benefits, and nutrition support to single women. Aged people need adequate pensions, and access to free cooked food in feeding centres. And for urban migrants and homeless people, community kitchens which offer affordable nutritious food are imperative in thousands in every city.
This law can help end the suffering of watching one’s loved ones wilt, waste and die because they cannot afford healthy food. It can enable the people and governments to redeem their pledge to reach true freedom to all, by exiling hunger from every home. Several decades before Lula made his resounding moral appeal to his people in Brazil, Gandhiji too had offered us a talisman, to remind us that only those public policies are legitimate which make life better for those who are the most vulnerable and dispossessed. This law provides the chance at last to heed his counsel. (full text).