News / Health

India Formulates Sweeping New Legal Guarantee of Right to Food

A family of workers sits near a kitchen fire at a makeshift shelter near a construction site, in Gurgaon, India, (file photo)
A family of workers sits near a kitchen fire at a makeshift shelter near a construction site, in Gurgaon, India, (file photo)

This week, an annual hunger index put India behind North Korea and Sudan in terms of addressing malnutrition.  Now, India is believed to be less than a year away from enacting a sweeping law it hopes will bring relief. 

Ambitious law

Hundreds of millions of Indians live near the brink of starvation.  Biraj Patnaik, a Commissioner to India's Supreme Court, is advising policy makers on a new law to help change that.

"The National Food Security Act is by far one of the most ambitious legislations that have been attempted in this country since independence," Patnaik said.

The act would legislate the right to food in India, largely in the form of subsidized wheat and rice from the government.  Patnaik, who has worked on the law for ten years, says a lot of time has been spent determining just who should be legally entitled to food security.

"That's really the debate," said Patnaik.  "Whether India should really be looking at identifying a poverty line and targeting people, or should they just be looking at creating universal entitlement where every single citizen in the country is entitled to this right, whether they choose to exercise it or not."

Reliance on PDS

The act would rely in large part on India's Public Distribution System.  The PDS handles massive amounts of government grain, but is widely criticized for waste, corruption and inefficiency.  Indian authorities acknowledge less than half the grains processed through the PDS actually make it to the intended recipients.  Indian media have also focused public attention in recent months on thousands of tons of grain rotting in the open, due to insufficient storage capacity.

The new law is expected to spell out reforms of the Public Distribution System, including new investments in transport and storage.  Devinder Sherma, a food policy analyst, says the new law should aim to decentralize the food system and set up local grain banks.

"I don't understand why, in a village where people produce food -- and in fact many times surplus food-- people should be going hungry in that same village," Sherma said. "Let's make villages self-sufficient as far as food is concerned.  And then we target only the urban centers by this public distribution system."

Hunger index

Purnima Menon is a research fellow at the Institute for Food Policy Research in New Delhi.  Her institute's 2010 Global Hunger Index, which came out this week, ranked India 67th worst out of 84 developing nations battling hunger.

She says the law has sparked discussions that go beyond how to distribute wheat and rice.  She views the law as an opportunity for India to completely redefine food security.

"What does it mean for a child whose only food security is to be breast fed?  Is the Food Security Act going to actually cover that, and make sure that mom is able to stay home from work and breast feed, because, really, that's the only way you can ensure food security for a baby," Menon said.

Biraj Patnaik, the Supreme Court Commissioner, is confident the law will pass.  But once that happens, he is concerned about whether the government has the political will to enforce it.

"Can an ordinary person who is deprived of their entitlement under this act ever hope that they would get justice out of the system and that their grievance would be addressed?...  If a child dies of malnutrition... someone has to be punished," Patnaik said.

Others have expressed concern that issues of clean water and sanitation for India's poorest regions have been left out of the debate over the National Food Security Act.   Ensuring those services are key in helping the poor avoid illnesses that prevent them from absorbing nutrition.

You May Like

Bleak China Economic Outlook Rattles Markets

Several key European stock indexes were down up to three percent, while US market indexes were off around 2.5 percent in afternoon trading More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs