By Boro Baski
Legally entitled to a full stomach
Fifty percent of the world’s hungry live in India. But India is a democracy, which gives her citizens a lot of rights – for instance, the constitutional right to food. Based on this right, Indian civil society organisations won a series of court battles in the name of the poor. Now a Right to Food Bill is about to be passed. Will this be the end of malnutrition and starvation in India?
[...] The Bill is expected to result in multiple advantages like providing food to the hungry, reducing the child mortality rate and improving the public distribution systems. But there are several practical and theoretical aspects that could threaten the success. A practical issue is the identification of the priority groups. Who exactly is below the poverty line is a matter of controversy.
Not all state governments in India have clear criteria for defining the persons in need, and the central government uses parameters based on a survey conducted in the year 2002. It is extremely difficult to differentiate who belongs to BPL-group only through certain laid down criteria. Even if the criteria work, it is hard to ignore the recommendation and influence of political and caste-creed leaders who still play a decisive role in village politics. Another potential difficulty lies in including seasonal migrated laborers or Adivasi (India’s marginalised tribal people) in remote areas, who are often excluded from government help schemes because of their geographical location and way of life. [...]
There are also theoretical questions to the Food Bill, such as: What will be the consequence regarding the moral and psychological attitude of people who grow up with subsidised food? Is it morally correct to feed more than half the country’s population by government funds, and for how long? Does it not undermine the human potential and contradict the basic principal of human development, namely, to “help people to help themselves”? Can anyone really live in dignity, eating subsidised food? Such questions might seem insensitive to hungry people, but they matter.
However, preventing hunger is certainly a priority. It is a bitter irony to call India one of the fastest growing economies in the world, while half of her population suffer malnutrition. But before implementing the bill, it is necessary to build up enough food storage, an efficient and transparent public distribution system and an administration with accountability. There should be a mechanism to inform villagers about the rules and regulations of the bill and how to get hassle-free service. Not only the institution of the Panchayati Raj (the elected village councils that serve as the lowest tier of the government), but also rural-level NGOs and the traditional social structures of Adivasis in remote areas can play a vital role in disseminating the government’s ideas and policies. [...]
Boro Baski is a research scholar at the Department of Social Work of Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal. He grew up in an Adivasi village and was the first person from that village to obtain a master’s degree. He is member of the community based organisation Ghosaldanga Adivasi Seva Sangha.
Source: Baski: Indian government wants to enforce right to food with new legislation – Development and Cooperation – International Journal.
Address : http://www.dandc.eu/articles/220367/index.en.shtml
Date Visited: Tue Mar 27 2012 09:14:09 GMT+0200 (CEST)
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