HC directs Delhi Government to provide free food, treatment to HIV-positive persons

Prelims level : Rights Issue Mains level : GS-II Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
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Why in News?

  • Delhi High Court has directed the City government to ensure free food and medical treatment to HIV-positive persons living below the poverty line and strictly comply with the law dealing with the affected patients’ grievances.

Food Security and the Right to Food:

  • Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Household food security is the application of this concept to the family level, with individuals within households as the focus of concern.
  • The right to adequate food is a universal human right that is realized when all people have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or the means for its procurement, without discrimination of any kind.
  • Ensuring food security requires action in multiple dimensions, including: improving the governance of food systems; inclusive and responsible investments in agriculture and rural areas, in health and education; empowering small producers; and strengthening social protection mechanisms for risk reduction.
  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution embarks that right to life does not mean mere existence, but life with dignity but the Centre and state governments as well as ministries in the present grim scenario have failed to fulfil their obligations for effectively providing food security in the country.

Community Kitchen Initiatives across the world:

  • The State-funded community kitchen is not a new concept in the country. Tamil Nadu’s Amma Unavagam had become a roaring success by involving peers in self-help groups, employing the poor to serve hygienic food to eradicate the growing problem of hunger on the streets. 
  • Other example are Rajasthan’s Annapurna Rasoi, Indira Canteens in Karnataka, Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Canteen, Anna Canteen in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat and Odisha’s Ahaar Centre were combating starvation and malnutrition crisis and serve meals at subsidised rates in hygienic conditions.
  • In other countries, there are concepts of soup kitchen, meal centre, food kitchen or community kitchen, where food is offered to the hungry usually for free or sometimes at a below-market picre.
  • In the interest of justice and for entitlement of nutritious food, which has been held as a basic fundamental and human right, in both national and international law, alike, the establishment of community kitchens may be directed as an added mechanism for provision of nutritious food with the intent of holistically combating eradication of hunger, malnutrition and starvation in the country, and diseases, illnesses and deaths resulting thereof.

Why Community Kitchen is Important?

  • Various schemes run by government to address the problem of hunger are futile in as much as there are eligible persons who have not been issued cards requisite to avail subsidies and benefits and then there is a segment of persons who are homeless and outside the grid of these schemes for the mere reasons that they do not possess a roof on their head. 
  • Public Distribution system (PDS) in India which accounts for distribution of wheat and rice, only, does not account for proteins and other components of a well-balanced diet, in turn leads to malnutrition.

Supreme Court on Food Security and Right to Food:

  • Supreme Court has in a plethora of cases held that right to food comes within the purview of right to life and is a basic component to right to life. Issues pertaining to malnutrition and starvation deaths, emerging from inadequate nutrition and hunger crisis breach the fundamental right to food and are violative of Articles 14, 21, 38, 39 and 47, 51(c) of the Constitution of India.
  • In the People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India., (2013), commonly known as the “Right to Food Case”, the Supreme Court directed all the States and UTs to introduce Mid-day meals for all children between the age of 6 to 14. This petition however sought implementation of a scheme providing cooked food to all persons.
  • The present government’s schemes to eradicate hunger suffer on account of ineffective implementation and the proposed community kitchens, managed with funding from the state as well as funds from Corporate Social Responsibility of the Companies Act, 2013 by a Public-Private Partnership, may be implemented to complement the existing schemes.
  • The Supreme Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978, stated that “Right to life enshrined under Article 21 means something more than animal instinct and includes the right to live with human dignity, it would include all aspects which would make life meaningful, complete and living.”
  • In Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimala Totame, (1990), it was held that “the right to life is guaranteed in any civilized society. That would take within its sweep the right to food.”
  • The Supreme Court in Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, 1997, reminded the government of its duty towards the hungry and starving persons in the country and further held that the nation state should promote socio-economic justice and fulfill the basic human needs.

Government’s Initiatives on Food Security:

  • The government is running various schemes for combating hunger and malnutrition such as:
  • The Public Distribution System (PDS).
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, also known as “Mid-Day Meal Scheme”.
  • The Integrate Child Development Services (ICDS).
  • Annapurna Scheme.
  • The National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS).
  • The National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS).
  • The National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS).
  • Furthermore, the Parliament of India enacted the National Food Security Act causing a paradigm shift in the approach food security from welfare to rights-based approach. Hence, both the State and Central Government in the country have launched a range of promotional, preventive and protective social measures to tackle deprivation, food insecurity and poverty alleviation.

Way Forward:

  • India houses a staggering proportion of persons suffering from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, in today’s day and age. 
  • Despite there being a wide range of governmental schemes and programmes intended to achieve the decline and eradication of pertinent issues of hunger and malnutrition, the desired result at present poses as a distant reality. 
  • As each of these schemes appear to be ridden with problems, ensuring right to food requires action on multiple fronts. 
  • It is noteworthy that in-spite of the existence of a plethora of schemes aimed at eradicating Hunger, Malnutrition, Starvation Deaths, and allied issues, the country is still grappling with the said problems on a large scale, leaving scope for newer radical solutions to combat the same.
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