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'The Food Security Act if passed, can become, with the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the most significant contribution to humane and accountable governance.'

ASH IN THE BELLY – India’s unfinished battle with hunger
 Author: Harsh Mander
 Publisher: Penguin Books, India
 Price: 399
 Pages: 307

The courts have shown the way for the right to food to become a legal entitlement, binding on every government. In a nation in which mammoth wealth and intense destitution have coexisted for millennia, a law that would bind governments to guarantee that no man, woman or child living in India sleeps hungry could be momentous. Such a law, if enforced by sustained democratic non-violent people's resistance, can enable the beginning of the end of the enormous human suffering, indignity, economic and social cost and enduring injustice associated with entirely preventable food denials and malnutrition, and the banishing of hunger from every home in the country.

The food that this law would guarantee to every person must be nutritious and sufficient for an active and healthy life. It has to be assured: people should no longer have to live with the uncertainty of whether they or their loved ones would be able to eat tomorrow. And it should be food they can access with dignity. A bonded worker, a child searching in rubbish heaps, and a disabled or aged man who stretches out his limbs for alms, possibly may have a full stomach but without the dignity that every single human being is entitled to.

And the law must also prescribe penalties against public authorities who fail to reach food to hungry people. Without this, the law would be toothless and without any real worth.

There are many ways in which governments under this law would have to reach food to people threatened with hunger.

 

 

 

 

 

Harsh Mander 

For the able-bodied, it may be sufficient for governments to guarantee employment at decent wages in both the countryside and cities; to subsidize 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 need additional nutrition, through breastfeeding as well as in ICDS centres and schools. For children who lack adult protection, such as street children, a large network of government hostels alone can secure their food. Women require maternity benefits, while single women also need nutrition support. Aged people need adequate pensions, and access to free cooked food in feeding centres. And community kitches which offer affordable nutritious food are imperative for thousands of urban migrants and homeless people in every city. The Supreme Court historically created a mandate for all this.

If passed, it can become- with the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act- the most significant contribution to humane and accountable governance. The Union government in India promised such a right to its people in 2009. A debate about contours of a law embodying such a right began thereafter within and outside government and by the time this book was finally handed over to the publisher had shifted to Parliament.

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