Right to food upheld

Published: Sunday 15 June 2003

The Supreme Court (sc) has asked the Union government to implement the famine code to tide over the crisis caused by the current drought. The code -- framed by Rajasthan in 1962 and adopted by other states later -- would be in use for the first time since its inception, reveals Jean Dreze, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics.

Its enforcement would make it incumbent upon the Union and state governments to ensure food and employment for people in drought-affected areas. Though state governments usually implement drought-relief work till June, the apex court has ordered the work to continue till July this year. "The order is pre-emptive and means a lot to the 150 million people currently affected by drought," feels Kavita Srivastav of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

Citing the constitutional guarantee of the right to life and the constitutional obligation of ensuring proper nutritional health of citizens, the sc ruled that the government should adopt all possible measures to avoid the occurrence of hunger and starvation. The apex court also doubled the allocation of money and food grains for India's largest employment programme, Sampoorna Gramin Rojgar Yojana, which is now being used as a drought-relief scheme.

In addition to this, the sc struck down the government's new below poverty line (bpl) population estimation. Now, irrespective of official enumeration in the bpl list, people can qualify for drought relief and food grains distributed under rural employment schemes. The court asked the Union government to revert to it on August 8 with an action taken report.

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