The orders issued by the court clearly established that the court understands the right to life, affirmed in article 21 of Indian constitution, as implying the right to food. While the court has been guided entirely by national law, it could also draw on recent advances made in understanding the right to food at the global level.
There is increasing recognition worldwide of the human right to adequate food. There is a legal obligation to assure that all people are adequately nourished. The articulation of the human right to adequate food in modern international human rights law arises in the context of the broader human right to an adequate standard of living. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 asserts in article 25(1) that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food…”
The human right to adequate food was subsequently reaffirmed in two major binding international agreements. In the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (which came into force in 1976), article 11 says that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing…” and also recognizes “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger…”
In the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which came into force in 1990), two articles address the issue of nutrition. Article 24 says that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health… (paragraph 1)” and shall take appropriate measures “to combat disease and malnutrition . . . . through the provision of adequate nutritious foods, clean drinking water, and health care (paragraph 2c).” Article 24 also says that States Parties shall take appropriate measures . . . “To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition [and] the advantages of breastfeeding…”
Article 27 says in paragraph 3 that States Parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing, and housing.”
Even if the human right to adequate food had not been stated directly, it would be strongly implied in other provisions such as those asserting the right to life and health, or the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s requirement (in article 24, paragraph 2a) that States Parties shall “take appropriate measures to diminish infant and child mortality”. The human right to adequate food has been reaffirmed at the international level in many different settings.
Beginning in the late 1990s, work on the human right to adequate food at the global level centered on a mandate from the World Food Summit held in Rome in 1996. In the Summit’s concluding Plan of Action, Objective 7.4 called upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consultation with relevant treaty bodies, and in collaboration with relevant specialized agencies and programmes of the UN system and appropriate inter- governmental mechanisms, to better define the rights related to food in Article 11 of the Covenant and to propose ways to implement and realize these rights.
A series of expert consultations, conferences, and studies steadily clarified the meaning of the human right to food. This effort culminated with the publication on May 12, 1999 by the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of its General Comment 12 (Twentieth session, 1999): The Right to Adequate Food (Art. 11). This statement by the committee constitutes a definitive contribution to international jurisprudence.
Paragraph 5 of General Comment 12 observes, Fundamentally, the roots of the problem of hunger and malnutrition are not lack of food but lack of access to available food, inter alia because of poverty, by large segments of the world’s population.” The reference here is to the fundamental distinction between availability (is there food around?) and access (can you make a claim on that food?).
Paragraph 6 presents the core definition:
The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. GC12 paragraph 7 explains that adequacy means that account must be taken of what is appropriate under given circumstances. Food security implies food being accessible for both present and future generations. Sustainability relates to long-term availability and accessibility.
Thus, as explained in paragraph 8, the core content of the right to adequate food implies:
The availability of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture;
The accessibility of such food in ways that are sustainable and that do not interfere with the enjoyment of other human rights.
Paragraph 14 summarizes the obligations of States as follows:
Every State is obliged to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger.
Paragraph 15 draws out the different kinds or levels of obligations of the state. These obligations may be sorted into categories as follows:
# respect – “The obligation to respect existing access to adequate food requires States parties not to take any measures that result in preventing such access.”
# protect – “The obligation to protect requires measures by the State to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive individuals of their access to adequate food.”
# fulfil (facilitate) – “The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) means the State must pro-actively engage in activities intended to strengthen people’s access to and utilization of resources and means to ensure their livelihood, including food security.”
# fulfil (provide) – “Finally, whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) that right directly. This obligation also applies for persons who are victims of natural or other disasters.”
General Comment 12 also addresses the issues of implementation at the national level, framework legislation, monitoring, remedies and accountability, and international obligations.
The primary responsibility of national governments is to facilitate, which means assuring that there are enabling conditions that allow people to provide for themselves. However, where people not able to feed themselves adequately, governments have some obligation to provide for them. While international law does not specify the character or level of assistance that is required, it is clear that, at the very least, people must not be allowed to go hungry. Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. Paragraph 6 of General Comment 12 explains, States have a core obligation to take the necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger as provided for in paragraph 2 of article 11, even in times of natural or other disasters. Paragraph 14 adds, Every State is obliged to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger. Paragraph 17 says, Violations of the Covenant occur when a State fails to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, the minimum essential level required to be free from hunger. There is no ambiguity here .