Right to Food


Author: Santoshi karasi


Well, we all are aware that one of the needful requirements to live a life is food, like air and water food is one of the primary necessities for living beings.  Many of us never suffer from “extreme hunger” the reason being we can afford. However, there are numerous of people all around the world who can’t even have one time meal a day and this brings their life to end. In the current scenario, most people are uninformed about their basic right to food as consequences of lack of knowledge. Now, it’s time to summon that how this right is considered as a basic right?


In general terms, the right to food means accessibility of having meals to be free from starvation in order to maintain life and growth. It is one of the basic rights which are available to every human on earth and cannot be ignored at all.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) has defined the Right to food as:

“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”.

This right of food for the first time has been internationally recognized as a basic legal and fundamental right under Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), which provides that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing housing, and medical care”. In spite of the fact that UDHR is a non-binding document, it is accepted almost by all the countries. Further, the human right to have adequate food was stated again strongly under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCRs) and this also recognizes that all human beings shall have the right to be free from hunger. In addition, the right to food admitted in the UDHRs and the ICESCRs applies to everybody.


The constitution of every country plays an important role in providing the legal right as this ensures effective protection of the same. The legal right of food is also recognized in the constitution of many countries for its people, in India this right is provided in the Article 21, which states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”[1] The term ’life’ in this article has been judicially interpreted to mean the right to live with human dignity, and not merely to survive or physical existence. In the case, Francis Coralie Mullin vs Union Territory of Delhi[2] the Hon’ble Supreme Court said that ‘Right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter.

In Shanti Star Builders vs. Narayan Totame[3], the Supreme Court held that right to life is guaranteed in a civilized society would take within its sweep the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment and reasonable accommodation to live in.

The rights and duties go parallel, as the right of one become the duty of others, the Constitution not only provide specific rights but also impose duties on the state in order to guarantee such basic rights. The state is obliged to take all reasonable measures and also fulfill the necessary requirements which will assist the people to live with human dignity. Similarly, Article 47(DPSP) of the constitution of India puts an obligation on the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living, and to improve public health, it is considered as the primary duty of state for the welfare of its people as a whole. Further, Article 39(a) of the Constitution of India provides the rules and directions to the state while making policies towards securing the citizens; men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood


This case named as PUCL v. UOI[4], popularly known as ‘the Right to Food Case in which People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL, Rajasthan) filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court seeking legal enforcement of the right to food because the starvation deaths have occurred in the state of  Rajasthan. The issues of the petition were as follows:

  • The very first was that Article 21, which gives the privilege to life and freedom, includes the right to food;
  • order the government to frame a fresh scheme of the public distribution system for scientific and reasonable distribution of grains;
  •  The government has an obligation to give food to the general population influenced by drought;
  • The petition asks the court to order the Government of Rajasthan to provide immediate open-ended employment in drought-affected villages,
  • Finally, the petition requests the court to order the central government to supply free food grain for these programs.


  • This was a landmark decision in the public interest litigation Petition, which  established a constitutional human right to food
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling that the right to food is a justiciable, reviewable, expandable, legally enforceable right.
  • The court issued directions to the major schemes, such as “to complete the identification of Below Poverty Line families, issuing of cards and commencement of distribution of 25 kgs grain per family per month”.
  • The Supreme Court directed the government to ensure that all ration shops open regularly
  • Supreme Court has ordered to convert all food and employment schemes in legal entitlement.
  • All state governments were directed to take their entire allotment of food grains  from the Central Government under the various Schemes


The Indian constitution contains the specific provision related to food as it is the basic fundamental right of people to access food when they are unable to afford sufficient food. One of the toughest challenges for every country is to bring the hunger rate to naught, which can only be achieved by making policies and implementing the same for the benefit of the poor. In the PUCL case, the court has given directions to central and state governments for the implementation of food providing schemes.  And after that, the government has implemented those schemes in every state. The above is not the only way to fight against “hunger” but yes the state must have other numerous solutions to resolve this issue that by way of increasing food production, addressing root causes of hunger (i.e. poverty), providing employment, etc. Thus, the government needs to take the necessary measures for saving basic human rights since this fundamental right to food is a justiciable right in India, and Combating hunger was the moral as well as the legal duty of the state. 

[1] Article 21 of the Constitution of India

[2] AIR 1981 SC 746 (1981) 1 SCC 608, 1981 LJ 306

[3] AIR 1990 SC 630

[4] Writ Petition (Civil) No. 196 of 2001