Monday, August 9, 2010
The governing Indian National Congress Party is split on a proposal to create a new constitutional right to food, the New York Times reports today.
The Indian Constitution includes several sweeping positive socio-economic rights, including one that imposes some obligation on the government related to food security. Section 47 reads:
The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties . . . .
But Section 47 is not judicially enforceable. It appears in a part of the Indian Constitution, Part IV, Directive Principles of State Policy, that, as the title suggests, delineates principles of government policy but provides no immediate or direct enforcement mechanism. (Section 37 says that the provisions contained in Part IV "shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.") Thus if a new "right to food" appears in Part IV, it likely will not add much to already existing rights.
Moreover, it appears that the latest proposed food security bill would cover only India's poorest districts, and not provide the right for others. The Hindu opines today that this partial coverage would violate "the letter and spirit" of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The NYT piece provides a nice overview of the significant economic challenges India faces in implementing a right to food. Two recent pieces, here and here, in the Times of India provide more details on the politics of the movement.